All posts tagged: Carlo McCormick

BSA HOT LIST 2023: Books For Your Gift Giving

BSA HOT LIST 2023: Books For Your Gift Giving

It’s that time of the year again! Our 13th “Hot List” of books – a best-of collection that is highly personal and unscientific presents a sampling across the board for a variety of graffiti and street art fans.

Our interests and network continued to venture afield this year, and we offer a cross-section of books that are well worth your time – whether it’s the stories they tell, the rare glimpse inside a wiley mind, or the revelation of seeing images previously unseen except by a handful of people. We have political, personal, and professional takes on this beautiful street art scene, as well as a careful instruction book on how to make your own

So here is a short list from 2023 that you may enjoy as well – just in case you would like to give them as gifts to family, friends, or even to yourself.

Djerbahood 2: Open-Air Museum Of Street Art – Albin Mitchel Publishers – Galerie Itinerrance

From BSA:

The traditional architecture in the Medina Atiga may be what attracts you initially, but it is the 150 street artists who will keep you wandering through the maze of tiny streets. The outdoor curation of Djerba by Mehdi Ben Cheikh, a bi-national with a gallery in Paris, happened over the last decade among the sun-blasted domes, arches, and towers here.

“Djerba was exceptionally well placed for an operation with worldwide impact.” says the visionary Cheihk in the newly released Part 2 of Djerbahood, “On this, the southernmost island of the Mediterranean, the climate is pleasant and temperate for more than half the year.”

In this village of Erriadh on the Tunisian island of Djerba, you are twenty-five kilometers from the airport, adjacent to a long shoreline of fine white sand, and officially walking inside a UNESCO World Heritage site. It also helps that here you’ll find palm trees, olive trees, figs, pomegranate, carob, apple, and apricot trees, crystal clear water, and a fairly mild climate.

Djerbahood 2: More of the Open Air Museum in Tunisia

PORK: “I LEFT A NOTE”. Published by Blurring Books NYC

From BSA:

New York’s PORK is one of the few fire extinguisher writers who reliably has can-control, or nozzle control, as the case may be. If you know your extinguisher tags, these are examples of fine penmanship. Additionally, his necessarily brief cursive bon mots are cryptically funny, even if you don’t know his intention.

In this new softcover of street photography, many of his rattled-looking words are framed in their natural/unnatural environment and given their page, or spread. In the index, you may get an insight into what the artist was thinking by the title given to the corresponding pages in the body. You’ll also gain insight into the irreverence, sometimes tempered with exquisitely poised timing.


“CITY OF KINGS: A History Of New York City Graffiti” – Compiled by Al Diaz/ Eric Felisbret / Mariah Fox. HOWL! Gallery.

From BSA:

“Like a small team of ants dragging a slice of Wonderbread down the sidewalk to home base, we persevered,” writes OG New York graffiti writer and curator Al Diaz about the collaborative process that produced an exhibition and catalog this winter called “City of Kings: A History of NYC Graffiti.”  

Respected on the New York graffiti scene for his contributions as a writer, collaborator, and artist, his street works with Basquiat as part of the SAMO© duo helped to push the boundaries of graffiti and street art, and his overall body of work has had a lasting impact on the development of the graffiti and street art movements.

A wildly dispersed and organic scene like the one birthed by graffiti more than five decades ago has had thousands of authors, making it a daunting task to tell this story at times, says Diaz. To do so he made sure to work with two other curators who could complement his knowledge and abilities when researching and collecting proper history to illustrate this movement correctly.

It’s All About The Writers: “CITY OF KINGS: A History of New York City Graffiti” Educates

Object / Subject Saman & Sasan Oskouei

From BSA:

Back on May 1st, 2023 Saman & Sasan released their new self-published book titled Object / Subject. In conjunction with the book they also released a Box set, their first, and included a collection of selected prints along with the book.

If you are familiar with their conceptual pieces and their powerful resonance – like Our House Is On Fire, for example, you will be excited at the prospect of having an opportunity to have this Box set in your collection. As a special commemoration of their most recent 8 years of work – that has re-defined their vision, their reputation as contemporary artists, and their ability to profoundly render verdicts on the human condition – the new book will also include an essay by author and art critic Carlo McCormick.

Saman & Sasan Oskouei – Object / Subject

REVS, XSOUP & ARBOR. “Life’s a Mission…Then You’re Dead”

From BSA:

Today the writer expands his reach, compiling with XSOUP and ARBOR the stories of many graffiti writers into a bound volume that will become an instant classic in the largely anonymous and underground realm of practitioners as well as with the growing cadre of researchers, academics, and historians studying graffiti/street art/urban art today. With this new passion effort by REVS and a small team, these stories are preserved and documented, ensuring a greater understanding and appreciation for the interconnected/alienated paradox of the graffiti writer’s life and practice.

Life’s A Mission… Then You’re Dead: REVS, XSOUP, ARBOR and 100 Graff Writers in Their Own Words

The Yok & Sheryo: Yeahnahnesia A Mystical Land Somewhere In The Indian Ocean. Vol 1. Published by Yok & Sheryo and The Art Gallery of Western Australia. 2566 AP / 2023.

From BSA:

In the realm where imagination dances with audacity, Yok & Sheryo, the dynamic duo hailing from the crossroads of New York, Australia, and Asia, have conjured up a whimsical masterpiece, aptly titled “Yeahnahnesia.” Published in collaboration with the Art Gallery Western Australia, this book is a memoir and fantasy of creativity and storytelling that makes a reader question the boundaries of reality and fiction.

Picture a tropical paradise, a place Google Maps forgot, where mythology, deities, philosophies, and unusual creatures roam freely. Yeahnahnesia, the brainchild of these intrepid artists, is a fictional island brimming with tales so rich that your skateboarding dreams will tip their hats in admiration. The burning questions of its existence and location will keep you up at night until you surrender to the allure of this enigmatic and chill place.

As you delve into the book’s 120 pages, you’ll be transported into an alternate dimension where art intertwines with narrative, and history plays a sly game of make-believe. The “Temple of Frivolous Wishes” at AGWA, Art Gallery Western Australia, Perth, is a mere glimpse of their artistic prowess. Bound in fabric with gold foil accents, this bound edition of 800 is a treasure.

The Yok & Sheryo: “Yeahnahnesia” A Mystical Land and Guide

Alan Ket: The Wide World of Graffiti. Monacelli Press / Phaidon. New York

From BSA:

Graffiti artists often dismiss histories or narratives not of their own making, including those from their peers. This subculture, which has continuously evolved across different cities, time zones, decades, and languages over the past 60 years, is so rich in stories and counterstories that it might take another 30 years for the aerosol to clear and reveal the origins of these tales comprehensively. One unwavering truth prevails: if you weren’t there, in the same city, during the same era, didn’t grow up immersed in that urban environment, and weren’t marking the same train lines or recognized by local crews, your credibility is questioned, and the original graffiti artists (OGs) might disregard your story.

It’s meaningful when a book like “The Wide World of Graffiti” is authored by someone like Alan Ket, a native New Yorker from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who has firsthand experience writing on city trains. As a self-proclaimed graffiti nerd, historian of the movement, and co-founder of the Miami-based Museum of Graffiti, Ket brings a unique blend of metaphorical depth and frank authenticity to his writing. He skillfully combines scholarly insight and sociological context in his narrative, spotlighting selected kings and queens of the streets to further illustrate in their words details of the scene’s evolution and his informed insights to provide context.

Alan Ket’s ‘The Wide World of Graffiti’: A Testament to the Art Form’s Global Impact


From BSA:

Mana Public Arts (MPA), a privately-funded real estate program supporting public art, announces the launch of a new book this Saturday at the Museum of Graffiti. The book captures the diversity and vibrancy of street murals by internationally acclaimed artists in two U.S. cities where MPA operates – Miami and Jersey City, New Jersey. Spanning over 300 pages, the book showcases a range of graffiti, street art, and mural works supported and presented by MPA over the past decade, reflecting their dedication to enhancing communities through public art.

Essays from four notable figures in the street art and graffiti world provide a deeper understanding of the evolution and changing nature of the graffiti/street art/mural art scenes in Miami and Jersey City, as well as context and educational insight into the program. Contributors include cultural critic Carlo McCormick, Brooklyn Street Art’s Steven P. Harrington, Museum of Graffiti’s Alan Ket, and UP Magazine’s T.K. Mills.

Mana Public Arts Launches Book with Panel at Museum of Graffiti in Miami

Martin Whatson INSIDEOUTSIDER Eva Marie Bentsen

From BSA:

Martin Whatson, a Norwegian stencil artist born in 1984, has carved out a distinctive niche in the contemporary and street art worlds. His journey from street art to international acclaim is a narrative of artistic evolution and the versatility of visual language. This book, written by art dealer and curator Eva Marie Bentsen, offers a comprehensive look at Whatson’s career, from his early experiments in graffiti to his current status as a celebrated fine artist. His education at the Westerdals School of Communication in Oslo laid the groundwork for a unique blend of graphic design and urban art, defining his approach to art-making.

