The Art of War

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Pranksters

Tyler students wage a friendly art war
by Susan Snyder
Philadephia Inquirer
March 21, 2009

Tyler Art Students Wage WarFor nearly 30 hours, the new art students in town built their self-proclaimed acts of “art war” – eight-and-a-half-foot sculptures of Trojan horses – which they then stealthily installed on the campuses of four Philadelphia arts colleges earlier this week.

“Art war,” proclaimed Alyssa Brubaker, 22, a Medford, senior studying at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, which relocated from Elkins Park to North Philadelphia in January.

“We’re here now.”

The prank, however, had a larger purpose: to open dialogue among students at major art schools in the city.

Chester Zecca, 22, a Tyler school senior from Berwyn, said he often lamented that there was not more communication.

“It’s really important for artists to have a strong community, the more the better,” he said.

The idea was born in mid-February in an advanced sculpture class when assistant professor Karyn Olivier asked students to think of a project that would require them to work together for an extended period of time, as artists must sometimes do. The group of 12 students decided that a calling card of sorts was the project to embrace.

They invited retaliation from their four targets: Moore College of Art & Design, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the University of the Arts and the Art Institute of Philadelphia. In 100 declarations of war stuffed inside each of the horses, they wrote that they “stand by our gates at full attention waiting for the battle to begin.”

Some students at the target schools have already taken up arms, or paint brushes.

“Consider this an official acceptance of your declaration of war . . . and you can expect a prompt and well-crafted response,” a Moore student warned on a YouTube video.

Even faculty and administrators were intrigued by the “collegial competitiveness,” said Stephen Tarantal, dean of the college of art and design at the University of the Arts.

“We are going to provide a response. . . . in the same spirit,” he said.

Tarantal said, however, that some on campus were “concerned” that the Tyler students delivered the lode during a major art exhibition to raise money for scholarships. The school had to quickly dismantle what he called “the gift horse.”

And at PAFA, some were miffed that the Tyler students had listed their name wrong – using Philadelphia instead of Pennsylvania – on the declarations.

But students at the academy, founded in 1805, decided to take it in stride and are planning a response, said David Wilson, 35, a graduate student.

“We do feel that it is our responsibility as the oldest art academy in the United States to foster the development of these younger schools and help encourage their growth and maturity,” he said.

Tyler students pulled a pizza- and coffee-laden all-nighter to build the horses, which they made with wood and cardboard left over from the school’s recent move to Temple’s main campus in North Philadelphia.

Some students sewed. Some welded. Some cut and pasted. Others wrote declarations and hung a Tyler flag from each horse’s mouth.

The Tyler students and their professor installed the horses in the lobbies and administration centers of the other art schools Tuesday evening.

They encountered no resistance, they said. But there was a lot of curiosity about the ancient Greek symbols.

“The first thing I did was to make sure there weren’t a gaggle of students waiting to jump out,” Wilson said.