What is art? What is vandalism?

April 8, 2021 • 10:45 am

by Greg Mayer

I think Jerry’s en route now, so here’s something to occupy us while there’s a brief hiatus in posting.

The New York Times reports today that an abstract art work being displayed at a mall in Seoul was “vandalized” by two passerby. As part of the art work, brushes and open cans of paint were displayed in front of it. The couple assumed it was a participatory display, and joined in.

Photo of art work that was “vandalized” in Seoul, by Minwoo Park (NY Times).

The artist, John Andrew Perello, was angered, and said it reminded him of how the graffiti he put up while a youngster in New York was not appreciated. Perello began his career as a tagger in New York.

The questions to be discussed are:

  1. Was this vandalism?
  2. Who is the better artist, Perello or the couple?
  3. Was the vandalism invited by Perello so as to generate publicity (and hence increase the value of his art)?
  4.  Can you spot the vandalism?

The answers are

  1. No. I agree with the South Korean police.
  2. The couple. They have said a lot more with their modest additions than the original did.
  3. Probably not, since being talked about is the next to worst thing that can happen to a person.
  4. No, I couldn’t. (It is visible in the picture above.)

Feel free to disagree!

34 thoughts on “What is art? What is vandalism?

    1. I thought it was the black pint that was added. It looks totally abstract. He should have put dried up tins out. There was a mural on-the news this week on the BBC website that was covered by taggers. They do not care – they are making graffiti not art. This fellow is just trying it on. If people like it & are willing to pay him, clever stuff!

  1. I think your conclusions are sound, Greg. Honestly, Perello sounds like a bit of a jerk whose ego may prevent him from seeing the implications of his own work. Angry? This would be like Abbie Hoffman getting angry in 1971 because someone stole his book (i.e., the book with his chosen title blasted across the cover: “STEAL THIS BOOK”).

    1. While stopped at trains tracks, I actually enjoy some of the graphitti. Nothing to do but wait anyway, and some of it has become rather sophisticated in use of gradients and color choice.

  2. I agree with 1, 2 and 3.

    Three patches of dark green were added. As far as entropy is concerned, there was no difference.

    So much of art is subjective. I have a cousin who vistits and post pictures from many modern art museums in NYC. Much of what he posts as art makes me laugh.

    The bottom line is that if someone will pay a lot of money for an artwork, then that is what it is worth, just like so many things under capitalism, including money itself.

    1. Must be the first time that seminal work has enjoyed a mention on WEIT! Tony Hancock is still sadly missed by some of us.

      1. Yes, when it comes to modern art the Juvenile School has never been bettered. And Hancock was brilliant; I’m sure we’re not alone at WEIT in missing his comedic genius.

  3. One of the greatest television shows of all time is the Batman series from the 1960s. Just Adam West’s deadpan delivery makes it better than most other shows. Probably way above the heads of most viewers, there was a lot of humour and social satire. In one episode, the Joker comes into a museum and splatters paint on some old masters. After arriving at the scene and Robin describing what an act of vandalism that was, Batman said that actually the Joker had increased the value of the paintings. 😐

    A quick search didn’t find it, but this sums up my feelings about most modern art:

    1. Adam West hailed from my former small town in WA – his childhood home was purchased by a late friend of mine, and engineer, artist, car enthusiast and general excellent human. He loved dressing up as Batman for Halloween and taking kids through the house. The town now even has an Adam West Day & city park. He was a delight.

    2. Yes, it was hilarious. My favourite episode is when Batman’s cowl turns bright pink after being contaminated by radiation. Although the bank raid when the baddies steal gold bullion by melting it to form an armoured tank – which fires gold shells – and driving it through the walls of the vault to make their getaway is another memorable one! The tank flattens Police Chief O’Hara’s squad car with him inside – he miraculously survived because he was parked over a manhole cover…

  4. The NYT story has a before and after photo, and for the life of me I can’t find the additions the couple made.

    I am firmly on the side of “not vandalism.” Had I walked past the painting and seen all these open cans of paint, I would likely have concluded that the public was invited to contribute.

  5. 1. No, not vandalism. The couple’s intent was to participate in the art, not to deface or destroy.
    2. The better artist is a very subjective question. But I suspect it was a setup so it is probably Perello who is the better artist. He caused us to have this discussion.
    3. Not vandalism, but I think the artist placed the cans knowing it would be a likely outcome. I would guess he hoped for that.
    4. I can’t spot it, but I think the question misses the point (based on my subjective interpretation of course!). This isn’t a question of who is better at putting colors and shapes on a surface. To me, it is about the response on the part of the viewing public. The effect of the art is what makes it art, in my completely uneducated opinion. Perello may be totally full of himself, thinking that he has a right to paint whatever wherever and not have it touched by others. But the effect of what he did is that here we are talking about what is art and what is right conduct, and all that. Well played!