The initial sections of the book explore Whatson’s early period, where his engagement with graffiti and stencil art began to shape his artistic voice. These early works reveal a developing style, marked by influences from notable artists like DOLK and Banksy. During this time, Whatson started to refine his distinct blend of political themes and aesthetic appeal. His participation in the Nuart Festival, championed by Stavanger art dealer and street art festival curator Martyn Reed, undoubtedly played a crucial role in bringing his work to a broader audience.

Layered Realities: Exploring Martin Whatson’s “InsideOutsider” / Eva Marie Bentsen

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“Wild Style” Turns 40 at Deitch, Curated by Carlo McCormick

“Wild Style” Turns 40 at Deitch, Curated by Carlo McCormick

“They are all friends, brought together again to mark a momentous occasion,” says Carlo McCormick about what really matters to him when curating the 40th Anniversary of “the first and foundational movie of hip-hop,” Wild Style. The exhibition at Deitch Gallery in New York opens this weekend. It pays homage to the vision and determination of director Charlie Ahearn, observing and synthesizing a distinctly New York story that eventually circled the globe.

Wild Style Amphitheater, L.E.S., NYC. (photo © Martha Cooper)

The groundbreaking and iconic independent film emerged from the vibrant subcultures of the early 1980s; a seminal work that now serves as a cultural touchstone, capturing the raw energy and creative spirit of hip-hop and graffiti art during their formative years. “Wild Style” unfolds amidst a gritty urban backdrop, providing an unfiltered view of the burgeoning hip-hop scene, encompassing breakdancing, MCing, DJing, and graffiti. The film combines scripted scenes with authentic performances, preserving the origins and early pioneers of a cultural movement that would later resonate worldwide.

Seen through the eyes of author/curator/poet/storyteller/bard McCormick, Ahearn had captured “the nascence of a renaissance, a happenstance of abandonment and neglect colliding with the exuberantly wayward energies of invention and hope.”

Photo © Martha Cooper

Featured artists include:

Charlie Ahearn, John Ahearn, Janette Beckman, Fred Brathwaite (Fab 5 Freddy), Cathleen Campbell, Henry Chalfant, Joe Conzo, Martha Cooper, Jane Dickson, Brian Donnelly (KAWS), Chris Ellis (Daze), Sandra Fabara (Lady Pink), Aaron Goodstone (Sharp), Eric Haze, John Matos (Crash), Leonard McGurr (Futura), Osgemeos, Phase 2, Lee Quinones, Rammellzee, Revolt, Don White (Dondi), Andrew Witten (Zephyr) and Martin Wong.

Wild Style 40, Curated by Carlo McCormick
November 11, 2023–January 13, 2024
18 Wooster Street

Opening Reception: Saturday, November 11, 6-8PM
No RSVP required

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The Tag Conference Hits Brooklyn

The Tag Conference Hits Brooklyn

Welcome to the first American celebration of graffiti studies.

The Tag Conference Brooklyn is set to be an impressive event, bringing together some of the most influential and pioneering voices in the field of graffiti studies. This groundbreaking event will take place on May 14th, 2023, in the heart of New York City. The conference focuses on the art of name-writing in public spaces and how it has evolved over time, with a particular emphasis on the history of American tagging.

The list of participants is impressive, including renowned scholars and storied professionals like Richard Goldstein, Joe Austin, Susan Phillips, and Carlo McCormick, as well as prominent graffiti artists with deep roots such as Steve ‘ESPO’ Powers, Alan Ket and Mr. Kaves. Events like this raise the consciousness and further establish the role of the mark-makers in shaping activism and influencing art – with positive and negative effects both fairly examined and interrogated. The conference also showcases the work of independent researchers and rogue archivists, providing a platform for their invaluable contributions to the field of graffiti studies.

The Tag Conference Brooklyn is an INVITATION-ONLY installment of the Tag Conference with a focus on contemporary tagging. Click HERE to read about the full program.

As graffiti continues to gain importance in both scholarship and institutional academia, the Tag Conference Brooklyn is a rather enthralling opportunity to explore this unsung art form and its impact on contemporary culture. With its focus on the history and evolution of tagging in New York City, this conference promises to be a landmark event, bringing together key voices from around the world for the first time in the United States.

The Tag Conference Brooklyn is an invitation-only installment of the Tag Conference with a focus on contemporary tagging.



14 MAY 2023


“Where does American tagging come from, and how has it evolved? What special chapters in its history took place in New York City? How does tagging play with space, and how do artists play with tags?

The Tag Conference Brooklyn gathers an unprecedented lineup of speakers, including some of the key voices in American graffiti studies both underground and institutional, plus some special guests from Europe and Australia to discuss the unsung artform of tagging in the city that made it what it is today.”


While the working field of graffiti studies is taking shape in Europe, its most veteran and fundamental voices hail from the U.S.A.

Industry City
33 35th St, Building 5
Brooklyn, New York
No entry fee

Directors: Edward Birzin (US), Javier Abarca (ES).
Chair: Susan Hansen (AU).

The Tag Conference is produced by the Unlock Book Fair team. The Tag Conference Brooklyn is an INVITATION-ONLY installment of the Tag Conference.

A full-format Tag Conference with an open call for papers is scheduled for June 29th to July 1st 2023 at the Museum for Hamburg History in Hamburg, Germany.

The exhibition “A CITY BECOMES COLOURFUL. Hamburg Graffiti History 1980-1999”, which runs from 2 November 2022 until 31 July 2023 at the Hamburg Museum, tells the story of the origins of this youth subculture in Hamburg.

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“City As Canvas”. Artists Panel Celebrates LISA Project NYC

“City As Canvas”. Artists Panel Celebrates LISA Project NYC

Celebrating Ten Years

New York has seen its share of people jumping into and out of the Street Art scene over the last couple of decades, and only a few have had the staying power of the non-profit org L.I.S.A. Project. Run by two guys who live on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Wayne Rada and Rey Rosa, L.I.S.A. has brought several international street artists to private walls in Little Italy, Chinatown, and their environs.

Shepard Fairey (photo© Jaime Rojo)
Tristan Eaton (photo© Jaime Rojo)

Big fans and collectors of street art themselves, the guys have hustled to get walls, lifts, and paint for artists they are fans of and some of the newcomers on the scene. Call it a private/public initiative that has steadily given artists opportunities and the locals one more reason to chuckle at the selfie-taking tourists who make this town tick.

Jorit (photo© Jaime Rojo)

Tonight to make the 10th anniversary and their new print program, L.I.S.A. Project joins with urban art clearinghouse West Chelsea Contemporary to host a panel featuring artists Crash, Daze, curator and graffiti expert Sean Corcoran, moderated by culture critic and curator Carlo McCormick. The doors are open at 6, and the talk begins promptly at 6:30.

Participating artists within the first series include Ron English, Indie184, John “CRASH” Matos x Chris “DAZE” Ellis, and Shepard Fairey.

The silkscreen editions are printed by Gary Lichtenstein Editions and published by W.C.C. Editions. 

West Chelsea Contemporary 231 10th Avenue New York, NY 10011

Shepard Fairey, Ron English, John “CRASH” Matos x Chris “DAZE” Ellis and Indie184. (Image courtesy of The L.I.S.A. Project N.Y.C.)
Ron English. “Temper Tot Tramples Guernica”” (image courtesy of The L.I.S.A. Project N.Y.C.)
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BSA Writer’s Bench : “Why Monuments?” by Carlo McCormick

BSA Writer’s Bench : “Why Monuments?” by Carlo McCormick

Like graffiti writers sharing black books and styles, BSA Writer’s Bench presents today’s greatest thinkers in an OpEd column. Scholars, historians, academics, authors, artists, and cultural workers command this bench. With their opinions and ideas, we expand our collective knowledge and broaden our appreciation of this culture ever-evolving.

by Carlo McCormick

Why Monuments?

Perhaps, caught up in the energy of street art and graffiti, we do not pay quite so much attention as we should to it being something we might otherwise call public art. Consider that public art as a form goes back through centuries of municipal planning and myriad private and public interests that are concerned with how community identity may be constructed and represented. It is shortsighted not to acknowledge how much of public art has long been about monuments.

Perhaps this perspective is a bit of a stretch for many. Certainly, the motives and purpose of those expressions that we see on a street or a subway are impossibly far from how monuments function as public art, not to mention the significant differences between them in terms of scale, materials, and permanence.  But if street art is a distant unruly and mongrel descendent of the public monument, they are nonetheless related.

