Art(h)ist\’ry

the ARTistry of ARThistory occasionally done ARTfully

Archive for the ‘graffiti’ Category

Obey!

Posted by gninja on November 4, 2007

Good interview with street artist Shepard Fairey.

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The attitude towards capitalism that he expresses is one that I think characterizes the world view of a lot of late-20s to 30s types in America now.  People who were teens in the ’90s and rejected the gluttony of the Me Decade that preceded it, but who are now adults and understand how much it sucks to be broke.

According to Fairey:

Most street art makes that primary impression,” Shepard explains, “but Banksy is the first guy to realise how he can leverage secondary impressions through the media. There are a lot of guys who have been doing street art. They were known within their subculture, but only after the splash that Banksy has made have they been able to sell at art shows.

I’d like to think, though, that his comment about primary and secondary impressions is not just about being able to cash in on what was free before, but also about the ability of street artists now to make their audiences respond beyond the intitial “Cool”.

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Sydney Street Art

Posted by gninja on October 24, 2007

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A nice and short glimpse at some Sydney street art, narrated by curator Chris Tamm.

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Sanitizing Our News(Racks)

Posted by gninja on July 27, 2007

(This is not a photo of a street in NY, but I like the photo):

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Over at Gothamist, they’re reporting a new competition organized to ameliorate a supposed blight on the city’s landscape. The competition is being held by the Municipal Art Society of New York, a society about which I’m rather ambivalent.

According to their website:

The streets of New York City are littered with filthy, poorly maintained and decrepit newsracks that are both eyesores and potentially hazardous to New Yorkers.

Paris, London, Berlin and Amsterdam don’t tolerate this scourge on their streets, and Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami Beach, Houston and San Francisco have cracked down on the newsrack blight too. But New York City continues to tolerate it, and we think this is outrageous!

Ridding our streets of these nasty newsracks is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it, and the Municipal Art Society needs your help. Submit your best photographs of the dirtiest, most unkempt, most repulsive newsracks in New York City to our OUTRAGE! contest and help persuade elected officials that filthy newsracks are rotting the Big Apple and that they must commit to regulating them.

I’d say you can learn a lot about this organization from the tone of this snippet alone. “Outrage”? I can think of far more outrageous things occurring on city streets. But I’ll leave the rest of the snippet-dissecting to you.

So what is this Municipal Art Society anyway? In their own words:

The Municipal Art Society of New York is a private, non-profit membership organization whose mission is to promote a more livable city. Since 1893, the MAS has worked to enrich the culture, neighborhoods and physical design of New York City. It advocates for excellence in urban design and planning, contemporary architecture, historic preservation and public art.

Their chairman is a lawyer, and their president, Kent L. Barwick, sounds more like a glorified realtor. It has its roots in the late 19th century as a group of architects and aesthetes championing the City Beautiful movement here in NY, but whose concerns broadened to include urban planning and historical preservation. (You can read a brief review of Gregory Gilmartin’s book about the MAS, Shaping the City, here.)

But for all their good works and good intentions, this current project/competition is an outright imposition of an elitist civic ideal upon the city’s topography, as well as a threat to free speech. For one, they seem to be targeting the free mags whose stand alone newsracks provide reading material and information at no cost to pedestrians. According to the contest rules:

Photos of newsrack eyesores that are also illegally placed (within 15 feet of a fire-hydrant, in a bus-stop, within 5 feet of a corner area, etc., will be given special consideration!)

I doubt any pay-per-read NY Times or NY Post racks fall under this purview.

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(This photo, by the way, comes directly from the MAS site entry for the photo competition.)

