But is it art?

The normally peaceful – let’s not have a conflict – Stockholm has been suffering from a wave of protests this week about a so-called art project by Magnus Gustafsson, former student of Konstfack: Sweden’s University College of Arts, Crafts and Design. For his graduation thesis, he carried out an art project, which consisted of a two-minute film of a black-masked person (himself) defacing the interior of a train compartment by spraying the walls with spray paint. He then smashes a window and jumps out to carry on spraying the walls of the tube station. All in all, he managed to cause 12,000 dollars’ worth of damage.


Now, don’t get me wrong: I understand that graffiti is a sub-culture and I’m not totally against it as an expression of art. But the actual act of spraying paint in a carriage full of passengers and then smashing the window is … well, against the law.. and it’s usually called ‘vandalism’ in other contexts.

How can it be that what is vandalism in one context is art in another? Mr. Gustafsson, who goes under the name NUG, is doing very well out of this controversy, thank you very much. His film is called Territorial Pissing (and yes – it is a Nirvana song -quite right!) and the copies he has sold have raked in about 13,000 dollars so far – half has gone to him, and half to the gallery owner who sold them.

The whole thing whiffs of: we are all equal, but some are more equal than others. I’m betting that if a young immigrant had made a film of himself defacing a train, then he would have been carted off to jail faster than he could have said, “But officer — it’s art!”


27 thoughts on “But is it art?

  1. I’m with you on this one. I’ve seen beautiful graffiti that defintely qualifies as “graffiti art” but the smashing of the window and defacing the subway car is taking a little far. I’m not sure i can get down with that.

    Anarchy has its place but its not art.



  2. Well, if he sells the same number of videos again as he’s sold already, he’ll be able to pay for all the damage, and everyone will be happy 😉 .


  3. I don’t call this art at all and neither are most of the ‘art – installations ‘ you see in a lot of modern galleries. I think it’s all a case of the Emperor’s clothes.


  4. agreed, its bad. its not art. not for real. did you know there was a woman who cleaned a block in new york city while yelling..’this is art!’ at the people walking by?

    or that an artist (this one makes me sick to my stomach) publicly starved a dog to death in Nicaragua. I cant believe these people arent prosecuted. Anyone else would have been arrested (well…here they would have, I dont know the animal protection laws, if any, in Nicaragua) for cruelty.

    its ridiculous.


  5. What is ar and what is not is such hazy territory. It sounds to me like the “artist just wanted to see what he could get away with!


  6. Tycker det är både barnligt och dumt att tro att man kan göra vad som helst i konstens namn, även sånt som är olagligt. Men å andra sidan så är nog många av konstfacks studenter fortfarande ganska unga och barnsliga.


  7. It is not art when you’re damaging properties. You can spray paint on walls without breaking any windows and scare the passengers.


  8. Well, it depends. Did he improve the subway car?

    No, just kidding. It’s vandalism. But, if he had done it, say, on the side of an aquaduct (as a lot of people did in Pueblo, Colorado, USA to the utter beautification of the town, in my opinion) then I think that would have been okay.


  9. I am going to have to come down on the side that this is NOT art. And I really hate when “artists” do this type of stuff. I mean, I understand how graffiti is an art form — but what he did isn’t even graffiti in the truest sense — it was more like an attempt to get attention for being outrageous.

    But then people buy this stuff and he makes money. Why is that?

    As always, you have such interesting things to make me think about. And thanks for your note — I’m glad you enjoyed the bad writing. Your entries are still cracking me up! I’m glad you had fun!


  10. Hi Ladyfi
    I have a really soft spot for art and I can tolerate a lot in the name of culture – but I cannot see the point of this at all. How dare he! I can’t see how he could defend it.
    June in Oz


  11. I think the problem is that there is a very fine line between art and vandalism, and the lines start to get blurred…and that is when people become upset and it becomes a bad thing.


  12. I couldn’t agree more!!! Some graffiti can be really stunning and the people who did it obviously have talent but vandalising a train….he should be made to pay for it!!!

    C x


  13. I agree….he crossed the line. Sad too, because it could have really made a great statement sans the vandalism! Now he will just be known as the guy that vandalised the train!


  14. Perhaps it is not a question of either/or; perhaps it is both vandalism AND art (like all graffiti). When you think about the origins of graffiti, it is a counter culture. You’re not supposed to like it unless you’re on the same “team” as the artist. This is just another protest against the gentrification of graffiti.


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