Category: Graffiti

Miscellany. 07.22.11.

Gore-B, protecting today’s perishables for tomorrow. (Image courtesy of Gore-B.)

American Graffiti

Eric Thayer's photo of L.A. graffiti in the New York Times.

The New York Times has a story about the oh-so-scary rise in graffiti. I’d love to spend more time dissecting this, but unfortunately I’m slammed with work. Thankfully, Joerg Colberg pointed me to this vey smart essay over at No Caption Needed, which does just that. In it, Robert Hariman argues that the main issue with this story (and in so many others like this) is that it throws the problem at the feet of the culture industry, without bothering to examine any of the other causes that might lead to an uptick in graffiti:

In what may appear to be sophisticated coverage, the Times reports that ‘The upturn has prompted concern among city officials and renewed a debate about whether glorifying such displays — be it in museum exhibits, tattoos, or television advertisements — contributes to urban blight and economic decay.’ And there, in a stroke, we have it: The Times channeling Fox News. The leading explanation faults culture, not economics or politics, and suggests that a culture war is underway and the rightful center of public debate, and that the real danger comes from curators and other liberals who promote transgression in the arts…

The essay is all kinds of excellent, so please click through and read it. But I will add a couple of thoughts: One, we live in a period where there is less arts education ever. Where we choose to spend our funds on grotesquely punitive measures against graffiti, rather than providing people with alternative outlets for art. We also live in a time in which our public spaces are wallpapered with advertising (a lot of it illegal). In other words: the corporations get to talk to us, but we never get to talk back. Most irritating is the fact that the story’s accompanying slideshow features legal graffiti-inspired murals — but fails to identify them as such. (The photos also fetishize graffiti to the max.) Lastly, the story provides absolutely no historical context: the urge to paint walls is as old as civilization and, perhaps, even predates it.

The fact is, that as long as people have something to say (even if its for blatantly commercial reasons — like getting a sneaker deal), then people are gonna paint on walls. I agree, graffiti is not always aesthetically pleasing. But maybe, just maybe, we should simply learn to live with it.

Strange Tech
A collar that chokes, a menstruation machine and bacteria that colors your poops. I have a piece up at Techland on the five most bizarre piece at MoMA’s new tech show, Talk to Me. (Which, by the way, is all kinds of excellent.) Please click through!

Random Linkage

Miscellany. 06.13.11.

Train graffiti in Italy makes a visual reference to the country’s current nuclear power referendum, the first of its kind. (Photo by fabrye.)

Ai Weiwei’s Detention
I feel like I’ve been uncharacteristically silent on artist Ai Weiwei’s imprisonment by the Chinese government, partially because the news of what happened caught me while I was on the road. The short of it is that Ai’s detention is now entering its third month and blogs such as Art City, Eyeteeth, Modern Art Notes and Hyperallergic have been covering the hell out of the story, so read them!

Image courtesy of Akmezero4

Naturally, a lot of the talk is about how U.S. museums and other Western cultural institutions should deal with China’s imprisonment of Ai, a figure who has been a vocal critic of his government’s corruption, censorship and negligence. (The government is accusing him of tax evasion.) Certainly, I think it’s important to have powerful institutions protest Ai’s detainment, as well as the imprisonment of countless other intellectuals, writers and activists. Keeping pressure on the Chinese government from all angles is key. But I also think we each have a personal connection to what’s happening, supporting an oppressive regime by slavishly purchasing the goods that come out of the country, be it the latest, hottest iWhatever or the bounty of pressed wood furniture that lines our living rooms. Even the rebel flag shot glasses that clutter so many gas stations in a wide swath of our country are…made in China. Yes, it’s significant that our cultural institutions protest Ai’s detainment. But I wonder how effective these condemnations can be as long as we continue to support such an oppressive regime with our wallets.

