‘Street Art Throwdown’ Missteps With Deeply Uncool D.A.R.E. Challenge

"I'm feeling like anybody could have done this," said a judge.

Losing Street Art Throwdown contestant Agana. Photo: Oxygen.

The second episode of Oxygen’s ambitious new art reality series Street Art Throwdown narrowed the field to eight graffiti artists with two challenges that perfectly illustrate the show’s inherent weaknesses, in particular, a perplexing partnership with substance abuse prevention education program D.A.R.E.

Gone were the premiere episode’s patronizingly helpful on-screen graphics defining graffiti buzzwords like “can control” (“mastery of the spray can and ability to execute precise detail”), and “color value” (“the lightness or darkness of a color”). But that might just have been because there was so little trade jargon in play this time around.

Clearly, this is not a show that expects viewers to have an arts background, but it’s not clear if anyone on the show has a grasp themselves. The judge’s comments tend to come less in the form of actual critique about the substance and quality of art and are expressed more in the form of vague complaints, like “I’m just not getting the story of how that’s you.”

As expected, street art culture has been completely watered down for television. In the hustle challenge, where contestants were directed to consistently paint a signature image as many times as possible, artists actually started whining when the judges granted them permission to “bomb” existing images by painting over them.

“Bombing over each other’s stuff is like the ultimate sign of disrespect. It’s just not my thing,” Cameron, the show’s preacher/street artist, said disapprovingly.

Tatyana Fazlalizdah, <em>Nuala, Philadelphia</em> (2013), part of "Stop Telling Women to Smile." Photo: Tatyana Fazlalizdah.

Tatyana Fazlalizdah, Nuala, Philadelphia (2013), part of “Stop Telling Women to Smile.”
Photo: Tatyana Fazlalizdah.

Artist and activist Tatyana Fazlalizdah brought the episode some much-needed art cred with her gender-based public harassment poster series “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” but she was unable to salvage the deeply uncool throwdown elimination challenge: creating a stenciled poster for D.A.R.E. for the organization’s 2015 anti-bullying campaign.

The words drug abuse resistance education were never mentioned, but you still got the sense that if the cameras were off, most of the artists would have probably mocked D.A.R.E. Completing the sense of an all-out sell-out where street art is concerned, contestants in the first challenge had to receive permission from local store owners to put up the their posters. We had to wonder, is this really standard practice in a realm they have already presumably honed their craft?

The result? A hugely underwhelming array of work that the judges clearly had a tough time mustering up any enthusiasm for. The winner, Leba, was seemingly chosen at random, and the only praise for runner-up Kristin was for her focus on how bullying flourishes on social media.

The top two designs from the second episode of <em>Street Art Throwdown</em>. Photo: Oxygen.

The top two designs from the second episode of Street Art Throwdown.
Photo: Oxygen.

On another note, the losers’ entries were truly disastrous: Agana’s off-message “health is wealth” poster had nothing to do with bullying; Annie’s bland “stop hating and start creating” poster was supposed to highlight the “art” in “start” in yellow paint, but fell far short given her use of a yellow background; and Jenna drew a macabre noose that was totally inappropriate for D.A.R.E.’s child audience.

“I’m feeling like anybody could have done this. It’s very generic,” host/judge Justin Bua told Annie.

“I’m crying on reality TV; that’s so lame,” she sobbed in response: a rare moment of self-awareness for any reality show participant.

Rather mystifyingly, the somewhat-promising Agana was given the boot. In typical reality tv fashion, she did her best to drag down Jenna with her, criticizing her dark imagery. The judges remained unswayed, however, and we are officially down to eight competitors.

For more of artnet News’s coverage on Street Art Throwdown, see Jerry Saltz on Why Street Art Throwdown is Complete Crap, 5Pointz Creator Meres One Makes Guest Appearance on Street Art Throwdown, and Reality TV Show Street Art Throwdown Promises to Discover Next Banksy.

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