All posts tagged: Ikon

“Whole in the Wall” Opens with Fanfare

NYC Graff as Historical Touchstone
International Street Art Stars
Train Writers turned Fine Artists
High Culture/Street Culture Mashups
Corporate Logos and Celebrity Collectors

If that is not enough variety for you, then you have just been spoiled by too many years living in the center of a cultural and media capital.

You’ll be glad the former photo studios, two blocks north of Manhattan’s West Side Rail Yards, are generously spacious because you’ll need headroom to contemplate the variety of messages that Chantal and Brigitte Helenbeck, Parisian gallerists, are bringing to Hell’s Kitchen for a month.

For Chantal, “The street art style and story is distinctly American. It became a global phenomenon”. Her sister Brigitte agrees and asks her to translate to the visitor, “Yes, it is about movement, and color, it is very free and for this we say it is very American.”

Trains, geometric shapes, and natural beauty on Coney Island (Daze) (photo Steven P. Harrington)
Trains, geometric form, fills, and natural beauty on Coney Island (Daze) (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Amidst the flurry of 11th hour installations all over this temporary gallery, the sisters say that they see graffiti and “street art” on a continuum with other schools in contemporary art and art history in general. Chantal observes as she looks around the cavernous 12,000sf upper floor at the “Whole in the Wall” exhibition that the kids that used to be “Bad Boys” (and girls) of graffiti back in the 70’s are now warm and friendly adults who are great to work with. Better yet, many continued to develop their skills and have truly become “great studio artists”. “It is important that their talent and recognition is seen and documented with the art world,” she says.

Lee Quiñones at work (photo Jaime Rojo)
Lee Quiñones at work (photo Jaime Rojo)

A prime example of that observation could be Lee Quiñones, who is busily running up and down an aluminum ladder preparing a 12′ x 14′ canvas that couldn’t be more of a departure from his style back in the days of Sly Stone and Richard Nixon. A subway train writer as a teen in the 1970’s, his later exhibitions and studio work placed him in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum. The piece he’s working on for this show speaks to a sinister, more complex time using animal symbolism so often seen in the 00’s.

Up close to this canvas, it is an imposing thick dark forest of trees where the sprouting leaves and fallen, swirling fragments are actual dollar bills. Popping forward at you from the center comes the menacing protagonist; a realistic wolf in businessman’s clothing lurking from behind a tree in horn-rimmed glasses, looking at you with a dead-eye stare.

Wolf detail of work by Lee Quiñones (photo Jaime Rojo)
Wolf detail of brand new work by Lee Quiñones (photo Jaime Rojo)

As you talk to Mr. Quiñones, it’s easy to see that he cares deeply about his work, and he spends a great deal of time thinking about it, re-working it in his mind, and relating with it on an emotional level. The metaphor Lee had in mind this time is the children’s story “Little Red Riding Hood” and, as he points to parts of the canvas, you can see the story as it applies to any number of scams and backroom deals that clutter the business pages and Senate hearings these days. You might think of the same connection between financial crisis and the meager options for a teen in New York’s 1970’s while he describes the power brokers that created the current environment. Conspiratorially, he reveals that when the lights are out, the wolf’s eyes actually glow in the dark. He also says this piece is not finished but he’ll know when it is.

“Art is tricky, you know, you gotta look at it a lot,” the Puerto Rico-born painter says, “Then it tells you ‘Stop! Leave me alone! I’m done.’… I talk to my art, I spend time with it.”

"I was thinking of putting Madoff over here" (photo Jaime Rojo)
“I was thinking of putting Madoff over here”

He contrasts the life and the approach to creative work back in the “wild style” days and now; “My studio is not this big but it’s pretty big so I can step back and take a look at it. When I was painting trains 35 years ago I only had like this much space (holding his hands a yard a part) and I had this big 40 foot (long) train in front of me. …. I had no luxury of looking at it from a distance, or time. But that’s also where I get my nocturnal practice. I can actually stay up four nights without sleep, no problem. And I’ve been up three days now.” A broad smile breaks across his face as he announces this feat of endurance and commitment.

Be careful handling the ivy (photo Steven P. Harrington)
It really DOES grow on trees. (photo Steven P. Harrington)

There is so much exuberance and so much to see at this show that A.D.D. seems like an excellent processing mechanism – Ramellzee’s sculpture on a highly ornate fifteenth century credenza, a French dude in a suit holding forth about the geneology of a chair, Plateus moving briskly across the floor gazing upward at the multiple canvasses and downward upon his high-gloss contorted letter sculptures, Henry Chalfants’ screen prints of miniature trains spread out on some bubble wrap, NYC’s Sharp amiably chatting with Brazillian Nunca (recently at the Tate), stencil godfather Blek le Rat sneaking outside for a cigarette where Blade is showing off the 1972 creme colored roadster he’s restoring, and, quietly, the Banksy rat glances over his shoulder.

The selections of artists for this show are not meant to be comprehensive, as is evidenced by the lack of any number of current European street artists, and almost complete lack of artists from today’s New York. What impact “Whole in the Wall” will have on current “street art” and graff movements is hard to say, but it is an often inventive way of drawing the connections and revealing the threads in a storyline that continues to be told.

