The Fussy Eye: Yo, Pablo!

Guernica gets tagged, on purpose.

Well ahead of the Picasso show opening at SAM on Oct. 8, First Thursday art-walkers can encounter the great man himself, glowering at the center of a mural painted on a vacant old building at Second and Main. He's flanked by portions of Guernica. The whole striking array has been deliberately splattered with purple and yellow graffiti, like a subway car in the '70s. You might think the outdoor installation was done in waves: first the borrowed classic, then the subsequent defacing. But Picasso's oft-cited adage "Bad artists copy, good artists steal" is appended alongside credited artists Franklin and Thomas and "Dan K", a clue to its origins. The disparate elements were painted together, just one month ago. (And remarkably, as of press time, no one had added any new tags or flyers.) It's an arresting mash-up, but what exactly is being stolen? Picasso looks nonplussed at his supposed kidnapping. And how many casual passersby will connect the painting—or its fragments—to when Germans and Italians bombed Spanish Republicans at the behest of Franco and his fellow fascists? That was 80 years ago. Graffiti is sometimes called "bombing," or was, in the heyday of hip-hop—now also decades past. How, today, do these historical threads tie together? Perhaps the message is this: Bad artists copy, good artists steal, and those in between just sample. 

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