Art(h)ist\’ry

the ARTistry of ARThistory occasionally done ARTfully

Archive for the ‘street art’ 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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A Pig in a Petticoat: Artists Paint Baghdad’s Blast Walls

Posted by gninja on August 13, 2007

With combined financing from the American military, the Iraqi Government, and aid organizations, artists have been commissioned to paint murals over the concrete blast walls that have carved up the topography of Baghdad.

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(Above image from the NY Times. The BBC also has a slideshow of some photographs here.)

It happens that, in searching for some images for this post, I stumbled upon a blog that shares my point of view on these blast walls. Right down to the last paragraph on Banksy, I would just have been parroting this guy, so instead, I’ll direct traffic over to his post.

For the quick and dirty version, though, I’ll paraphrase my reaction: while art has been known to have a restorative effect on people, especially in war-torn environments and devastated areas, this beautification project has an entirely different effect and intention. It is a project sanctioned by an occupying force, aimed at mitigating the devastating impact of a hideous concrete wall running through a city. It prettifies the divisive nature of the wall with images OKed by those in charge. Those who want nothing more than a pacified and complacent populace.

For me, the most telling line in the NY Time’s article mentioned the origins of this project:

The idea grew out of a few informal daubings that appeared on barricades on the east bank of the river. It was picked up by American soldiers working with Iraqi neighborhood councils, and the program gained momentum.

Read: street artists who were using the wall for self expression had their own work usurped and reappropriated by the authorities.

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(A blast wall with graffiti. Via PBS.)

What was once a forum for dissent is now an arena for compliance. Major Anthony Judge, quoted in the Time’s article sums it up best:

We decided that they needed to be painted so that the area didn’t look like a military base with all that concrete,” he said. “We wanted it to be something that people felt comfortable with, and proud of.”

No one should ever have to be comfortable with a concrete blast wall.

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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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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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