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Brooklyn Street Art

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David Choe Paints Houston-Bowery Wall, Accusers Call Him “Rapist” in NYC

Posted on June 10, 2017

Artist David Choe painted the famed Houston-Bowery Wall last week in New York and the accompanying frenzy that often follows this Street Art/graffiti event ensued. The installation of his signature abstract/gestural/figurative layered mind-meld took roughly seven days, and some nights.

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Photographer Martha Cooper stayed there longer than anyone, shooting and looking for stolen moments. Owners of the wall Jessica Goldman and her mom Janet joined in the paint-splash-fest, as did fans and passersby whom David and his crew entertained with opportunities to paint too – along with myriad requests for photos with the artist.

New York knows how to host a moment like this and rather ignore it at the same time. Our tribe-like Street Art/graffiti/mural circles vibrate and convulse, peers and fans stop by to shake hands and post on Instagram, overlapping with others tribes briefly.

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The art world buzzes because of the “live performance” of an immersive art show for three minutes… and then the mural becomes a part of the schizophrenic visual conversation of the modern overbuilt city; wheels and sneakers and stilettos streaming by, briefly catching a glimpse of the wall or missing it entirely, perhaps rolling down the window at the stoplight, possibly using it as a background for a selfie.

The city is in the painting too: Images collide overtop of one another, pushing some to the side, partially obliterating that which came first, splattering liquids and smearing viscosity, pulling forms and buildings from the chaos and stirring in anxiety and humor, brush paint wrestling with aerosol and the unchecked fury of the fire extinguisher. An epic balance is achieved in some manner of speaking, energy is dispersed, almost calmed. A self-consciously outrageous and theatrical pop-philosopher who plays in bands, hosts podcasts, hops freights, hunts dinosaurs, shoots videos of himself in ridiculous situations, does stand-up, gives public talks and advice on art and life, one of Choe’s oft-repeated bits of wisdom is, “Comfort is the killer of creativity.”

A screenshot of a Tweet from Bucky Turco shows a photo of what appears to be a scrawled “rapist” across the new Choe mural. The word following it appears illegible. (copyright ©Bucky Turco)

There is no way that David Choe could be comfortable at the moment because he and the wall have also stirred a storm of accusations and acrimony. While he’s gotten criticized on numerous social threads, one of the most notable folks is direct peer and Bowery Wall alumni Swoon, who publicly challenged Choe to answer for published accounts that place him into a rape scenario, followed by his own muddied non-apology/apology/denial/jokes about it.

“This guy honestly thinks he’s being edgy while he celebrates within the safety of the same metaphorical locker room that has long protected Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, and countless entitled date raping predators,” says the Instagram statement from perhaps the best known female Street Artist, whose own wheat-pasted linotypes and paper cutouts have championed everyday people on this wall and countless others since the mid-late nineties, including museums like the MOMA and The Brooklyn Museum here, and many others around the world.

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Another New York based Street Artist Ann Lewis (aka Gilf!) known for her activism on the street and in the gallery, addresses that topic as well, writes on Bowery Boogie that Choe was an insulting choice for this high-profile wall and that female and trans artists in general are underrepresented in the historical lineup. “I refuse to accept a rape apologist’s stammers about lockerroom talk when defending our current president, and I further refuse to stay silent when someone like David Choe is given such an opportunity,” says Lewis in her Op-Ed.

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Other female Street Artists have been raising the issues of harassment and sexual violence in their work on the street over the past decade or so, including Brooklyn based Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, whose “Stop Telling Women to Smile” campaign on city walls has been addressing gender based street harassment and intimidation since 2012. Based upon interviews conducted with women about their experiences of public sexual harassment, the people in her portraits speak directly to would-be aggressors with quotes like “My outfit is not an invitation”, “I’m not your property, you are not in control of my body”, and “Harassing women does not improve your masculinity” – words that were translated into French and Spanish by the campaign when it went international.

