Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Anti-Healthcare Reform Graffiti and Smashed Glass Lack Artistic Merit

Art Review by Julie Jigsawnovich

I recently reviewed the graffiti installation foisted upon former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi's home in Tehran while Iranian police and Iranian security forces looked on. Now I turn my attention closer to home, to the spate of glass smashings and the woefully inept graffiti plaguing political and government offices in the United States around the time of the recent vote on Healthcare Reform.

"DORKS" seems an appropriate tag for the toy graffiti writer whose awkward lettering on windows of the Knox County Democratic Headquarters in Ohio belies a complete lack of understanding of the importance of style. Although he may not have grown up anywhere near a subway train, handball court, or gang jacket--prime urban canvasses upon which this contemporary artform first bloomed--that's no excuse! There are plenty of documentaries and books from which to copy from the masters, and then add new innovations.

Style Wars
Perhaps contributing to obvious problems "DORKS" had in executing his piece is the fact that he chose an uneven surface to hit. His "D" seems intimidated by the wooden piece above it, he gains stride with the "R", drops the ball with a pathetic "K" and trails off with a wimpy "S." And "S" is such a hot letter, so beloved to many graffiti writers! "DORKS'" "S" makes me shake my head in disgust.

Yes, location is everything, but even within the outlaw world of graffiti, there are certain codes of conduct. I'm not sure that placing such a lowgrade work in such a visible place really does much to further "DORKS'" cause, especially since we have to guess at what his cause really is, and why he might believe in it. Plus, "DORKS'" placement of his miserable folly on political headquarters is likely to result in a crackdown on graffiti in general--at least in that county. This would surely bring hate upon him from any serious graffiti artist whose goal is to create masterpieces.

Now, let's examine the smashed glass windows and doors of elected representatives' offices. These pieces up the ante in terms of performance. Breaking glass is not only much louder than the application of spraypaint, is it even more associated with crime than with free speech. Graffiti may be destructive or constructive, depending on the skills of the author, and where it is placed, but breaking glass is almost always considered destruction.

photo: smashed glass at Rep. Gabrielle Gifford's (D-AZ) Tucson Office
Yet, there are exceptions. The glass in Marcel Duchamp's mixed media piece, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) was accidentally broken while in transit. Duchamp is reported to have commented with satisfaction, "Now the work is complete."

But the smashed glass windows of the following representative's offices were not in transit, they were apparently not broken by accident, and their destruction lacks artistic vision. Amanda Terkel of ThinkProgress.org reported that, "On the morning of March 19, someone threw a brick through the front window of Rep. Louise Slaughter’s (D-NY) Niagara Falls office. Monroe County Democratic Committee officials also said that a brick shattered the glass doors at their party’s headquarters in Rochester, NY on Saturday or Sunday. Someone reportedly threw a fist-sized rock threw a fist sized rock through the front window of the Hamilton County (Ohio) Democratic Party headquarters Sunday night after Congress passed the landmark health insurance overhaul. Caleb Faux, the party’s executive director, finds it 'hard to believe the incident wasn’t related to the legislation’s passing.'" And out west, "The glass front door of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ (D-AZ) Tuscon office was 'smashed out' a 'few hours after she voted in favor of health care reform,' said Giffords’ spokesman C.J. Karamargin."

In summary, while it has been interesting to compare street art and performance art with acts of political vandalism and destruction by non-artists whose goal is apparently to terrorize specific political figures who expressed their views, serious street artists and performance artists more frequently seek to enlighten than frighten. I will close with a very positive street piece by the talented young Iranian artist, ICY. The child depicted holds the Farsi/Persian word for "Peace."

Graffiti New York                                                                                                                                                                

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