Home View from Underground Poster Boy’s MoMA attack: Street art or vandalism?

Poster Boy’s MoMA attack: Street art or vandalism?

by Benjamin Kabak


Photo of the altered MoMA installation by Doug Jaeger. A complete set of images from the attack are available here at PSFK.

For the last few months, a group of so-called street artists going by the Poster Boy moniker has taken to the subways. The idea, as presented recently by New York Magazine, is that by editing — or vandalized — subway ads and recreating them as something else, the artists are making some sort of political/creative statement.

Over the weekend, this group attacked the MoMA installation in the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. station. By the time I heard of the attack and took a walk through the station yesterday at 3 p.m., nearly all signs of it were gone, and the concourses were teeming with police officers. A poster — the one pictured at right — had to be replaced and one of Aakash Nihalani’s boxes remained on a supply closet door.

As word of this attack spread, the response has been odd, to say the least. One of the groups responsible for the installation — not MoMA or CBS Outdoors — seems to have been complicit in the vandalism, and MoMA has had to deny responsibility for any role in the defacement of their installation.

New York Magazine’s Vulture blog broke the news of the attack on Tuesday:

[Poster Boy’s] accomplice was a less likely culprit: Doug Jaeger, the marketing executive who created the campaign for MoMA. Jaeger is CEO of the brand-management agency the Happy Corp and president of the prestigious Art Directors Club.

Wearing official MoMA jackets, the two convinced the MTA guards and station police that they were there on official business. Poster Boy and his crew then proceeded to mash up the reproductions in traditional PB-style, meaning Andy Warhol’s Marilyn was made to look as though she had a nose job, and a cutout of a race car was positioned to dive into another painting. When they were done, Jaeger staged a fashion shoot in front of Poster Boy’s reworked creations, using hired models and a professional photographer (the above model’s face is pixelated — says Jaeger, who hopes to sell the images at some point — because he doesn’t have permission to use his/her likeness without consent).

“Early on we saw Poster Boy’s work, and we realized it was inevitable that if we did this project, his crew would likely see it as an opportunity. Whenever you create something, you want to make sure you’re prepared for that,” Jaeger says. “What I would hope is that it would cause debate and generate some argument, at a minimum.”

Later in the day on Tuesday, with CBS Outdoor, the lessor of the advertising space, criticizing MoMA for allowing this act of subway vandalism to go on with their tacit approval, the Museum denied knowledge and responsibility. “As far as we’re concerned, the Happy Corp is MoMA’s agent and has been throughout this entire process, so to detach them now at the eleventh hour when something kind of funky happens is not an assumption that I would make,” Jodi Senese, CBS Outdoor’s executive vice-president of marketing, said to Vulture. “They vandalized our property and they really got involved in vandalizing MTA property as well. I think it’s a negative press image that they’re pushing on the MTA and on us.”

MoMA’s spokesperson simply said, “That is not correct” when a New York Magazine reporter asked if the Museum had known about or approved Poster Boy’s changes prior to the attack.

While publicly the MTA, MoMA and CBS Outdoor have reached a detante, the debate over this art-cum-vandalism has raged online for a few days. Some commenters on PSFK feel that this mash-up is the very definition of Modern Art while others are worried about the chilling effects of this so-called stunt.

Personally, it’s tough to condone this work. At its basic level, it’s nothing more than glorified subway graffiti set forth under the pretext of a social statement. That one of the originators of the installation participated in the scheme should raise some red flags at the MTA, and the “artists” who impersonated MoMA employees are probably guilty of more than one crime here.

Maybe there is some artistic value in the Poster Boy movement. But I don’t see it. To me, it’s just plain old vandalism.

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DMEddy February 26, 2009 - 4:20 pm

I am confused: you say the culprits wore MoMA jackets, so then why do you then write ‘the “artists” who impersonated MTA employees’ if no such thing happened? Please clarify.

Benjamin Kabak February 26, 2009 - 4:22 pm

An error. It’s corrected. They were impersonating MoMA employees.

TTGZ February 27, 2009 - 5:29 am

This touches on the issue – contentious within the street art community – of whether defacing someone else’s street art counts as “art”. Because, ultimately, that’s what MoMA had engaged in: street art. They were putting art in a public place.

From my perspective, I’ve never seen any defacements of existing street art that have ever “improved” the art, or “added a statement”. I’m willing to admit that there may be exceptions, but I haven’t seen them. In the majority of cases, it seems to be graffitti artists just riding on the success of someone much more influential than them (defacing a Banksy, for example, is sure to get you noticed…).

There’s a really sad example of this at a subway station in London, UK: Vauxhall. There was a brick wall, with inset sections forming quasi-“frames”. Since the ’80s, an entire platform was filled with beautiful depictions of “London Life” in graffiti style. Station staff left them there, despite it being graffiti. Then about a year ago, some idiot went and drew a massive tag all over it – destroying the art which had stood for about twenty years.

The Secret Conductor February 27, 2009 - 9:26 am

Somebody finally has noticed this? Well, its mostly on the L line from what I see, but it is spreading. Some of it is funny, while others… no so much.

People have been reconfiguring the ads on the L for a minute. And it is not MoMA doing it either. I am noit sure if its a good idea to speak on it (of which will spread he idea) or to just quielty do something about it (best opion but may backfire due to lack of follow-up cause no one is paying attention to it).

Guess we will find out.

R2 February 27, 2009 - 11:24 am

As if the MTA weren’t averse enough to trying new things, this guy has to pull off a stupid stunt like this.
Really. REALLY?

MoMA cuts ties with Poster Boy supporter :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog March 2, 2009 - 3:30 pm

[…] Poster Boy attacked the MoMA installation in the Atlantic Ave.-Pacific St. station last week, an interesting tidbit emerged: One of the […]

Drew March 3, 2009 - 10:45 am

It is vandalism to exactly the same extent as the ads themselves are vandalism.

Benjamin Kabak March 3, 2009 - 10:47 am

Can you elaborate on that please? I don’t see how advertising in the subways — something that’s been since day one in 1904 — is vandalism.


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