Rammellzee and King Louis (photo Steven P. Harrington)
Meet you on the Kings Highway! Rammellzee and King Louis mashup (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Martha Cooper prints waiting to be hung (photo Steven P. Harrington)
Martha Cooper prints waiting to be hung (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Who let the dog in the mansion? (Blek le Rat) (photo Steven P. Harrington)
Okay, who let Sir Duke in the mansion? Don’t let him lick the gold leaf again! (Blek le Rat) (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Armed nationalism on Sesame Street (Icon) (photo Steven P. Harrington)
Armed nationalism on Sesame Street (Ikon) (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Chalfant
Henry Chalfant silkscreens Blade (in the show) and many others on these metallic plates that clearly evoke the subway trains of the 1970’s and 80’s. (photo Steven P. Harrington)

Helenbeck Gallery

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Whole in The Wall: 1970 – Now

May 29 to June 27, 2009:

“Whole In The Wall: 1970 – Now”

Blek Le Rat

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Masters from the 1970s NYC graf movement (Blade, Crash, Daze, Jonone, Quik, Lee Quinones, Rammellzee, Sharp) and European art stars (Victor Ash, Banksy, Blek le Rat, Ikon, Sozyone, Plateus) are among 19 painters, sculptors and photographers showing contemporary works in “Whole In The Wall: 1970 – Now”. It’s an unprecedented, museum-quality, 150-piece exploration of street art’s ongoing transition to, yes, fine art. The pieces are all original and rare; many are new.

piece by Sharp courtesy Helenbeck Gallery
The show is an ambitious, two-story, 25,000-sf installation on Manhattan’s industrial West Side, juxtaposing street artworks with authentic 17th Century antiques. It will be an unprecedented presentation.

The official website for “Whole In The Wall”: www.helenbeckgallery.com

Facebook group “Whole in the Wall” by Helenbeck Gallery – Paris

Brooklyn Street Art Interview with the Co-Curators of this show

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Whole In The Wall: 1970 – Now”
Friday, May 29 through Saturday, June 27
11:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Tuesdays through Saturdays; or by appointment
529-535 W. 35th St. @ 11th Ave. (former Splashlight Studio)

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“Whole in the Wall” interview with the Co-Curators

“Whole in the Wall” interview with the Co-Curators

“WHOLE IN THE WALL: THE LARGEST AMERICAN & EUROPEAN STREET ART EXHIBITION IN NEW YORK – ARTISTS FROM THE 70’S TO NOW”

That’s a grand claim, and the Helenbeck sisters are going to try to back it up in June. The curators of this show are planning to pair New York writers from the 70’s and 80’s with European street art stars of the 00’s and present them in Louis XIV drawing rooms furnished with genuine articles from the period.

The show’s  numbers are grand too; 150+ pieces, 25,000 square feet of exhibition space, 40 years of art.  Promising to shake collectors and historians awake to the relevance of graff and street art in the continuum of fine art, it remains largely unknown what impact this show can have on the street. At the very least, it’s a bold courageous approach to further the ongoing conversation about Street Art’s relevance to the art world.

In the midst of installation, the co-curators of the show, Brigitte & Chantal Helenbeck, give us some insight about their approach and what they hope people will get from the “Whole in the Wall”;

Brooklyn Street Art: Why does this show juxtapose theses genuine antiquities, originally created for the upper classes, with an art form more frequently associated with the working class?

Brigette & Chantal: We think that Street Art has become a real part of the contemporary art scene.  By juxtaposing these Street Art pieces with antiquities we would like to underline the entrance of contemporary street art in the history of art.

Brooklyn Street Art: Can you pick one particular pairing of an artwork and an interiors setting in this show that made you laugh with glee?

Brigette & Chantal: We never really laughed, but were often amazed and surprised to notice how two genuine and high quality works of art create a balance and a force between them, no matter which time they belong to.  The audience always finds the pairing interesting.

Brooklyn Street Art: As you know, New York (particularly Brooklyn) is currently experiencing an explosion of new street art.  Are there any particular street artists of the new crop whose work excites you?

Brigette & Chantal: We are in New York also to discover this new crop, which one day we can maybe bring to Europe so that people can discover their works in future exhibitions.  We cannot put out a name, but the spirit of our gallery, which has been an experimental territory for young or acclaimed artists, has definitely been thrilled by the extreme creativity of young artists here in New York.

Brooklyn Street Art: As co-curators and twins, have you had the same vision for this show, or do your tastes differ a great deal?

Brigette & Chantal: We are alike and very different at the same time, but we function as a team and all our final decisions are a mix of our sensitivities and tastes. We find a way to agree at the end, and what people see is a jigsaw version of the two of us.

Brooklyn Street Art: A show of this vast scope must take a huge amount of planning, logistics, and effort.  What has been the most surprising part of the process for you?

Brigette & Chantal: To discover New York in a different way, definitely. We learn from people here every day and this turns out to be an extremely interesting experience. This is the logical direction of our professional path, and also part of a journey that we’ll continue in the future.

Brooklyn Street Art: Popular perception of graff and street art continues to evolve.  When people walk away from the show, what you like them to be thinking?

Brigette & Chantal: We would like them to see that these artists and their works have their place in the contemporary art field and they are part of the future history of art.  We are satisfied when people enjoy our exhibitions and discover new forms of art and new talents. This exhibition in particular is very alive, full of movement, colorful, like the Americans are, and like this city remains despite this difficult economic crisis worldwide.

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Whole in the Wall: 1970 to Now

Friday, May 29 to Saturday, June 27
Open 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Tuesdays through Saturdays
529-535 W. 35th St. @ 11th Ave. (former Splashlight Studio)

Helenbeck Gallery

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