A screenshot of an Instagram posting from Luna Park shows a tag by BTM across the wall. It’s unclear if it is related to this discussion or simply street beef. (copyright ©Luna Park)

With this environment of young confident women artists using the streets for their canvas (and sometimes screed), it is no surprise that the conversation is now reaching a tipping point and the behaviors and views of male peers are being questioned so publicly. There are many people talking about this but when two peers in the game call you out forcefully and publicly, it is unlikely the problem will simply go away.

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

We agree that rape is not something to be taken lightly and also recognize that Mr. Choe was making light of it in his public statements after this story broke – regardless of whether or not his original accounts were wholly factual. A categorical repudiation of rape would have helped his case, aside from denials of his own culpability. Standing silent on this topic only enables those who think that sexually abusing other people is a sport or a fantasy.

We should also recognize that our current atmosphere of “rape culture” didn’t just happen overnight and think deeper about how, in one way or another, we personally might have enabled it to continue. It is a gradual societal “raising of awareness” across cultures today. Thus, the growing number of “Slut Walks” from Tel Aviv to Miami to Las Vegas to Los Angeles to Ecuador. Ex Vice President Joe Biden thinks we have a genuine problem with rape culture on college campuses, and the US Military has such a big problem with sexual violence that they’re calling in the United Nations for help.

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Regarding the critique of Goldman Properties for not putting enough female artists on this wall, the actual female-to-male ratio of graffiti/Street Artists in general should be considered when calculating. We could be wrong but it appears that there are many more males than females in the Street Art world, and an even higher percentage in graffiti. So if you are looking for the best artist according to your individual taste, that’s probably what ratio you’ll automatically select. You can argue about the percentages, and a few more females would bring up the average for this wall – if that is what you are shooting for.

Jessica Goldman Srebnick and her father Tony before her, has been/was deliberately inclusive in their programming of female Street Artists, especially in the last five years during the curating of murals in the Wynwood District. One recent year for the annual Art Basel events they went as far as presenting a roster of exclusively female artists for the entire season along with curator Jeffery Deitch.

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The wall itself has become a high-profile spot in Manhattan mainly because of it’s location on the corner of Bowery and Houston, a Gotham nexus of neighborhoods that once had distinctly different bohemian characters but which now generally are becoming homogenized into one large Whole Foods market of ever-higher-end shops, boutiques, bars, restaurants, clubs, and sky-high rents that a small percentage can afford.

The Houston-Bowery Wall now feels a little like a precious segment of the Berlin Wall; a historical remnant of another period harkening back to the origins of the modern Street Art/graffiti scene that once characterized the area and the whole city in the 1970s, 80s and 90s; a throwback to a freer, openly corroded and somewhat lawless time where self-expression flourished and white people of some means fled to the suburbs and the city neglected those who remained, when artistic experimentation, discovery, drugs, and danger co-existed. Street gangs ran many blocks and Manhattan was “bombed out” in many places, and ironically it was largely affordable for artists and creative people who were pursuing their New York dream.

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The Houston-Bowery Wall has a storied lineage of Street Artists and graffiti writers that stretches back to Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf and has included names like Shepard Fairey, Swoon, Revok, Os Gemeos, Faile – a couple dozen in total. Most recently it was the Spanish duo PichiAvo with their neoclassical graffiti-tag washes that wafted across the wall this January and into the spring.

There is a long list of possible names that will make it to this privately owned wall, but the list that won’t is much longer. Invariably, some of the featured artists will be contested, some rightly. On this center stage of Manhattan street theater, the actors include everyone in the NYC audience as well, and as the saying goes, in New York everyone’s a critic.

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

David Choe. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


We reached out to David Choe and Jessica Goldman Srebnick for comment during the prep for this article and at the time of publication we had not heard back from either.


JRE x David Choe on DVDASA Controversy– a published conversation with the artist that we found online.

Links to the podcast where Choe told the original masseuse parlour story are now not working but you can find an articles about it HERE

 

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