Furthermore, the city has already made repeated attempts to rid the streets of such stand-alone newsracks, or at least regulate them so stringently that they are all but prohibited from remaining. Frankly, I think the lack of prudent prioritizing here is best summed up by The Villager:

Exacerbating the problem, are the ever-vigilant community group members, marching through the tony Uptown neighborhoods, clipboards in hand, documenting the offending news racks, creating lists of complaints to send to DOT. Their mission is to save New York by removing news racks from the sidewalks. Council members who could and should focus valuable time and resources on crumbling schools, lead paint, the homeless population, and the dismal Downtown economy, are instead, working feverishly on a mission to remove the horrible blight on the landscape created by news racks.
Which brings me back to the MAS and what this all has to do with art. By categorizing this mission under the rubric of “municipal art” this society is ironically giving a nod to the valuable aesthetic presence of New York’s news boxes. For a society so concerned with the image of our streets–including, primarily, landmarked buildings and neighborhoods designated as ‘historic’- their attention to the newsracks communicates to me that these racks are contributing to the aesthetic quality, the image of New York’s streets.

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It’s just that they don’t like the image that they’re seeing.

But not only are these free mags providing an alternative view (generally) from the MSM, they’re adding color to our sidewalks, in addition to a forum for street artists.  The Village Voice news box even has a design which emulates graffiti.  These racks are just as valuable to the image of the NYC street as our bodegas, corner delis, and kiosks:

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Rudolf Stingel and Having to Be There: Participation

Posted by gninja on July 26, 2007

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At the Whitney right now is an exhibition of works by Rudolf Stingel. (I have to admit–and I’m chalking this up to my being a medievalist–I’d never heard of Stingel before. But apparently, he [an import to the NY art scene from Italy] made a hit debut in 1991 with a great big orange carpet, and has been, as far as I can gather, a darling to the critics ever since.)

You can find reviews of his current Whitney exhibition here and here. In short, it’s the best exhibition I’ve been to in a long, long while. It epitomized for me why I go to a museum because it gave me what cannot be replicated elsewhere or in any other format.

From the Whitney website:

Employing such materials as rubber, carpet, painted aluminum, Styrofoam, and paint, Rudolf Stingel’s work questions and disrupts the viewer’s understanding and experience of an art object. Although Stingel’s work does not always involve paint on canvas, it continually reflects upon some of the fundamental questions concerning painting today, including authenticity, hierarchy, meaning, and context. While Stingel, who was shown in the 2006 Whitney Biennial, has created major installations for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and numerous other institutions, this is his first solo museum exhibition in the United States, surveying his career to date and including a new site-specific work.

Despite how much I was enamored of this show–and the experience of experiencing it– it has some shortcomings that are not so much a product of the exhibition as the result of its seductions.

The show includes several large rooms, each one devoted to between one and three works. But because of the relationship between the works and the gallery space, each room has the feeling of an installation, or I might even venture, a performance. The first room (pictured above) elicited some variation on “ooh” and “ah” from every person entering the room. It’s simply a large room with walls covered from floor to ceiling in aluminum foil panels, illuminated by a massive, somewhat low-hung chandelier glowing with soft warm light. Like entering the Tin Man’s ballroom. Unfortunately, I had approached from the stairwell, but I can imagine the effect of entering the room unaware of what would be in there would have been all the more exciting had I taken the elevator. Very theatrical.

I soon learned that the aluminum foil was actually a medium on which the museum-goers were invited to draw, place stickers and buttons or whatever else they had on hand. Some of the panels were transports from the same exhibition at the MCA, thus retaining a local flavor outside of its locale. It was a bit strange to see some shout-outs to Chicago in a museum in NY.

Clearly, this DIY aspect of the show went down well with the critics, though I thought it was the weakest part of the exhibition. Aside from the obvious criticism–that the invitation for musuem-goers to participate is gimicky– it detracted from what would otherwise have been an overwhelming experience of dislocation. Not only was the opulent and sumptuous effect of the room unexpected in the context of the Whitney museum, but it was also achieved through the use of an everyday item (aluminum foil) juxtaposed with a luxuriant lighting piece (the chandelier). The marks made by visitors, while fun, lessened the extravagant impression created by the use of these two strikingly different materials.

