Arts Desk

Goodbye, Milbanksy

No, it wasn't The Sopranos cutting out in the middle of Tony's last onion ring, but it was just as sudden a finale. Two tweets later, and @DCStreetArt, the group of amateur street artists behind the wheatpaste posters of Washington Post pundit Dana Milbank, was no more.

The people behind the images that became known as "Milbanksy"—or perhaps a lone actor, we never really found out for sure—revealed themselves partially to me and a couple colleagues at the H Street Festival on Sept. 15 with a set of their stickers. In addition to the Milbanksy, we received an image of a panda with the imperative "RETURN" and one of Thomas Jefferson that commanded "DANCE."

A few days later, Arts Editor Jonathan L. Fischer received the Milbanksy Manifesto—a long statement from the artists about their inspiration, their means of deploying their art, and their decidedly non-professional status:

MILBANK, RETURN and DANCE? Same artist. But we caution that "artist" should be loosely defined. None of us, professionally, is an artist. None of us runs around at night with spraypaint cans scribbling on walls. None of us has a tag. There is no graffiti crew. Not even sure we are all friends. Kidding. We're have Federal Reserve-style clandestine meetings to brainstorm new campaigns. One could argue that the stickers are not art. Perhaps, then, we are a part of the conversation about the contours of street art.

We sat around one night and proposed this question: How would people react to seeing Dana Milbank's image on a wall? None of us personally know Dana Milbank. We read his columns. As do thousands of other people. We thought his image would foster discussion about journalism, marketing and the trend toward super-local news. Dana Milbank inspires polarized views—liberal hack or insightful iconoclast—so would people rather denigrate him or praise him?

Gawker picked up on it. So did Romenesko. For his part, Milbank acknowledged Milbanksy only fleetingly, writing in one of his reader chats last week that "I feel bad that the poster hanger wasted so much time on me. If he/she will identify him/herself, I will hang posters of him/her in exchange."

Since spotting my first Milbanksy in May on the base of a lampost at 14th Street and Park Road NW, I've shot Milbank a couple of emails asking for his reaction to the posters. He never replied. Perhaps the self-conscious columnist really was too flummoxed by the stickers and posters to mount a weightier response.

But more unsettling was the long string of tweets by @DCStreetArt that began late Thursday with "The object of these pages is to relate the genesis of a masterpiece. The masterpiece is hanging on the wall in front of me; it is dry now." Continuing until Friday evening, the tweets became more reflective, philosophical, and meandering. The darkness really was growing, with references to songs including Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls," the Velvet Underground's "The Black Angel's Death Song," and, more than once, "Paint It  Black." There was also a throwaway reference to and Howard Stern's penis, which now that I think about it, was quite possibly tweeted for the sole purpose of getting a follower like me to write something containing the phrase "Howard Stern's penis." Congratulations.

This extended, whimsical goodbye is reminiscent of the departure of @MayorEmanuel, the satirical tribute to Chicago's famous pottymouth of a mayor. The account, which was later revealed to be the work of Punk Planet publisher and Columbia College professor Dan Sinker, tracked Candidate Emanuel's campaign with blue takes on the rigors of retail politics. After Emanuel's Feb. 22 victory, Sinker signed off with a poetic reflection of his fictional side of a very real mayoral campaign. On Feb. 23, @MayorEmanuel disappeared into the vortex of the Internet with the sign-off, "And now all I can hear is that music, and suddenly everything just fucking..."

And just like that, he was gone.

Over the weekend, I emailed @DCStreetArt a few questions. So far, I haven't received a reply, so I'll repeat my questions here, and maybe, one last time, our favorite street artists of the summer will speak up:

  1. If your work as "DCStreetArt" has indeed come to an end, will you identify yourselves now? (I know, I know, but I have to ask.)
  2. Why have you decided to stop at this time? Are you done with street art entirely, or just this street art?
  3. After enough time, might your work return to the D.C. streets you called "an untapped, unwritten blog" some day?
  4. Why Milbank (beyond the obvious alliterative qualities with Banksy) and not, say, Eugene Robinson, E.J. Dionne, George Will, or Kathleen Parker?
  5. Have I met any of you in person?

And Dana, if you ever read this, feel free to chime in.

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