The New York Times has a story this morning on "The Splasher" -- the "unknown protagonist" who's going around splattering paint on street art pieces in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Splasher has hit "dozens of pieces of street art created by people who may not be household names, but who have achieved the esteem of peers and some recognition from the mainstream art world."
According to The Times:
"Nobody has yet reported the splatterings to the police, perhaps because city laws say that the art that was defaced is just as unlawful as the paint splashed onto it. Street artists usually put up their work without permission, and some people consider the work itself to be vandalism."
There are a couple of photos with the Times story, and several more here. The Times says "the term street art is thought to have originated in the 1980s, when it was used to describe the work of well-known artists like Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf. Their artistic descendants work in practically any medium, from paint to stickers to carefully fashioned metal sculpture." Here is the Wikipedia entry on street art.
One of the artists mentioned by Wikipedia is Banksy, the British artist who was recently in the news when one of his pieces (of a monkey preparing to blow up a bunch of bananas) was removed by workers at London's Waterloo Station. Maintenance crews have since been given photographs of his work for future reference and instructed to "try and remove it if at all possible and auction it for charity."
UPDATE: Time magazine's Richard Lacayo comments:
"[W]hoever is doing the vandalizing -- and yes, yes, we know, there's an irony involved here in the idea of vandalizing work that already qualifies in the eyes of the law as vandalism; ok, noted -- needs to keep in mind what Herbert Marcuse explained long ago. Of course street art can be re-absorbed back into the system it supposedly resists. There is no escaping the system. There are no 'transgressive gestures' that a market economy can't turn into merchandise. Including paint splatters over somebody else's street art. Note to street art splatterer: call your agent."