At the same time, Profiling, the other current exhibition at the Whitney which I discussed in a previous post reveals the shortcomings of the use of audience participation in Stingel’s show. Whereas the pieces in Profiling required the participation of museum-goers in order to communicate a very pointed and topical message (the simultaneous allurement and threat of omnipresent surveillance), the participation requested in Stingel’s exhibition lacked any sort of direction or, to be blunt about it, point. It seemed more an appeal to the increasing self-absorption of us these days, due to which it’s presumed we lack the attention span for anything not directly related to us. And rightly so. For chrissakes, each of the three headlining exhibitions at the Whitney now allow some form of participation (the Summer of Love one includes a kind of carpeted love cave in which people are allowed to cavort; picture the adult version of waiting in line for a carnival moon walk / bouncy castle, and you’ve got the right idea).

In any case, sometimes participation works and sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of Stingel’s aluminum walls, I’d say it merely amounts to a questioning of the author of a work of art.  Something which is neither new nor underdiscussed (if you’ve got access to JSTOR, just search in the art history journals for collaborative art or audience participation and art, and you’ll see what I mean).

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The Splasher’s Lament

Posted by gninja on July 2, 2007

News about The Splasher has been going around for months now, and s/he seems to be grabbing people’s attention once again (whether deservedly or not, for a recent spate of stink bomb incidents at art shows).

Before (circa December 2005): 83683284_52c18827b6_o.jpg

After (image from a June 27, 2007 NY Times article):

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A lot of the hubbub surrounding The Splasher stems from a very obvious struggle amongst art critics and the like to distinguish (street) art from vandalism– a topic I addressed in my last post. There was a rather humorous piece in NY Magazine, written in a (dear Lord, I hope) tongue-in-cheek noire tone. In that piece we hear from the Patricks of Faile, regarding the splashing of a Banksy in Brooklyn:

“That piece was a gift,” one of them said. “People loved it. We’d sit out there, and people would stop and take photos of that shit all day long. They loved it. There’s 8 trillion other fucking things you could throw paint at in the city. How many people walk down the street and take pictures of AT&T ads?”

When the Banksy was splashed, the Patricks told me, they immediately covered the entire wall with gray paint—the splash, the Banksy, and the manifesto—and put their own stencil over it. (Few people had really seen a splash before; they weren’t sure what it meant and more than anything just wanted to get rid of it.) The Splasher came back and hit that too. They stenciled over it. He hit them again. They wheatpasted a poster over it. He hit that too. They responded with some themed art, just for the Splasher: a pair of boxers in mid-blow, surrounded by a cluster of red ribbons reading WITH LOVE AND KISSES: NOTHING LASTS FOREVER and a portrait of the Hindu god Ganesh. (“Ganesh is the bearer of all good things,” one of them told me. “The one that breaks down all obstacles.”)

Of course, the Patricks cop to the hypocrisy of their indignation a few lines down. As do many of the articles I’ve read dealing with the Splasher. Street art in NY is a palimpsest over which no one raises an eyebrow when a new stencil goes up over last week’s Swoon. A sense of permanence has no real place in the realm of street art. So for the Faile trio to eulogize the splashing of a work that would– at some point or another– have been overlaid by another work is just garbage.

It’s too obvious, but of course what The Splasher does is just as “legitimate” (if we can even use that term without blushing) as the work of her/his fellow street artists. That the manifestos which go up rail against the bourgeois nature and commerciality of street art is of no consequence. It’s no more than a ceci n’est pas art statement that’s claiming kinship with the work of the Situationists.

What strikes me as most remarkable about the whole situation is its rumor-esque character, more Page-Six (no, I won’t link to The NY Post’s Page Six) than anything else, fueled by NY art kids who obviously have some alliance with the hipster art-scene here. I love the language of vicitimization used to describe the splashings. This one from the NY Mag article linked above:

If you had to choose, from the entire universe of street art, the least likely target of a malicious vandalism campaign, you’d pretty much have to go with Swoon.

