German graffiti exhibit breathes new life into millennial apathy

“You want to be special? Be careful what you ask for.” If /r/lostgeneration, a Reddit forum for millennials who feel victimized by the baby boomer generation, had an art gallery, it would look like Herakut’s Masters of Wrong, currently on display at the Corey Helford Gallery in Boyle Heights. The latest set of paintings from the German artist duo pairs today’s nihilism with whimsy and innocence. This artwork challenges even the most jaded millennials to approach contemporary issues with the optimism of a child.

Herakut is composed of graffiti artists Jasmin Siddiqui and Falk Lehmann, whose work has spanned continents and mediums. The over 20 paintings currently on display celebrate the staples of millennial life — Pokémon, Kim Kardashian and even a nod to My Little Pony. through the graffiti medium, bridging today’s pop art with the ’90s angst that it grew out of.

Though Masters of Wrong clearly emphasizes the unique culture of today’s American youth and the unprecedented challenges that they face, Herakut’s artwork transcends generations and cultures. As part of the project, the artists visited Culver City High School and collaborated with art students to create a new mural at the school. Attendance at the gallery’s opening Saturday was high and all-ages.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the gallery is the interactive “playground” installed in the rear corner. Herakut seeded the area with a parade of cardboard kids holding up pessimistic messages: “Sh-t is f-cked up,” and “Trump makes America hate again.” On the wall, in menacing capital letters it says, “If Tetris has taught me anything, it’s that errors pile up and accomplishments disappear.”

Visitors were then invited to paint their own messages, and as the crowd-sourced additions began to sprawl across the wall, their content shifted mystifyingly toward optimism. From chaos emerged messages of empowerment and hope, in many languages: “No estás solo. Estamos unidos,” wrote one visitor. Another added, in Korean, “Art is not for your inspiration alone, but an inspiration to be shared with others.”

The Masters of Wrong playground reveals the defining quality of Herakut’s art: It works. Herakut’s intentions are unmistakable in pieces like “Satan,” which shows the Statue of Liberty walking a Donald Trump pig on a leash. The painting could stand alone as a political cartoon, but its accompanying text reads more like a reaction GIF: “When you ask Satan instead of Santa for a new president.” By combining the generic conventions of two different generations, Herakut asserts the universality and imminence of contemporary problems.

Pieces like “Sailor Mom,” which pictures a pregnant teen in a Sailor Moon outfit, might feel uncomfortably didactic for some viewers. However, overall Masters of Wrong does not come across as fabricated millennial cultural literacy or a petty attempt at “reaching the kids.” In today’s culture of moral relativism, Herakut takes a clear moral stance in all of their pieces, stomping on the eggshells with refreshing directness.

Therefore, it is fitting that one of the opening paintings of such a decisively opinionated gallery should ask the same question as Marvin Gaye in “Save the Children”: “Who is to blame?” Through their upfront portrayals of the today’s world, Herakut invites visitors to withdraw their pointed fingers and instead extend outstretched arms.