Tony Shafrazi Defaces ‘Guernica’ Again

tony shafrazi and strippers
Tony Shafrazi and guests. Photo: Patrick McMullan


At the after-party for the opening of "Who's Afraid of Jasper Johns," an exhibit at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery curated by Swiss artist Urs Fischer and gallerist Gavin Brown, two strippers dressed as cops wheeled out an enormous Guernica-decorated cake to laughter and applause. The puckish subtext of the exhibit, after all, was the notorious 1974 incident in which Shafrazi, then a 30-year-old artist, spray-painted the words "Kill Lies All" onto Picasso's Guernica. Photos of Shafrazi being led out of MoMA in handcuffs graced a table near the front door of the head-spinning exhibition, which features pieces by Keith Haring, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and others displayed against a backdrop of life-size photographs Fischer took of a previous show at the gallery, creating a trompe l'oeil effect of one show superimposed on another.

"The whole show was more or less related to that, basically," Shafrazi said later in the evening of his shocking act of youthful indiscretion, which he described at the time as an attempt to update the masterpiece (and which earned him only five years of probation after MoMA conservators were able to immediately clean the painting). "Many elements in the show are related to my history or something or another, but not directly. The whole idea of juxtaposing things one on top of the other, one thing relating to something else, both things talking together … It doesn't have to seem to be destructive or aggressive, but on the other hand, the way it's done is very thoughtful and celebratory." Not a few people in the art world have been unable to forgive Shafrazi for what he did. If given the chance, would he do it again? "Oh, it was a different time, you can't talk about it that way," he said. "It was a miserable time, and there was a need to be addressed. I was 30 years old. Many, many elements make that particular moment unique. I wouldn't be that person now, of course not."

But does he regret the incident? At the after-party, faced with the Guernica cake, Shafrazi was momentarily taken aback, but quickly plunged in. "I'M SORRY," he told us he scrawled on the cake with red icing. "NOT!" —Andrew Goldstein