However absurd comparisons may be, my concerns and involvement with art as it exists on the streets remains inseparable from my somewhat perverse fascination with monuments, each somehow bound together as opposite ends of the broader conversation called public art- which is, after all, the visual manifestation of both what we want to say and what we want to be remembered.

Most bad ideas are meant to die, but some haunt you year after year like a bad case of recurring herpes.

Monumental Book Project Spurs the Worst

Oddly, they both occurred to me simultaneously when I organized a show many years ago in Milan’s mid-Eighties. It included several graffiti artists mixed in with their contemporary art peers who were active then in the East Village Downtown Scene. This was actually not so common at that time when there was not so much curatorial or critical comingling between what had emerged on the trains and that which had been born through more formal studio practice.

The graffiti movement was still nascent and pretty much invisible to art world eyes at that time. One way I thought of to put New York graffiti in context for an audience then was to contrast it with something we all had – the world over; really ugly monuments to people whom we largely don’t know or care about. This presented a great idea – to create a book compiling examples of the very worst monuments internationally.

I had no idea what would happen.

For months after I began the project, people I didn’t even know were contacting me to report the really crappy statue in their little town square. And this was before the Internet; can you imagine what it is like to get bad photographs of awful public art in the mail? It was a kind of aesthetic pornography. Needless to say, I never did that book.

Most bad ideas are meant to die, but some haunt you year after year like a bad case of recurring herpes. This unlikely and unfortunate confluence between two impossibly incompatible forms of public art festered in the back of my mind for decades as a latent aberration.

Corfitz “To His Eternal Shame, Disgrace and Infamy” 1664, Copenhagen

It erupted again many years later when, in visiting a photography show of portraits of graffiti and street artists in Copenhagen I stumbled across a modest, ancient monument in the garden of a local museum there. It was, in the whole lineage of sculptural atrocities I had witnessed in monumental art, the most ugly monument imaginable.  Originally erected in 1664 on the former grounds of a once powerful man named Corfitz (he had married the daughter of the king), after they had demolished the grand estate that had stood there.

The monument remembers an infamous and still reviled traitor with the following words:

“To his eternal shame, disgrace and infamy.”

Here was a history, redolent with hate, regret, and disgust, I could relate to. Here was a public artwork of monumental shame I could salute. It reminded me of the curse tablets, tabella dexionis or katadesmos, of the Greco-Roman period in which the gods were called upon for all sorts of unspeakable retributions against specified individuals.

Spiteful markers of public malevolence, like an enraged sect of lawn sculptures, they might be a worthy form to return today. Certainly, they would better than the insipid feel-good positivity slogans that are so common these days.

A curse tablet (Latin: tabella defixionis, defixio; Greek: κατάδεσμος, romanizedkatadesmos) is a reference to the practice of creating a small tablet with a curse written on it from the Greco-Roman world. The tablets were used to ask the gods, place spirits, or the deceased to perform an action on a person or object, or otherwise compel the subject of the curse. (Wiki)

But we are not there yet. In fact, the longer I think about all this, the more certain I am that I will never quite get there, wherever that may be. Sometime later, Nuart, the street art festival and conference out of Stavanger, Norway, which habitually indulges my worst follies, did allow me to lecture on the idea of monumental shame.

Cold War, Soviet Era, and Fallen Soldiers

Still, it was not until Artmossphere, a street art biennial in Moscow asked me in 2018 to curate their forthcoming edition, did I consider that I might finally get to say what I needed to. Most importantly, I would do so by working with artists I cared about, who were well versed in public art – if perhaps somewhat allergic to the history of monuments.

The idea, to assemble a show of newly made monuments by artists who typically work in the ephemeral and express themselves in terms that are more personal and idiomatic than civic and official, was in large part inspired by a particular feature of the largest public space in Moscow, Gorky Park. Here, in an area colloquially called The Park of Fallen Heroes, were all the monuments produced in the Soviet Era – 700 of them, all strewn about, laid to rest like forlorn memento mori to a failed empire.

MUZEON Park of Arts in Moscow (formerly The Park of Fallen Heroes) (copyright source:

MUZEON Park of Arts in Moscow (formerly The Park of Fallen Heroes) (copyright source:

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – CIRCA AUGUST 2016: MUZEON park of arts (formerly calledPark of the Fallen Heroes)

To date this recontextualizing of our ignominious legacies into delineated margins, statuary ghettos so to speak, seems the best solution for the world over to consider how and where to park their problematic past. There is another similar site in Budapest called Memento Park, which plays a great backdrop for James Bond dodging bullets in Golden Eye, and has an apt mandate.

“This park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described, built, this park is about democracy. After all, only democracy is able to give us the opportunity to freely think about dictatorship.”

Monument to the Soviet Army – A pop-inspired repainting in Sofia, Bulgaria, 2011 (Creative Commons)

I’m perhaps a bit more skeptical than that when it comes to the virtues of what we call democracy. Still, in all this, there is to be a spirit of disentangling ourselves from history just enough to allow real artists a chance to imagine what they think needs to be celebrated and how we might memorialize the ideals of the present.

Somehow nasty cold war nostalgias seem more entertaining when wrapped up in a bit of 007 intrigue, the atrocities of tyranny abstracted by an erotic fetish of the other. So perhaps a Bond movie might be the best way to go there, but Moscow has this extra incentive in an apparent law that allows almost any type of unsolicited public art so long as it is done as a memorial, as if the act of remembrance forgives all aesthetic sins.

The Lenin statue before its Darth Vaderesque “de-communization” (left) and after (right)

The infamous statue of Feliks Dzerzhinsky is brought down in Moscow in August 1991 (photo Alexander Zemlianichenko (AP)

There is such a cultural power to that, like being able to eat as much as you want so long as every bite tastes like Proust’s Madeleine, a trigger for the force of sudden recollections. This law should be adopted everywhere, and street artists must consider this as a legitimate defense going forward. Even weary old flaneurs like me could use it. “Was I urinating in public officer? No, I was making a monument to the time in everyone’s life when they just have to pee.”

Covid of course dashed those plans for Moscow, as the pandemic did for so many others, and at this point there is no telling if a monuments-based Artmossphere will find life in the new history we now enter. But who would have even thought in such a short time between conception and non-fruition that such a whack idea could now be so central to our social, cultural and public art discourse? will not bode well for the fate of our contemporary monuments if we do not find a better way to address the afterlife of those monuments that are no longer so appropriate.

“The Lost Cause” Narrative from the US Civil War

I have been thinking a lot about a new kind of monument for a long time, but today I feel fortunate that artists, scholars and activists are thinking in even more radical yet practical ways than I could have ever conceived. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that in 2020 a total of 160 Confederate monuments were removed from public display, and this gesture of mass censure was felt globally as many countries came to reassess the sculptural legacy of their colonialist exploits. In the United States, even with this widespread eradication, there are some 2,100 symbols of the confederacy still awaiting their date with woke history, and some 704 of them are monuments.

A timeline of Confederate monuments. Click to enlarge.

In America we do love to smash shit up almost as much as we like shooting things, so perhaps all these tokens of “The Lost Cause” narrative, minted in the south but largely manufactured in the North, are doomed to this wave of violent iconoclasm, but it will not bode well for the fate of our contemporary monuments if we do not find a better way to address the afterlife of those monuments that are no longer so appropriate.

The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee stands behind a crowd of hundreds of “alt-right” during the “Unite the Right” rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Va.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Robert E. Lee statue (defaced) Duke University, Durham, NC 2017

An image of George Floyd is projected on the base of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, Monday, June 8, 2020, in Richmond, Va. The statue was a focal point of protests over the death of George Floyd. (Photo by Steve Helber / AP)

Perhaps we can combine their destiny with the rising efforts to repatriate all the treasures we’ve looted over the years, pass them on to the peoples who have suffered the most at their cruel hands to enslave, rape, and debase. Better that than leave it to the clueless hordes of college kids who somehow skipped history class on their way to knowing better deciding what to do with Lincoln (who never thought the black man near equal to the whites but just believed they needed to be free) as a way of purging their own entitlements.

Protesters try to pull down a statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square near the White House on Monday, June 22, 2020. (Photo by Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

A statue of Winston Churchill is protected before protests in London. (Photo by Matthew Chattle/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Might we also consider a way to ritualize our destruction of the past – to transform it into some communal sacrifice designed to maximize the symbolic and cathartic act of abnegation? Now that we are all too civilized to enjoy the spectacle of public executions, maybe we can channel our collective bloodlust into the ceremonial slaughter of our forefathers in effigy.