My 15 Nanoseconds of Fame

Cruising in Brooklyn

I made it onto Google Street View while riding my bike in the vicinity of the Brooklyn Museum. (Full disclosure: I saw the Google car and followed it for a few of blocks because that’s the kind of cheap, internet fame whore I am. Sorry, Joerg.) The whole thing inspired me to look up some of the addresses I’d lived in over the course of my life on GSV— the vast majority of which aren’t online because my family had a penchant for inhabiting incredibly bizarre, out-of-the-way places. It was a trip back in time, except it wasn’t, because I’m seeing all of these spots in the pseudo-present. (A selection: the place I was born in, the road leading to the house we lived in when I was 10, the donut shop where I used to ditch high school English class and the college dorm that was the site of various inebriated indiscretions.) Which brings me to this highly interesting essay — which I discovered by way of Conscientious — about photography in the age of GSV.

Random Linkage

Calendar. 06.09.11.

Swampy, in Oakland. The artist has a solo exhibit coming up this weekend at Fifty24SF, in San Francisco. Things get started this Saturday, June 11th, at 7pm. (Above image courtesy of

  • Portland, Oreg.: Jack Pierson, Twilight, and Mise-en-Scène, a group show, at Elizabeth Leach Gallery. Through July 16.
  • Los Angeles: For a Long Time, Marina Abramovic, Vito Acconci, Raymond Pettibon and others, at Roberts and Tilton Gallery in Culver City. Through August 6.
  • S.F.: Sign Your Life Away, with Steve Powers, Jeff Canham and New Bohemia Signs, at Guerrero Gallery. Opens Saturday at 7pm.
  • Fort Worth: Focus: Teresita Fernández, at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Through June 19. (…might be good.)
  • Chicago: Avant Garde Art in Everyday Life, at the Art Institute of Chicago. (And while you’re there, be sure to check the African art galleries, which will display a textile made from the silk of a Golden Orb spider. Like, whoa.) Opens Saturday.
  • LAST WEEK — NYC: Live From Detroit, a group show, at Fred Torres Collaborations, in Chelsea. Nice to see a show featuring Detroit artists rather than outsiders doing ruins porn. I really dug the paintings by Dick Goody. Through Saturday.
  • PLUS: get my up-to-date New York City recommends over at WNYC.

That sublime point where art, politics and merch intersect.

What I Learned Today: Star Cigarettes, a division of Philip Morris, sold a limited edition pack in Europe in the early ’90s that celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall. Shown on the package is a piece of graffiti-covered slab being removed from the wall. It’s bubbly letters read STAR. An ad from the period shows a man’s hand clutching the commemorative pack.

Conceptual artist Martin Kippenberger used this image to create the wallpaper shown above in 1991. (It’s now on view at Luhring Augustine through 6/18). It is so many levels of conceptual: A cigarette company using a political act and someone’s tag to sell cigarettes which are then turned into art that is itself commodified. In other words: the art merch becomes the art. Like, whoa.

Find a bunch of Star Cigarettes special edition packs here. (Scroll to the bottom.)

The Figure in Contemporary Art: Miscellaneous Round-Up.

From Jon Rafman’s series The 9 Eyes of Google Street View, Berwick Rd. Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, which was on view as part of the exhibit Free, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, until late this last January.

Last month, I launched a semi-regular series devoted to the way the human figure is depicted in contemporary art. This month, I continue it by looking at a number of works I’ve seen recently in museums, galleries and even on the street.

I want to begin this particular round-up with a look at Jon Rafman’s work, which is pictured above, and explores, among other things, the nature of travel. Rafman has ‘traveled’ the world through Google Street View and brought back the screen shots to prove it. This series along with the rest of the show, raised a lot of questions about the future of our online lives: Namely, will we eventually experience art, travel, and relationships exclusively online? How will the virtual experience differ from real-life? How is our view of other people colored by the internet? Certainly, we’re still figuring out the answers to some of those questions. But Rafman’s found imagery speaks to the abilities as well as the limitations of the web.

Find other images after the jump. All photos by me unless otherwise noted.

Continue reading