An unusual amalgam of the interactivity of the street combined with the formality of a gallery environment, Magic City opened this fall in a converted factory in Dresden, Germany with an eclectic selection of 40+ artists spanning the current and past practices of art in the street.
Skewville. Children enjoying Skewville’s “tete-a-tete” shopping cart. Ernest Zacharevic’s mobile in the background. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
With revered culture critic and curator Carlo McCormick at the helm alongside curator Ethel Seno, the richly marbled show runs a gamut from 70’s subway train writers and photographers like Americans Daze, Henry Chalfant, and Martha Cooper to the Egyptian activist Ganzeer, Italian interventionist Biancoshock, popagandist Ron English, and the eye-tricking anamorphic artist from the Netherlands, Leon Keer.
Veering from the hedonistic to the satiric to head-scratching illusions, the collection allows you to go as deep into your education about this multifaceted practice of intervening public space as you like, including just staying on the surface.
Ernest Zacharevic mobile with a “listening station” on the left. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
It’s not an easy balance to strike – some of these artists have heavy hearts and withering critiques of human behaviors and institutional hypocrisies ranging from 1st World treatment of refugees to celebrity culture to encroaching surveillance on individual rights, government oppression, and urban blight.
Magic City doesn’t try to shield you from the difficult topics, but the exhibition also contains enough mystery, fanboy cheer, eye candy and child-like delight that the kids still have plenty of fun discoveries to take selfies with. We also saw a few kissing couples, so apparently there is room for some romance as well.
A visitor to Magic City enjoys a “listening station”. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
“We believe that even the typical city is uncommon, and that the idiosyncrasies that make each city unique are collectively something they all have in common,” says McCormick in his text describing the exhibition. “This is then a celebration of the universal character of cities as well as a love letter to their infinite diversity. The special magic that comes from our cities is germinated in the mad sum of their improbable juxtapositions and impossible contradictions.”
Of particular note is the sound design throughout the exhibition by Sebastian Purfürst and Hendrick Neumerkel of LEM Studios that frequently evokes an experiential atmosphere of incidental city sounds like sirens, rumbling trains, snatches of conversations and musical interludes. Played at varying volumes, locations, and textures throughout the exhibition, the evocative city soundscape all adds to a feeling of unexpected possibilities and an increased probability for new discovery.
Olek’s carousel from above. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Obviously this Magic City cannot be all things to all people, and some will criticize the crisp presentation of a notably gritty series of subcultures, or perhaps the omission of one genre or technique or important artist. It’s not meant to be encyclopedic, rather a series of insights into a grassroots art and activism practice that continues to evolve in cities before our eyes.
For full disclosure, we curated the accompanying BSA Film Program for Magic City by 12 artists and collectives which runs at one end of the vast hall – and Mr. Rojo is on the artist roster with 15 photographs of his throughout the exhibition, so our view of this show is somewhat skewed.
Here we share photographs from the exhibition taken recently inside the exhibition for you to have a look for yourself.
Olek (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Ron English (photo © Jaime Rojo)
A MadC installation made with thousands of spray can caps. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Belgian urban naturalist ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Skewville . ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Skewville (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Daze (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Martha Cooper at the gallery. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Henry Chalfant at the gallery. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Bordalo II (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Andy K. detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Dan Witz (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Dan Witz (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Isaac Cordal. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Isaac Cordal (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Anders Gjennestad AKA Strok (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Icy & Sot with Asbestos on the left. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Replete (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Truly (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Leon Keer (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Jaime Rojo. A young visitor enjoying the Kids Trail through a peephole with Jaime’s photos inside an “electrical box”. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Jaime Rojo. The Kids Trail wasn’t only for kids it seems. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Tristan Eaton on the right. Olek on the left. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Aiko at the Red Light District. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
The Yok & Sheryo (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Herakut. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Herakut (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Full list of participating artists:
Aiko, AKRylonumérik, Andy K, Asbestos, Benus, Jens Besser, Biancoshock, Mark Bode, Bordalo II, Ori Carino & Benjamin Armas, Henry Chalfant, Martha Cooper, Isaac Cordal, Daze, Brad Downey, Tristan Eaton, Ron English, Shepard Fairey, Fino’91, Ganzeer, Anders Gjennestad, Ben Heine, Herakut, Icy & Sot, Leon Keer, Loomit, MadC, OakOak, Odeith, Olek, Qi Xinghua, Replete, Roa, Jaime Rojo, Skewville, SpY, Truly, Juandres Vera, WENU, Dan Witz, Yok & Sheryo, Ernest Zacharevic.
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This article is also published on The Huffington Post