White Bronze Monuments advertisement in Ann Arbor Courier 1887

Scientific American 1885

National Fine Art Foundry ad 1892

Any monument that speaks to the ideology of oppression or the wealth accrued through exploitation needs to be extricated from the heart of our public spaces. But to treat them as effigies to be defaced, toppled or thrown in the nearest body of water seems to re-enact cycles of abuse going back to the lynchings that accompanied their consecration. It would be nice to think we can be smarter than a mob when it comes to cultural artifacts, no matter how despicable they may be.

Destruction, Preservation, and Old/New Historical Narratives

Voltaire probably got it right when he said, “History never repeats itself. Man always does.” We’ve been defacing the visages of the powerful and unceremoniously toppling monuments for a very long time now. Defacement is a ritualized power trip, found in many African cultures where masks functioned as highly coded visages of empowerment.

That power trip lurked in the systematic castration of countless Greek and Roman statues, and was epitomized by General Napoleon ordering his troops to shoot the noses off the sphinxes when they marched through Egypt. If monuments must fall, as most eventually do, let’s offer them the ultimate indignity of just lying there unattended in their neglect, a new kind of picturesque in the spirit of all those 18th Century paintings of ancient ruins – updated to meet the visual standards of our post-industrial ruin-porn photography.

Vintage engraving of Napoleon Bonaparte before the Sphinx, after the painting by J L Gerome.

Repurposing our monuments, especially in this time of ecological awareness and knowledge of growing scarcities certainly makes some sense. Though certainly a far greater artistic loss than, say, any works by the preeminent Confederate monument sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekial, you have to appreciate how rather than simply dispense of Michelangelo’s Statue of Pope Julius II (aptly known as the Warrior Pope and much admired by Machiavelli) the good citizens melted it down and turned it into a cannon. It was almost as poetic as the second life given a statue of James II in 1689 when it was similarly melted and turned into church bells.

If we begin all this with the premise that most monuments are rendered ugly, vulgar, and pointless over time, can we recognize what importance they may have much further down the line of history?

A statue depicting Christopher Columbus is seen with its head removed at Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park on June 10, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

Don’t you agree that these things are better when planned? What we are experiencing now in cities across the Western World is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to imagining a revisionist history. It is nothing yet compared to the wholesale destruction of didactic artifacts that ensues with the collapse of an empire. Julius Caesar once ruled over much of the world, but you don’t find statues of him on view in all corners of his former domain. Let’s guess that whatever survived the turn of history to end up in a museum is probably worth something, historically if not artistically. It’s hard to hold a grudge for that long. Value eventually accrues to all that is discarded.

Toppling a statue of Saddam Hussein On April 9, 2003 In Baghdad, Iraq. (Photo by Gilles BASSIGNAC/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Protesters throw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into the Bristol harbor during a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Bristol, England. 2020. (Photo by Ben Birchall/AP)

In recent memory certainly nothing compares to the massive purging of Soviet statuary that followed the fall of communism in 1989. In the Ukraine alone five and a half thousand statues of Lenin were pulled down in the main period of Leninfall in 2013 and 2014. You can’t blame any populace for wanting to take revenge on the surrogate likenesses of those who have made their very lives so miserable, but for all our righteous rage let us always keep a place in our heart for the example of Alexandre Lenoir who did so much to save historic monuments during the French Revolution.

A statue of Lenin is pulled down in Kharkiv, Eastern Ukraine. (Wikipedia)

As curator of the Museum of French Monuments, a once-grand museum founded only two years after the Louvre opened, Lenoir facilitated a way that paved the route for those immense treasures eventually to return to great cathedrals like Saint-Denis and Notre Dame – as well as to museums ranging from the Metropolitan in New York and the Victoria and Albert in London. Many of the greatest works from the Medieval era were preserved; establishing the very notion of heritage that is central to our cultural understanding of preservation. If we begin all this with the premise that most monuments are rendered ugly, vulgar, and pointless over time, can we recognize what importance they may have much further down the line of history?

Tamed down from whatever irascible grace they once possessed, their works began to fit an increasingly narrow aesthetic bandwidth of unsophisticated acquisition boards more concerned with not offending anyone than provoking a meaningful public discourse.

Blanding and the Effect of Corporate Perverting of Public Art

I cannot presume my cul de sac of concerns regarding the history of monuments would have much, if any, relevance to contemporary artists working in public space or to activists set on dismantling their coercive strategies, but I can hope we all find a way to keep considering these issues in some measure.

For one I would like all my friends who are killing it right now with an ongoing prolific schedule of massive public and private commissions to look at what happened to some of the great modernist sculptors when corporate art replaced the public monuments in the post-war period. It is not hard to see the deleterious effects on the work of artists like Isamu Noguchi, Henry Moore, Alexander Calder, and Claes Oldenburg when they started churning out their art in increasingly formulaic fashion. Tamed down from whatever irascible grace they once possessed, their works began to fit an increasingly narrow aesthetic bandwidth of unsophisticated acquisition boards more concerned with not offending anyone than provoking a meaningful public discourse.

Far be it from me to judge how any artist makes their money, or even how much money they want to make, but we would all do ourselves a service if we keep in mind the fundamental difference between street art that serves the spirit of the people versus corporate monumentality that serves the interests of a narrow-minded few.

Vito Acconci, “House of Cars” (MOMA catalogue)

Vito Acconci, “Proposal for Spanish Landing” (MOMA catalogue)

These are all only questions, or problems as they may be, and it is never the job of any critic to tell artists what to do, only to simply applaud what is done well. I cannot help but think here of Vito Acconci, who after being a poet turned performance artist, existed for a number of years as a public art sculptor before finally ending his career in his last clownish dance with disquieting subversion by impersonating an architect.

His public art was hardly much of a market success and it often flirted with outright disaster, as when he unwittingly buried a plane in the ground outside an airport where a major plane crash had occurred. However his radical efforts ranged from burying a house upside down in the ground so that you made your way climbing to the top floors by subterranean descent to a spectacle of two cars fucking through the windows of the World Financial Center. That work suggested a less predictable and complacent position for public art. Perhaps it is one that is exhibited by few today and one that fewer are working toward – aside from, say, Brad Downey with his monument to Melania Trump in Slovenia.

Brad Downey with Aleš “Maxi” Župevc created a statue of First Lady Melania Trump in Slovenia, 2019.

To re-imagine the monument today maybe we might best do so not by an act of collective amnesia but by embracing their role in memoriam; that is to remember the function of memory. There’s no telling where this will lead us, perhaps to no more than a post-modern pastiche that will be just as problematic to the future as our inherited pasts are to us. But we may garner more from contending with the language of history than eradicating it in a campaign of erasure.

Repurposing, Mockery, Monumental Abuse and Vulgarity

Kara Walker (Photo by Jaime Rojo)
Kara Walker “A Subtlety: or the Marvelous Sugar Baby
“an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant” with Creative Time, 2014

Some of the best monuments of recent years have done just that: either by repurposing the language of monumentality to fit contemporary concerns, such as the Guerilla Girls “Code of Ethics” erected on the High Line in 2019, Jeffrey Gibson’s “Before you Enter My House It Becomes Our House” in Socrates Sculpture Park 2020, Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” a sphinx made out of sugar shown at the old Domino Sugar factory in 2014, her “Fons Americanus” at the Tate in 2019, Ai Wei Wei’s “Fountain of Light” remake of Tatlin’s Tower out of glass crystals now at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumor’s of War” that debuted in Times Square in 2019, and Zhao Zhao’s “The Broken Officer” of 2011.

Production still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Krzysztof Wodiczko: Monument for the Living.” in Madison Square Park, NY © Art21, Inc. 2020.

Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot, “The Rapids” on the Potomac River. The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as the River of Blood.
It is my great honor to have preserved this important section of the Potomac River
Donald John Trump

There are effective ways of making mockery of monuments’ historical certainty in ways that range from the “River of Blood” plaque at one of Donald Trump’s golf clubs in Virginia that falsely claims to be the site of a fictitious Civil War battle and Joseph Reginella’s “Ed Koch Wolf Foundation” monument to the many tourists who go missing in New York City every year that he put up in Battery Park in 2019.

Other aesthetic and political interventions are created on pre-existing monuments such as Krzysztof Wodiczko “Monument for the Living” that did in Madison Square Park in New York in 2020, and the “Restoration” series by the Guyanese descent British sculptor Hew Locke first shown at St. Thomas the Martyr Church, Bristol.

Parliament’s bust of Cromwell turned to face the wall by Labour Party member Steve Pound in Parliament. Photo courtesy @labourwhips via Twitter.

Lastly, we might also consider those artists who have made monumental the abuse and disabuse of monuments, such as the artist who put up a bust of York, the enslaved lone African-American member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, on the vacant plinth of a toppled monument in Portland, Oregon, or the ongoing “Proposals for Monuments” series by Sam Durant, artworks that themselves function as an archive for the expanding history of toppled monuments.

