Milbanksy and the Death of Street Art

Washington City Paper has been following the shenanigans of a group of street artists who have dubbed themselves, “Milbanksy,” and have stickered the city with images of Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, Thomas Jefferson, and pandas. First of all, I am upset that I have not seen these, and have vowed to keep a better eye out for them.

Secondly, I found it interesting that the Washington City Paper writers were disparaging on the idea of hyperlocal street art and its possibilities within the city: “We assumed all of this was satirical—a mash-up of street-art tropes and low-stakes parochial concerns that exposed the absurdity of both. Turns out we were only sort of right.”  It seems that Milbanksy was following the City Paper’s coverage of their work, and the most recent article  includes a response given by the artists themselves to the staff writers at City Paper. I immediately liked these guys/girls, though, mostly because they started spouting out points that we’ve covered in our readings over the past few weeks: “But how many of the stickers [posted around town] are accessible? That is, how does a person engage any random sticker? Who notices stickers, anyway? The appreciation of any image depends in large part on personal experience, obviously. But we’ll leave the art history stuff to the experts. Which we are not.”  Their attitude about the project was part jokester and part instigator, which I guess could be typical for many street artists.

I also found it interesting that both parties, Milbanksy and City Paper, bemoaned the fact that street art is on its way out.  Milbanksy commented that by posting these sticker they, “are unwittingly continuing street art’s march from a maligned form of expression to one that is so mainstream that it loses its appeal,” and City Paper begins an early article about Milbanksy by saying, “If an art form is dead once all it can do is comment on itself, well, it was nice knowing you, street art.”

This idea calls into mind some of the readings and discussions we’ve been having on Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and it’s place in museums.  What began as subversive to the cultural and artistic norm is now so mainstream that we’ve labeled exhibitions that contain these works as “blockbusters.”  The City Paper articles are suggesting that street art is dead because it is too mainstream, which I find somewhat depressing. My roommate (who wrote her thesis on street artists, as it so happens) brought up the graffiti show at LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art, one of the first major exhibitions focused on street art, that opened this past spring.  If street art is at the point where it can be the subject of a major exhibition at a museum, has it lost one of the main qualities that initially made it great? What the, is the next step? Continue to exhibit street art? Or leave it to it’s more humble origins?

This is a topic that I could go on about for a while, and perhaps I will at a later date.  Until then, I’m going to keep an eye out of a stickers of Dana Milbank.

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