SF Street Artist fnnch Cements His Blunderous ‘Creativity’ With New Project

fnnch, who has come under fire in recent years for his gentrifying street art and invading queer spaces, has a new disputable art project: crowdsourcing funds for a piece organized around “decommodification.”

You’d be hard-pressed to find a piece of street art more vilified, despised, and outright loathed in San Francisco than the honey bears painted by controversial street artist fnnch. Back in 2018, when the nameless muralist started plastering his cookie-cutter, toddler-sized bears across San Francisco, locals waxed gracious and favorable when spotting them. They, too, became source material for any local journalist cutting their teeth by producing listicle pieces around lifestyle topics. (Alas, I was part of such an ostensibly destitute cohort.)

Time, though, has not been kind to fnnch and his bears. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, public art became an even tougher lifeline when social distancing edicts were commonplace. fnnch commodified his dull grab at capitalism disguised as imagination — selling honey bear-inspired merchandise and painting “Covid Bears” on boarded-up businesses. Mind you, these plywood embellishments were not citywide novelties; they, more often than not, appeared in areas that are drought with gentrification, becoming symbols of the aforenoted displacement type.

Then fnnch, a straight man, was given permission to paint the “Sister Honey Bears” above the gay bar  Powerhouse, robbing a queer individual of the opportunity; fnnch saw no harm nor foul play in his doing, despite a sea of backlash.

Then fnnch, a Missouri-born man who was once filmed saying he’s an “immigrant of San Francisco,” profited off Ukrainian hardship when then-new war crimes began affecting Ukraine, launching a series of Ukraine flag-inspired bears on his website, promising to donate a portion — but not all — of his earnings to relief efforts. fnnch capitalized on human suffering. It’s that simple.

Now in a truly thoughtless, careless, crass move, fnnch is asking for $15,000 in support to make a 60-foot-tall tube dancer for this year’s Burning Man celebration at Black Rock City. 

The title of the piece? “NOTHING FOR SALE.”  

What is the third of the ten principles of Burning Man, you ask? Decommodification.

Yes, dear reader, you’re reading the above text correctly: fnnch is crowdsourcing thousands of dollars to bring an on-the-nose installation to an event predicated on notions that oppose its very saleability.

“In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising,” reads a web copy from Burning Man’s official website that goes into the tenant. “We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.”

fnnch is already steering controversy away from his newest endeavor; an announcement sent to his email subscribers recently about the project brought attention to Burning Man’s dedication to decommodification. And fnnch, of course, used nearly half of the email to explain the principle, prematurely defending his piece from future backlash.

“Many people think that Burning Man has only barter,” fnnch writes in a vacuum. “There is no barter. There is only Gifting (another of the principles). This works with a third principle: Radical Self-Reliance.”

What’s just as radical is his absolute naivety and imposed self-guilt, which exudes through the last portion of the email. The sheer fact that fnnch is prematurely protecting himself and deflecting accountability around the piece’s pending creation should exist as not one red flag, but a collection of them blowing in gale-force winds.

“When everyone has enough for themselves, it is possible to give freely and live without commerce,” he writes. “No money. No barter. No advertising. No sponsorships. No one trying to sell you anything. It is only temporary, but it is extraordinary. You do not realize the pervasiveness of commerce and advertising until it is gone.”

Per fnnch, the sculpture “promotes” Burning Man’s principle of decommodification— “there is no car dealership below the sign, “nothing is for sale” — which he shares right before directing subscribers to a collection of items inspired by the yet-created piece of Burner art. 

fnnch calls out his own “irony” in peddling for-sale items organized around his potentially world-record-breaking tube dancer. This isn’t ironic. This is exploitation. It’s casting an intentional blind eye to the exact principle he’s walking on eggshells around. While wearing steel-toed boots. Filling his pockets, all the while.

The price of these purchasable items on his website range from $50 for a “Nothing For Sale” tee-shirt to an eye-watering $5,000 for a 39” x 72” painting of the elementary, spineless subject — (fitting depiction of its creator, as well).

fnnch doesn’t expand on how disproportionate earnings made from the Burning Man principle-ideated piece — an amount after the $15,000 project threshold is met, which is the total amount fnnch estimates the 60-foot-tall tube dancer would cost, between transportation, supplies, and labor — will be used. If fnnch were to, theoretically speaking, earn more than $15,000 from his inspired items, it would mean the controversial artist pulled a profit off a piece organized around Burning Man’s decommodification principle. That’s capitalism in its most insidious embodiments.

That’s unironically fucked up. 

After scrolling through the purchasable items, fnnch implores subscribers to “please consider backing this project and supporting this sculpture.” But what I would like to direct your awareness toward is the manipulation of art as a means of money-grabbing. Especially when those snatches are performed under the guise of morality.

fnnch isn’t wrong when saying Burning Man’s “temporary utopias” exist outside the realms of commercialism. That is patently true. 

In order to survive in this current society systematized around economic gain — rich and poor; privileged and misfortuned; well-known and siloed — funds must be amassed to secure survival. This, too, is true (though the amounts needed to sustain an individual human life remain wildly irregular).

But what fnnch has done, continues to do, and shows no sign of stopping doing is masquerading his commercial success and exposure as, somehow, virtuous or philanthropic. It’s a dangerous sly of hand to perform in such a public, oftentimes viral way. 

Why? Because the practice solidifies a precedent for others to enact themselves, especially impressionable youths. And, thus, permeating what it means to scale one’s art in the yet-seen future. (It, too, also erodes our trust in hyperlocal art and the intentions behind it.)

As of publishing, fnnch has two large Nutella jar paintings that are done in his ubiquitous style for sale at $3,000 each. It’s unimaginative, commercial, and can only be sold for such a price because of the social cache his name carries. 

One-off commission from Jonathan Anzalone’s Black Spectrum collection. (Photo: Courtesy of author)

For context, I commissioned a one-of-a-kind piece from one of my favorite mixed-media artists Jonathan Anzalone… for a sliver of that price. It’s larger and more detailed than fnnch’s hazelnut jar paintings. Working with Anzalone on that piece was one of the most rewarding, emotionally fulfilling exchanges I’ve ever had the pleasure of transacting. 

If you were to hang both side by side, one exudes art and creativity, while the other drips commercialism and money-making.  Art should always speak in the song of the former, not the latter.

In a world busy with white noise, may we fight for expressions of art that add chorus to our lives — and not those that tug at our CVC codes.

Feature image: Courtesy of Instagram via [at]fnnch, edits done by author

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