Hew Locke, Washington, Federal Hall, 2018

Hew Locke,”Colston (Restoration series)” 2008 (Photo by Indra Khanna)

Hew Locke, Columbus, Central Park, 2018 Chromogenic print with mixed media

Hew Locke, Souvenir 10 (Princess Alexandra), 2019
mixed media on antique Parian ware / Souvenir 8 (Edward VII in Masonic Regalia), 2019
Sam Durant Budapest, 1956, 2018 (Graphite on Paper)

However the myriad approaches to this problem of our monumental shame may vary, what is plainly clear is that no matter how we try to dismiss monuments as ugly and vulgar, or wipe them away as simply wrong, their unwanted and unwarranted presence will be with us for quite some time.

(photo by Tessa Hughes-Freeland)

Carlo McCormick

Carlo McCormick is an art and culture critic and curator based in New York City as well as the author of numerous books, monographs, and catalogs on contemporary art and artists. His curatorial exhibitions include The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984 at New York University (New York) and The Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Magic City : The Art of the Street (Dresden and Munich, Germany and Stockholm, Sweden), Elements of Style at Seoul Art Center (Seoul, Korea), and RAMMΣLLZΣΣ: Racing for Thunder (New York).

McCormick was Senior Editor at Paper magazine for over 30 years and has contributed to several art publications, including Art in America, Art News, and Artforum. Among his many books are Trespass. A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art, co-editor (Taschen Books), City as Canvas: New York City Graffiti From the Martin Wong Collection, co-editor (Rizzoli), Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation, contributor (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), and Futura: The Artist’s Monograph (Rizzoli)

Opinions expressed on BSA Writer’s Bench do not necessarily reflect those of the editors or BSA.

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“Writing The Future”: Basquiat , Broken Poetics, and the NYC Cultural Context

“Writing The Future”: Basquiat , Broken Poetics, and the NYC Cultural Context

To accompany the exhibition “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, a substantial catalogue has been released to support the show and place the artist in context with his time as well as his influence on the future as it pertains to contemporary art and so-called art in the streets.

Accessible and erudite, the catalogue unpacks the social connections, the various emerging music, art, and performance sub-scenes of “Downtown” and “Uptown” New York culture, the opaque underpinnings of the dominant culture, and the urban syntaxes that formed this young Brooklyn artist and his work in the 1970s and 1980s. To faithfully set the stage for this story; to conjure the atmosphere, the moment, the context that Basquiat evolved himself into, you would need to create an interactive urban theme park with an impossible set design budget, a cacophonous sound-music map, a handful of public policy and political advisors, an anthropologist, a warehouse of costumes, too many actors, too many attitudes, and even more drugs.

Considering the elements of this planetary system, one that drew protagonists into layers of swirling space in overlapping concentric patterns at a time where “high” and “low” distinctions were melting and crashing into one another, a viewer is still drawn physicality of the works and artifacts, the hand and the gesture. If you are going to talk about expressionism and its reaction to stimuli, you’ll also want to appreciate the tactility of this art-making process, one that was endemic to Basquiats’ daily existence in the studio and on the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Editor of the “Writing the Future” catalogue, Liz Munsell, delves directly into that physicality in her essay, an experiential process that he shares with the viewer. “In several areas of the composition, Basquiat seems to have taken his own hands directly to the painting’s thick, wet surface, dragging his fingers across it into an area where he painted the hand of his self-portrait,” says Munsell. Willfully enigmatic at times and decidedly cryptic in his textual references, one cannot argue with this, an ultimate form of mark-making.

While Munsell is addressing something tangible, she is also witness to the spirit. We take it as an apt response to the greater challenge of decoding the works; presenting “the shattered poetics of Jean Michel Basquiat lyric memory cabinets.”

Basquiat scholar Carlo McCormick, who also happens to have been a full participant and observer of the ratty and glittering decline of New York during Basquiats’ rise, opens the book. Within his lyrical prelude to the artists’ ascent is a similar effort to place the moment; a sea of creative talents from privilege and without, trying their hand at sinking or swimming on the gallery of the streets, seizing a moment that reshaped a sleepy and self-satisfied gallery system that had painted itself into a proverbial white-box (and white-skin) corner.

“It’s all a crazy quilt conversation, talking in wild style tongues from the train yards to the writer’s bench, from bewildered commuters and savvy fans to the posturing politicians with their broken-windows theories in vandal squads, from little nightclub art shows and the ad hoc outposts like Fashion Moda and the Fun Gallery to a global stage of major exhibitions from the primal voice of mark-making to the sweet sounds of the studio, where a generation of outlaws joined that historical confab of painters in the culture of canvas. It’s got a beat hard-scrabbled out like the scratching of those early playground turntablists, but it’s all about the language, transmuted beyond easy recognition, private in the most public of ways, the insider voice of the outsider externalizing the interior. It’s pure jive, freeform and freestyle, the deceptions of code carrying the truth of the heart, the lyrics to all our collective pain, anger, alienation, and hope writ large like an aerosol atom bomb.”

Talk about shattered poetics.

In fact, art in the streets was a direct respondent to trauma, inequity, dislocation, and the effects of the flight of capital– and if certain populations found it discordant, it was possibly because it functioned as a funhouse mirror – distorted and vaguely threatening. While Basquiat was self-promoting in the venues and manners he was most suited, he was placing a bet that society was ready, or would be soon, for the platform and the content and the challenge.

“Graffiti had found the speed at which it needed to be seen,” the graffiti writer, fine artist and street style branding wizard Futura says in a quote.

By chasing it and learning how to read these writings on the wall we would gain a better understanding of what was to come in the future.  

Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation. Published by MFA Publications on the occasion of the exhibition currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Edited by Liz Munsell and Greg Tate with contributions by J. Faith Almiron, Dakota DeVos, Hua Hsu, and Carlo McCormick.

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“Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures” – Sneak Peek at the Book

“Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures” – Sneak Peek at the Book

As we prepare to open the Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures exhibition this weekend, we wanted to let you know that we are publishing a handsome catalogue with UN to accompany the show.

In addition to lush photo spreads of Martha’s documentation over 6 decades, we have essays written by art critic, curator and author Carlo McCormick, UN Executive Director Jan Sauerwald, author and photographer Nika Kramer, author, curator, and Hip Hop historian Akim Walta, National Geographic chief photo editor Susan Welchman, curator of prints and photographs at the Museum of the City of New York Sean Corcoran, and the curators of this exhibition Jaime Rojo and Steven P. Harrington.

The hefty hardcover, a richly illustrated and modernly designed book, is timed for release simultaneously with the exhibition opening this Friday, October 2. In addition to the essays, we have 40 quotes about Martha from her peers, artists, authorities in photography, folklore, graffiti, and Hip Hop, along with long-time friends and her family. The cover of the book features a photograph rarely seen of graffiti writer Skeme train surfing in NYC taken by Martha in 1982. The introductory texts to each of the 10 sections are written by author and curator Christian Omodeo.

At 230 pages, the new book is published by Urban Nation Museum For Urban And Contemporary Art, Berlin, and Steven P. Harrington / Jaime Rojo ( The book will be available for sale at the museum’s gift shop and on view for you to peruse in the Martha Cooper Special Projects room.

Designed by Krimm Studios in Berlin, the project was greatly shepherded by Dr. Anne Schmedding, who edited with us along with Martha. The entire project was carefully managed by the brilliant Christiane Pietsch. Our sincere thanks to everyone who has worked studiously alongside us this year during many Covid-caused complications to produce a handsome tome we can all be proud of.

More about this project in a future posting.

Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures
Curated by Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo

Opening weekend


Friday, October 2nd, 2020: 8 – 11 pm

Extended opening hours:

Saturday, October 3, 2020: 10 am – 10 pm

Sunday, October 4, 2020: 10 am – 8 pm

URBAN NATION Museum, Bülowstrasse 7, Berlin-Schöneberg

Livestream Opening Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures

Click HERE for more details about the exhibition.

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European Month Of Photography 2020 in Berlin Features “Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures” Exhibition at UN

European Month Of Photography 2020 in Berlin Features “Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures” Exhibition at UN

We’re proud to announce that our exhibition Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures will be featured during the prestigious European Month of Photography (EMOP) in Berlin this October for Urban Nation Museum’s very first photography-based program.

The European Month of Photography is a network of European photo festivals which began in 2004 when photography enthusiasts in Berlin, Paris and Vienna decided to put photographic art at the center of public attention for one month at least every two years. It is Germany’s largest photography festival.

