Reality TV Show Street Art Throwdown Promises to Discover Next Banksy

The art-centric show is coming to Oxygen in February.

The cast of Street Art Throwdown. Photo via Oxygen.

In the tradition of such great art-centric reality shows as “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” and “Gallery Girls” (RIP endlessly entertaining Brooklyn hipster vs. Manhattan trustfunder rivalries) comes “Street Art Throwdown,” a televised competition that will air on Oxygen beginning February 3. The show will follow 10 up-and-coming street artists as they battle it out for a $100,000 grand prize. According to a press release, “The series tests not only their physical stamina, but also pushes their artistic skills to the limit in hopes of jump-starting their career…furiously scaling walls, climbing fences and navigating underground tunnels, these artists must have the talent, style and hustle to battle it out to the end.”

Commercial artist and designer Justin Bua, known for his fine art posters and clients like Nike and Target, will play host and co-judge alongside Lauren Wagner, the director of Pop International Galleries. When compared to the list of judges on “Work of Art,” which boasted art critic Jerry Saltz and dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, among others, this is something of a letdown. Granted, many of the street art luminaries aren’t exactly friends of the press (the potential for getting arrested kind of puts a damper on PR opportunities), but wasn’t Shepard Fairey or someone available? From what we can glean from the list of contestants, the show will feature four Californians and a lot of Instagram addicts.

A Surface and an Idea

If you needed any further proof that street art culture has been completely assimilated into the commercial art industrial complex, here it is. Sure, it hasn’t aired yet so it’s hard to dismiss the show definitively, but we’re hedging our bets that it will kind of miss the point of street art—that you don’t need thousands of dollars, the approval of an established body, or any kind of “jump-start” in order to create it. Its allure has always rested on the premise that in order to participate, all you need is some paint, a surface, and an idea.

But it’s clear that the show (like many enterprising gallerists) is looking to cash in on the prosperity of street art’s most recognizable successes: Banksy, Bambi, and Alec Monopoly (see The Top 10 Most Searched Artists on Artnet in 2014). And despite the fact that we have our doubts about the program’s sincerity, they know how to talk the talk: “Street Art is the most accessible art form there is— it takes art out of the galleries and into our everyday surroundings with themes reflecting our social and political climate as well as fun, vibrant, and bold forms of self-expression from those who create it,” said Rod Aissa, Oxygen’s executive vice president of original programming and development.

At the end of the day, we’re all for people giving young artists money. And it greatly amuses us when any aspect of the art world is lampooned on television. So we will probably (read: definitely) tune in for at least the first episode. But we wouldn’t be shocked if the show quickly went the way of the aforementioned arty programming, which is to say, cancelled quickly.

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