  6. The artist, John Andrew Perello, was angered, and said it reminded him of how the graffiti he put up while a youngster in New York was not appreciated.

    One thing about graffiti artists, the serious ones operate under a code whereby they refuse to paint over the work done by another.

    I recall going to the US Open tennis tournament in the late Seventies, the year it moved to the Louis Armstrong stadium in Flushing Meadows, which was adjacent to a subway car graveyard of sorts. I took a walk through there to admire the graffiti-covered cars. Some of the stuff was really good. Heck, Norman Mailer wrote a book-length essay around that time in appreciation of New York City’s street artists, The Faith of Graffiti.

    1. One thing about graffiti artists, the serious ones operate under a code whereby they refuse to paint over the work done by another.

      So … when $City_Transport_Organisation$ starts painting their rolling stock with copies of commissioned and paid-for graffiti-art (perhaps mostly in the livery of $City_Transport_Organisation$ ; whatever, that’s (partly) the artist’s choice) … their amateur (sense : unpaid) graffiti problem should evaporate.
      Given steadily increasing understanding of surface chemistry – “lotus-inspired” non-muck-collecting surfaces, I’m looking at you! – I am slightly surprised that graffiti remains a problem. I infer that the fancy coatings are still too expensive. Or don’t last adequately.
      Maybe painting the trains with tartan paint would render the “tags” unrecognisable. Particularly if bagpipe muzak were played in the marshalling yards at night.

  7. I imagine Parello did this intentionally to get publicity.There is nothing interesting about Perello or his art but now he is in the NYT and it will be a million dollar painting.

    The art world falls for this crap because greatness is no longer celebrated and an idiotic shtick is more important than artistic quality.

    1. On the upside, there are rumours that the NFT-art bubble has already burst.
      Tulip soup, anyone?

      1. At least I could get years of pleasure looking at tulips. I would not pay $5 for NFTs, Duct Tape Bananas or Self Destructing Art.

        I just hope the couple get their share of the profits. They turned garbage into the art version of gold. I imagine Parello was looking on thinking “Just do it” and was disappointed every time a pedestrian walked by without “vandalizing.”

  8. I think they improved on it, as their additions completed the aspirations of the original artist which was to convey the spirit of man; all of our hopes and all of our dreams are laid out here on this one canvas for all to see. In the seemingly random cacophony of vivid colors, the three artists show all of us that we are really dreaming creatures. All very different, and yet because we all have hopes and dreams we are all the same.

    Except for that yellow dribbly bit in the upper left corner. Those dabs of paint are there to remind one of the artists that they were to pick up a dozen eggs and a half gallon of milk.

  9. The artist, John Andrew Perello, was angered, and said it reminded him of how the graffiti he put up while a youngster in New York was not appreciated.

    Is this ironic? He used to spray paint in locations where it was not wanted and now somebody else has daubed paint in a location where he doesn’t want it.

    I have no sympathy.

  10. In regard to the question “What is art?”, Wikipedia has a thought-provoking report at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal-made_art .

    A relevant excerpt:
    “The most successful chimpanzee artist is Congo (1954–1964). Morris offered him a pencil and paper at two years of age, and by the age of four, Congo had made 400 drawings and paintings. His style has been described as “lyrical abstract impressionism”.[5] Media reaction to Congo’s painting abilities were mixed, although relatively positive and accepted with interest. Pablo Picasso was reportedly a “fan” of his paintings, and hung one in his studio after receiving it as a gift.[5][6] In 2005 Congo’s paintings were included in an auction at Bonhams alongside works by Renoir and Warhol. They sold for more than expected, while Renoir’s and Warhol’s did not sell. American collector Howard Hong purchased three of Congo’s works for over US$25,000.[6][7][8] “

    1. A relevant excerpt:
      “The most successful chimpanzee artist is Congo (1954–1964)

      For certain values of “success”. But with median lifespans in captivity of “31.7 years for males and 38.7 years for females.”, that 10 year lifetime isn’t terribly encouraging. Alexander the Great did better!
      Then again, who was it that said “Die Young, Stay Pretty”? Congo, Andy Warhol, or Debby Harry?

  11. Never put your hand through a fence to pet large livestock. If they lean in, it’s possible to get your hand trapped between the animal and the fence and that can really, really hurt. Instead, reach over the fence or only pet the parts that you can reach without putting your hand all the way through. I learned this the hard way when I was a kid, and fortunately only lost a fingernail when the bull crushed my finger against his enclosure from his obvious pleasure at being scratched on the top of the head. He seemed sorry.

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