Today EMOP it is a network of photography and visual arts institutions from seven European capitals: Berlin, Budapest, Bratislava, Ljubljana, Luxembourg, Paris, and Vienna with aims “to confront expertise in curatorial practice in photography and the intention to develop common projects, notably exhibitions, including exchange of information about the local photographers and artists concerned with photography. Founding members include the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, the Cultural Department of the City of Berlin (Museumspädagogischer Dienst Berlin headed by Thomas Friedrich) and the Department for Cultural Affairs of the City of Vienna (director Bernhard Denscher).

Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures combine photographs and personal artefacts in this retrospective that traces her life from her first camera in nursery school in 1946 to her reputation today as a world-renowned photographer. The exhibition covers Cooper’s wide range of subject matter. Many of her photographs have become iconic representations of a time, place, or culture and are distinguished by their frank human vitality, with an eye for preserving details and traditions of cultural significance.


We’re grateful for this recognition of the exhibition and look forward to participating in the EMOP 2020 this October and we hope you can join us at Urban Nation – if not in person then please join us ONLINE for our LIVESTREAM opening October 2 !  All are welcome!

Our special thanks to our entire team at Urban Nation including but not limited to Martha Cooper and Director Jan Sauerwald and
Melanie Achilles, Dr. Hans-Michael Brey, Carsten Cielobatzki, Sean Corcoran, Annette Dooman, Steve Fiedler, Seth Globepainter, Florian Groß, Sven Harke-Kajuth, Nancy Henze, Michelle Houston, Hendrik Jellema, René Kaestner, Kerstin Küppers, Nika Kramer, Barbara Krimm, Tobias Kunz, Jean-Paul Laue, Beatrice Lindhorst, Nicola Petek, Carlo McCormick, Selina Miles, Michelle Nimpsch, Christian Omodeo, Christiane Pietsch, Dennis Rodenhauser, Jens Rueberg, Dr. Anne Schmedding, Malte Schurau, Janika Seitz, Anna Piera di Silvestre, Skeme, Markus Terboven, Reinaldo Verde, Lennart Volber, Akim Walta, Samuel Walter, Rebecca Ward, and Susan Welchman.

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“Punk and Graffiti”: Unlock & TAG 2018, Amsterdam : Javier Abarca Interview

“Punk and Graffiti”: Unlock & TAG 2018, Amsterdam : Javier Abarca Interview

Just completed this weekend in Amsterdam, a gathering of authors, readers, publishers, academics, and fans of graffiti and urban art all gathered in Amsterdam for the newest edition of the Unlock International Graffiti Publishing Fair and the TAG Conference.

Here graffiti and street art intersects with the world of publishing, specifically with books and zines and related obscure and/or scholarly publications known to relatively few. The list of publishers participating in this genre has steadily grown in the last few years to about 50 here; heavily Eurocentric at this point from countries like Netherlands, Russia, Germany, France, Australia, Japan, Czech Republic, the US and others.

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Previously hosted in Barcelona and Berlin, Unlock is coalescing around a growing interest in defining these movements from historical, artistic, and anthropological vantage points; documenting and even codifying an unruly canon of expression through discovery, sharing information, and teaching one another. Toward that end it also hosts talks, panels, and screenings – this weekend included speakers like Jens Besser, Suse Hansen, Hugo Kaagman, Carlo McCormick, and Diana Ozon,

Among the self-publishing authors represented at the fair this year are Adam Void and Chelsea Ragan, who have been operating a Graff Zine distribution / publishing house called Cut In The Fence. Mr. Void share’s with us today images of his new work, straight from the D.I.Y. / punk / cargo jumping scene that is always inter-marbled with graffiti and autonomous art making in the US, where he operates. Today we’re pleased to present a great interview with Mr. Void and Javier Abarca, the founder of Unlock, and who also is an artist, researcher, and educator.

TAG. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Ka-Tjun Hau)

Interview with Javier Abarca by Adam Void:

Adam Void: Javier, in your 12+ years as a researcher and educator of graffiti and street art, what brought you to founding the Unlock Book Fair & the Tag Conference?
Javier Abarca: There is a whole scene of independent publishers working with graffiti and related fields an there was no meeting space for it. The idea immediately caught on, which showed there was a need for it. We also use the fair platform to advance the research on neglected but fascinating topics within the field. Last year we focused on hobo graffiti, this year we are delving into punk graffiti. We gather and display rare books on the subject, program talks and screenings about it and publish a companion book with obscure documentation.

TAG. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Robin Vermeulen)

Adam Void:  How do you see the Unlock Book Fair differing from other zine fairs or celebrations of graffiti & street art?
Javier Abarca: Unlock is much like other book fairs, but it is focused on a particular field. It has little to do with other events related to graffiti and street art, which tend to focus on the production of commissioned artworks. Our job is independent research and documentation of furtive public art, mostly in the form of books and zines, but also screenings, talks, performances, etc.

Adam Void: This year’s showcase is focused on “Punk & Graffiti”, what are the core connected elements between these two cultures?
Javier Abarca: The core thread connecting punk and graffiti is of course the DIY ethics. Today graffiti has turned, to a great extent, into an act of consumption, but it used to be all about do-it-yourself. DIY is the defining quality of punk, of graffiti and of many other independent cultures.

Adam Void: Can you expand on this some? How do punk and traditional graffiti cultures exhibit the Do-It-Yourself ethos? What is the change you have seen in graffiti as of recent times?
Javier Abarca: Punk’s approach to creating music and graphic communication is of course quintessential DIY. And graffiti used to be that as well, kids had to find ways to hack the elements on hand –spraycans, markers, inks, the subway system– to create a fantastically visible city-wide graphic communications game starting from zero resources.

It is the specialized media –fanzines, then the internet– and the specialized market –with custom-made tools and materials of every kind– which have largely transformed graffiti from DIY to an act of consumption. People do not need to go out and seek the graffiti throughout the city to get inspired when a whole world of graphic references is just a few clicks away. And there is no more need to hack and customize tools –after learning how to do it from a mentor– when any specialized tool you can imagine is readily available and can be bought online.

TAG. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Robin Vermeulen)

Adam Void: Most of the publications in the showcase are centered on punk & graffiti history. What do you see as the future for this element of graffiti?
Javier Abarca: Punk graffiti is mostly a thing of the past. The focus of the two “Punk Graffiti Archives” books we have published for the fair are the punk-originated tagging scenes that thrived in Amsterdam and Madrid in the late 70’s and 80’s with barely any knowledge of what was happening in NYC. These are largely ignored cultural treasures. Both cultures disappeared when the NY tradition of graffiti took over European youth through the 80’s. Punks may still write on walls, but graffiti as a culture is dominated globally by the NY tradition.

Adam Void: Unlock has exhibitors from all over Europe (19 countries), as well as Japan & the US. What are the main similarities and differences in the publications exhibited across this wide sampling?
Javier Abarca: Each publication is a unique, fascinating world. But most publishers work from a similarly independent, even DIY position, even if they are based in different continents. This means the possibilities and limitations they face tend to be similar, which can translate into their approaches and results.

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Adam Void: Are there other continents, countries, or parts of the world that you would like to get involved with the Unlock Book Fair and the TAG Conference? If so, how should they get in touch for next year?
Javier Abarca: Both the Tag Conference and the Unlock Book Fair are meetups of the international global scenes of graffiti research and graffiti publishing. They could take place anywhere. People can get in touch via email at, or through our Facebook and Instagram accounts @unlockfair and @thetagconference. We are in conversation with people from a number of cities in Europe and America who have expressed their interest in hosting the events.

Adam Void: Will you share an anecdote from the three-year history of the Unlock Book Fair that best exemplifies the spirit of the event?
Javier Abarca: That would be the cantina. A central feature of the fair is the cantina serving complimentary, communal meals to publishers, speakers and staff. It is run by Unlock team member Akim, the Berliner legend of graffiti, street art and underground mischief, whose cooking abilities are well known in the scene. One of the main goals of the yearly Unlock Book Fair is to be a meetup of the publishing scene, and the cantina is its social heart.

Apart from this, the hilarious and fascinating readings and performances by team member Dumar NovYork –the legendary NYC bomber– are probably the moments that best portray the spirit of the Unlock Book Fair: knowledgeable, but just as fun.

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. Carlo McCormick was in da house. (photo © Rebecca Schaefer)

Adam Void: What have you seen at this year’s fair that brings you excitement about the current state of graffiti publishing?
Javier Abarca: The graffiti publishing scene is growing stronger and more interesting. It would be fair to say the Unlock Book Fair is playing a key role in this, in Europe in particular. A number of publishers have mentioned how this yearly meeting has become a motivation to put out more and better work, and how they leave the fair inspired by the contact with so many books and publishers. People are coming from as far as Moscow, Montreal, New York, Sydney, São Paulo or Tokyo to present their books, to talk, or simply to attend the fair and the Tag Conference.