If these artists felt so damned proprietary about their work, they’d just put it in a gallery and never have to fret about the fate of their pieces at the hands of splashers, DSNY workers, and the vagaries of tri-state area weather. And, maybe they do. But for these artists to cry foul tells me that (if we can take those manifestos at all seriously) maybe The Splasher is right.

I mentioned in my last post that graf artists are a self-selecting community. Well, in this instance, I don’t see the same self selection as exists in that community. What I see is the brand of elitism that we’ve come to expect in the gallery. If these street artists were at all smart, they’d continue doing what Faile started out doing, and leave their priggish whimpering at home–and certainly out of the pages of New York Magazine.

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Graffiti Art and the Law

Posted by gninja on June 30, 2007

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I caught this item in The ArtsJournal recently.

Graffiti artist Alan Ket, whose real name is Alain Mariduena, has been criminally charged in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan with various counts including criminal mischief, making graffiti, and possession of graffiti tools. Mr Mariduena, whose work has been displayed in galleries, has pleaded not guilty to all charges and says that he was nowhere near the damaged subway cars or stations at the time of the alleged crimes, and that the graffiti was done by copycat artists. He is due back in court this month.

Mr Mariduena’s lawyer, Daniel Perez, of Kuby & Perez, New York, told The Art Newspaper: “For the first time, prosecutors are trying to imprison someone for a graffiti offence who has not been caught in the act. There are no witnesses, no videotapes, no direct evidence of any kind linking Mr Mariduena to these alleged crimes.”

Although the legal ramifications of this case– i.e. charging a graffiti artist based on forensics–are significant, my interests don’t really lie there. For one, I’m no legal expert. I should say, however, from the get-go, that I think criminal prosecution of graffiti artists is preposterous. So my conversation needs to begin with the premise that the treatment of graf artists as criminals is unacceptable. At worst, vandalism (if one considers graffiti vandalism) could be classified as a misdemeanor.

There are also the social matters that accompany the politics of graffiti art, which, again, aren’t really of interest here. Plenty of ink has been spilled over it. Suffice to say, I think Permission Walls are only a trifle less insidious and stifling of expression as Free-Speech Zones, the distinction being that the legality of creating art on other people’s property is questionable, whereas that of exercising free-speech is total.

My two cents, then, are being deposited on the aesthetic side of the issue. Which is slippery as hell. Just as slippery as asking what art is: ask Heidegger. In short, there’s a distinction between good graf and bad graf. It’s not so much like porn in that I know it when I see it — because I’m no Supreme Court Justice imposing subjective standards upon everyone else. And yet… I do know bad graf when I see it. Bad graf is that for which I don’t have any images because nobody bothers to take a photo of a crappy tag that looks like a five-year-old got hold of some Krylon. Bad graf is what ends up on the facades of apartment buildings, where there was little inspiration in placement, arrangement, or form. Bad graf looks like vandalism.

Good graf, on the other hand, is not just beautiful. Good graf shows a thoughtful mind behind its placement. Good graf is in public spaces. Good graf has a social conscience. Good graf is not necessarily about beauty. Goof graf is about good custodianship. It’s about un-automatizing our motions through urban space, from filtering out ads and movement and lights and sounds to focusing on words and images that want nothing more from us than our attention.

Look, there’s no way to mandate what good and bad graf are. Even trying to do so would take the strictures that already exist within the walls of museums and extend them beyond that barrier which graf artists have been struggling to co-opt as their own (and share with others) since spray can hit cement. Urban spaces are filled with enough frontiers, barriers, and thresholds as it is. I doubt many graf artists would even want to lay claim to a stretch of Park Avenue, anyway. But outside of such rarefied zones where art is not relegated to walls and behind frames, there are those who want their exterior spaces un-blank (yes, un-blank). At the end of the day, graf artists are a self selecting community. If they want their work to be seen, they don’t create garbage.

Getting back to the original news item though. What strikes me as amusing is that the cops are using forensic evidence (i.e. the tags) to prosecute Ket. It sounds an awful lot like connoisseurship, no?

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