I walked over to 11 Spring Street today, to get some last pictures of the exterior walls. No one was around, and I stood on the street undisturbed for about ten minutes, looking at the building. By now, of course, the walls are a visual riot; most pieces have been crossed out, some multiple times. This is not the collaboration that usually marks streetart-- this is hardcore crossing-out, which is graffiti's version of rape. There's back story to it: that the local graffiti artists felt disrespected by the visiting street artists (which, to some extent they were; Jace, for instance, went over some large pieces on the corner of Houston and Bowery, and later, that crew came back to 11 Spring for revenge. Same goes for the Irak crew in the photo above-- they were the previous kings of 11 Spring, and saw their work gone over by everyone. They also came back to show how they felt about it.) There was also plenty of beef between the streetartists, and plenty more from people who hadn't been invited to participate in the project.
That stuff might explain how this happened, but it doesn't really explain why it all happened-- why did the wall end up like this?
To understand that, you've got to know about the tragedy of the commons. That's economic shorthand for what happens to communal, public goods when there is no cost assigned to using them. Let me be more specific: the beautiful walls of 11 Spring Street were, for a little while at least, a public good. They were available to all of us to be enjoyed. But because there was no cost to using them, there were no funds to protect them. Even more tellingly, because there were no costs assigned to painting on the walls, everyone who wanted to did. Observes one graf-expert that I know: "an event of this magnitude really brings out the lowliest of street artists. the hours i was waiting on line, the only shit i saw go up were by world class toys." And of course, once the cycle gets started, the better artists don't want to put stuff up, because they know it's just going to get destroyed. A vicious cycle ensues, and total chaos is the result.