Adam Void: What is next for you in your personal exploration in the dusty corners of graffiti culture?
Javier Abarca: Next year’s Tag Conference will again create space for the the study of barely known forms of name writing. There is a list of obscure topics we want to explore in coming installments of the Unlock Book Fair. And I am working on a new groundbreaking international project that will create more opportunities for shedding light on overlooked topics which deserve more exposure among specialized audiences. Stay tuned!

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Cut In The Fence. Adam Void’s Misadventures and Musings. Train Brain. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)

Cut In The Fence. Adam Void’s Misadventures and Musings. Train Brain. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)

Cut In The Fence. Adam Void’s Misadventures and Musings. Raider Pack. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)

Cut In The Fence. Adam Void’s Misadventures and Musings. Raider Pack. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)

Cut In The Fence. Fishglue & MTN NGC. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)

Cut In The Fence. Fishglue & MTN NGC. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)

Cut In The Fence. Fishglue & MTN NGC. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)


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Virtually Damaged : Shepard Fairey in New York to Launch VR/AR Exhibition App

Virtually Damaged : Shepard Fairey in New York to Launch VR/AR Exhibition App

“This is the first time that it is been done in alignment with what I’m truly trying to do as an artist,” Shepard Fairey says about this new venture into virtual/augmented reality being unveiled this week in New York, and on a phone near you.

Shepard Fairey. “Damaged” VR/AR Immersive Experience. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

A stunning realization of the experience that a visitor would have had at his “Damaged” exhibition a year ago in his hometown of Los Angeles, the freshly released app is the product of millions of incremental images taken in 360 degrees that enable you to tour the show – even though it was dismantled a while ago.

“It was by far my biggest exhibition – bigger than “May Day” at Deitch Projects, bigger than the project I did in Dumbo and in New York with Jonathan Levine,” Fairey says of the exhaustive solo show of 230 pieces that opened to 21,000 people who had waited in 5-block long lines to get into the industrial warehouse. The new app designed by VRt Ventures captures each of those pieces in high definition of course, along with the more environmental experiential elements that the exhibition featured in the multi-faceted real life show.

Shepard Fairey. Screenview at Damaged” a VR/AR Immersive Experience. (photo © Steven P. Harrington)

“I had the newsstand, billboard, murals, sculptures, the printing press, and the whole print studio,” Shepard says, “That was really probably the greatest thing about that space was that it was this hybrid – a street gallery feeling because it was this kind of industrial warehouse – and we built these white walls as well. It had all the corrugated metal and you could see all these beams and we set up this print shop in there so I feel like it really balanced the best of both worlds in terms of the presentation of the work.”

Last night in a Manhattan popup pre-opening show on the Bowery Mr. Fairey and his wife Amanda made the rounds with guests in goggles to tour the exhibition where it exists now – as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Billed as a “VR/AR immersive experience”, the open bar and crunchy hip-hop/punk medley pumping loudly across the speakers may have impaired our abilities to pan and click inside the virtual world frankly. But we could easily see how a quieter home environment, or even a subway ride, would make it easier to listen to Fairey’s narrated portions and to appreciate the navigation around the space. So we downloaded the app for phone exploration later.

Shepard Fairey. “Wrong Path”. Detail of vinyl print for Damaged a VR/AR Immersive Experience. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“The accessibility of the art is so much more in your hands and really, truly it is like being in the space,” says Ms. Fairey as she compares the new virtual experience to the original. “It was a giant warehouse and an amazing exhibition of his work – It’s like you are in it, I mean. Oh my god. It revives the moment for us.”

As an activist on the street, and later in galleries and museums, Fairey has always communicated clearly and in detail about the inspirational factors and contextual circumstances that are foundational to his work – whether in canvasses for private homes or prints for t-shirts or in the many stickers, stencils and hurried wheat pastes he’s left on walls in the middle of the night. So it’s no surprise that the works in the virtual “Damaged” are augmented with his voice describing the works and what he was thinking about when making them.

Shepard Fairey. “Bias By Numbers”. Detail of vinyl print for Damaged a VR/AR Immersive Experience. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

He imagines what it would be like for him to experience this with other artists as well.

“For me to hear Warhol giving a tour through the Factory – or any number of artists – explaining first hand rather than learning about the show through all of these people who may or may not be credible to be saying what they are saying,” he remarks. “When I think about how valuable it would’ve been for me; I like to hear things from the artist if it is possible. I did 100 minutes of narration on this. I usually write about all of the pieces that I create, about what’s happening in current events that are relevant to the work as well as the general principles of the work. So the VRt team went through all of the pieces in the show and found additional text to supplement my audio narration.”

Shepard Fairey. Screenview at Damaged” a VR/AR Immersive Experience. (photo © Steven P. Harrington)

BSA: So do you think that this experience with this app and the way that people experience the exhibition when they cannot be there physically will be a good tool, not just for you but for a lot of artists to spread their message?

Shepard Fairey: Yeah I definitely do. Of course I think it’s always most important for people if they came to see the work in person. But when you think about the high percentage of people that basically are sort of scrolling through a slideshow of static images and that’s the best they’re going to get, this technology is really important for the future of art. Not just for artists but for museums that spend a huge amounts of money on an exhibition and it comes down after a finite amount of time, you can see this being more important especially as the technology improves.

To capture Damaged”, the exhibit was scanned with lasers–generating an exact replica of the exhibit.

These guys from VRt, you know they spent a lot of money to be ahead of the curve on this. Very used the highest technology to laser-map the entire space. You can go up to the pieces and see the textures. You can walk around the printing press. It’s really impressive. As this technology comes down in price it is going to democratize all kinds of experiences even more so I’m glad that maybe I can provide a little example a case study of how beautiful this technology is.

Shepard Fairey. “Wrong Path”. Detail of vinyl print for Damaged a VR/AR Immersive Experience. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Shepard Fairey. “Drink Crude Oil”. Detail of vinyl print for Damaged a VR/AR Immersive Experience. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


From left to right: Stan Sudol, Shepard Fairey, Evan Pricco, Steven P. Harrington and Carlo McCormick at the VIP launching of “Damaged” VR/AR Immersive Experience. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


To celebrate the launch of the “DAMAGED” mobile App, VRt Ventures, Shepard Fairey, Juxtapoz Magazine and ABSTRKT NYC host a pop-up will be open to the public from 10/17 – 10/21 at 136 Bowery in New York City from 10am – 6pm where fans can come check out the experience, make sure to follow @JuxtapozMag @ObeyGiant @VRtVentures on social media for more information.

The DAMAGED mobile App is available for download via the iOS App Store and Google Play store for Android, on Oculus, Samsung Gear and Steam in VR.

For more information, please visit

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Rammellzee, Racing For Thunder, and Interview with Carlo McCormick

Rammellzee, Racing For Thunder, and Interview with Carlo McCormick

Intergalactic Godhead and one of New York’s lost sons, the multidimensional Rammellzee is here, at least his pyramidic urn is. The train writer, performance artist, plastic artist, language master, mathematics interpolator, hip-hop pioneer and one of the original “Wild Style” and “Style Wars” alumni brings the big guns to Red Bull Arts.

Rammellzee. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Rewarded the instant you enter, the flying intergalactic battleships greet you at the door, leading you into the blissful blacklit abyss below, provoking a humorous inner sense of a warring gothic future. But first you can explore the brighter white-box gallery above with a small theater behind for video and various listening stations, photography, augmented with vitrines of emphemera and original texts from the audacious imagineer.

The largest survey of its kind of work by the artist, who passed away in 2010, this is a considered collection of images, writings, sculpture and costume that give you the idea that it only approximates the vast galaxy of histories and characters that the iconoklast panzerist stored in his imagination.

Rammellzee. “Evolution Of The World 1979” Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“These costumes remind me of George Clinton,” says experimental filmmaker and writer Tessa Hughes-Freeland maker and writer at the opening Thursday night for “Racing for Thunder”. She was one of many New York royalty from the “Downtown” and graffiti scenes of 80s-90s New York who were attending the flooded opening this week, including artists like Lee Quinones, Futura, Torrick Ablack aka Toxic, and John Fekner.

“I don’t remember him wearing all of these costumes,” says painter Jane Dickson as she looks at the mythical deities glowing and raging in the smoky haze.

“Actually I do remember him in that one at an event,” she says motioning to an intimidating fluorescent grill-faced figure in a stylize kimono. Her husband Charlie Ahearn, who directed Rammellzee in Style Wars, was interested in creating a movie solely about the artists many characters and his fully immersive commitment to the environments he built in his loft in the 80s and 90s.

Rammellzee. “Maestro 1979“. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The crowd coursing through the exhibit listens to recordings, watches raw video, drinks champagne, and wishes for decoder rings in the vain hope of peering into the mind of this child of the Rockaways who painted the A train and recorded music that influenced musicians as diverse as the Beastie Boys and Big Audio Dynamite, who dedicated a song to him.

The extensive collection, much of it never before seen, took more than a year to assemble and curate for Chief Curator Max Wolf and cultural critic Carlo McCormick, who created the exhibition with Associate Curators Christian Omodeo, Jeff Mao, and Candice Strongwater.

Rammellzee. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

We captured a few details from the show during installation which we show here to whet your appetite and spoke with McCormick, who also knew the artist personally and took decisions about the exhibit with a precise appreciation for Rammellzee’s place in the canon of graffiti, post-graffiti, hip-hop, mathematics, and performance.

BSA: Part of Rammellzee’s story lies in the environments that he created to share with artists and friends – and to use as a laboratory. How can an exhibition achieve some of that same unique atmosphere?
Carlo McCormick: The most tempting thing to do as a curator was to re-create “The Battle Station”, which was his home studio, and it was kind of a “life’s work” installation that way. But it just seemed that this was also Max Wolf’s project as well, who co-curated it, and it is also a focus to make these things be engaged and discreet.

Rammellzee. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

You’ve got the whole thing: the Garbage Gods, Gassolear, and the Letter Racers. It’s kind of like his final showdown of good versus evil. But we wanted to allow it to be in a fine art space so you could register as much of “the gaze” as you could looking at any other art.

It’s still black light illuminated; Rammellzee liked to paint all of his walls black. I know he did it at Barbara Braathen and Fashion Moda. One time he did this at this one gallery – the gallery owner left him the keys to the gallery to prepare the space. She came back the next day and really what he had done was he had painted all the walls black. She’s was like, “What?”

So we didn’t do that, we tried to give it a little bit of the privilege of the white space because now he is dead and it is better to be in conversation with that whole history with Western art.

Rammellzee. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Can you talk about going through the artwork and costumes that Rammellzzee and Carmela had stored away? What kind of thoughts and feelings were you experiencing?
Carlo McCormick: Everything looked kind of squalid when it had just been pulled out of storage and from this other storage facility that Sotheby’s had.

It was sort of underwhelming because he was sort of working with bits of garbage and rags. And the costumes are really fly fashion but it’s really made on the cheap – its like “costume” instead of “clothing” right? It was all scattered about.

And there was someone who went all of the old performance photos and basically re-assembled all of these personalities – because they were not stored in a bag separated for each character. There were just racks of costumes and boxes of masks and things like that.

Rammellzee. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

They had to put all of these elements together – so that was really amazing. But once it is all put together it is so much more magical. That’s kind of the way he collaged everything – he had an amazing ability to put things together.

This is just the first show so it has that honor but it is a dubious one because it is just a start and now there is the hope that more scholarship and more curatorial work and more work all around can go into Rammellzee’s estate and his legacy.

Considering that this was all done in a year with a pretty small team here at Red Bull, its amazing the amount of resources they pulled. How cool it is to think, “There is no way we can go through all of the ephemera” and then to be able to say, “Hey get Christian Omodeo in here to do the archives for this.” So it has been a really cool thing to make all of this happen because they allow you to entertain pretty elaborate schemes.

Rammellzee. Treatise On The Luxturnomere. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Was he thinking in terms of posterity and about having a great show in the future. Did he care?
Carlo McCormick: I think, like a lot of people at that time, he had a really ambivalent relationship to ‘the market’ and ‘the art world’ and the gallery system and all that stuff for a moment there. He was very ambitious and he saw how friends of his were beginning to paint and people were paying attention and he goes, “Shit I can do that”.

So I think he didn’t always like the art world. I think he kind of really hated it in some ways but he attached himself to it for 10 years with the paintings and continued a collector base through his death in 2010. I’m sure, in his mind, he never would be forgotten. He was so important.

Rammellzee. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: The artist had such a unique fantasy world in his imagination with galactic battles and love of the letters and projections into the future. Would you say he was acting as a character – or maybe that he became that character?
Carlo McCormick: He was many characters. I think that one of the things that people are going to start paying more attention to outside of the obvious place in Hip-Hop and in graffiti art and what was going on in 1980s painting is the performance work. In that he is adopting so many fluid identities.

Also, as we were noting before when we were walking through it, he was crossing gender and doing a lot of things that are not typical for the work of that vernacular. He was doing a lot of it. With identity politics and performances now I think that a lot of people are going to look at that work with a different eye.

BSA: What influenced his mind? Why did he do what he did?
Carlo McCormick: That’s the basic thing you know. When you read that first treatise – and he kept on doing these manifesto type things – even from the first one at this really early age, he was an incredible autodidact, all self-taught. There was just massive amounts of information of all sorts of theory and math and science and military. I mean it’s all over.

He’s an autodidactic and a polymath. So I don’t really know where all of it came from. Sometimes you just have to think “maybe he watched a lot of Transformers on TV!” Who knows.

BSA: Many people will be learning about this multi-dimensional artist for the first time. What do you want them to know about him and his brilliance?
Carlo McCormick: I really hope the work can speak for itself. He was as conceptual as he was urban. I hate to poison the well. He is so open to so many readings. He is being grabbed now by other forces that are in the market and those are being brought to bear.

So for me one of the things here was to bring this from out of the community and from all of the artists he worked with and was friends with. One of the things was I didn’t want to be the only person speaking for Ram when there were all of these other people still around.

I would say “Come in with and open mind and expect it to be blown.”

Rammellzee. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

RAMMΣLLZΣΣ: Racing for Thunder is organized by Max Wolf and Carlo McCormick, with Candice Strongwater, Jeff Mao, and Christian Omodeo.

RAMMΣLLZΣΣ: Racing for Thunder is now open to the general public. Click HERE for more details.

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BSA Film Friday: 12.01.17

BSA Film Friday: 12.01.17


Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.

Now screening :
1. Rough Cut of Haring on Train in Mexico City (DF)
2. Niels Shoe Meulman in Magic City
3. Carlo McCormick talks about ROA at Magic City
4. Miquel Wert / 12 + 1 Contorno Urbano
5. “Awareness, Optimism, Commitment” by GEC Art


BSA Special Feature: Rough Cut of Haring on Train in Mexico City (DF)

It all took us by surprise last week in Mexico City when suddenly a whole train covered on both sides with Keith Haring’s work approached while we were waiting at the platform to catch the Linea 2 of the Metro. He made his name in part by illegally doing drawings like these in NYC subways and here now they are crushing a whole train. The name of the project is “Ser Humano. Ser Urbano” or “Being Human. Being Urban” and it aims to promote human values and human rights. The pattern you see is from “Sin Titulo (Tokyo Fabric Design)” – now stretched across these whole cars, if you will.

The train itself is inexplicably having brake troubles, so we get some jerky spur-of-the-moment footage but all week on Instagram and Facebook we’ve received tons of comments from people reacting to this little bit of Keith video by Jaime Rojo on BSA.



Niels Shoe Meulman in Magic City – The Art Of The Street :

Niels Shoe Meulman spent some nights in a Munich jail thirty years ago for mucking about on the walls. This year he was paid to do it in Munich for Magic City, the travelling morphing exhibition (now in Stockholm) where Street Art is celebrated along with all its tributaries – including a film program and a number of photographs by your friends here at BSA.

Born, raised and based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Shoe shares here his new improvisational piece and some of his reflections on his process and his evolution from being in advertising as an art/creative director and reclaiming his soul as a graffiti/Street Art/fine artist. As ever, Martha is in the frame, putting him in the frame.


Carlo McCormick talks about ROA at Magic City – The Art Of The Street / Dresden-Munich-Stockholm

The urban naturalist ROA gets the Carlo McCormick treatment here as the chief curator of Magic City does the talking for the anonymous Ghent-based artist who has globe-trotted for almost a decade with his marginalized animal parade in monochrome. Here you get to see the inside/outside of his practice, a genuine master as work – with the delicious insight of Carlo to guide your appreciation.


Miquel Wert / 12 + 1 Contorno Urbano

In studio with Miguel Wert we get to see him sifting through a pile of black and white photos, assessing the scene, the sitters, the psychological-emotional dynamics of families, lovers, haters.

“In most family photos the interpersonal dynamics are more subtle,” we wrote when the wall was first unveiled in Barcelona, “but a close reading of posture, body language, and facial expressions all give unconsciously a lot of information about the true nature of the relationships officially on display.”

See more in “Miquel Wert Brings Awkward Family Dynamics From the Shadows in Barcelona”

“Awareness, Optimism, Commitment” by GEC Art

Young gymnast takes the opportunity to practice and perform for a moment atop this traffic barrier in Torino.

And why not?


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