Behind the scenes at “Beyond the Streets London” is a hive of activity, with artists deeply focused on installing their work and seeking assistance with tools and equipment. Curators, organizers, and lighting professionals are bustling up and down the stairs, carrying props, or ladders, and communicating with vendors and artists via text message. Salespeople are diligently crafting wall texts to accompany the art pieces. It’s a few hours before showtime, yet everything is somehow accomplished just as the first guests arrive for the preview.
Photographer Martha Cooper is electrified by the activity at Saatchi Gallery. The event preserves the rich history of graffiti, street art, and commerce while pushing forward with new trends and directions. Cooper, who has documented this scene since the 1970s, has attended and exhibited in “Beyond the Streets” exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles – and we anticipate the next stop could be Shanghai. This particular iteration showcases an evolving mix of archetypes and invention, drawing on diverse influences from the US, UK, and EU.
Cooper observed many surprising music references at the show. Rock icon Eric Clapton was at the opening admiring a photograph of text declaring him to be God while filmmaker, musician, and BBC radio host Don Letts had a personal collection of his memorabilia/ephemera on display. Ron West, designer of the “Duck Rock” boombox, also made a sudden appearance at the opening, allowing guests to pose with his creation. Among the standout pieces was a Bob Gruen photo of Malcolm McLaren holding that boombox in front of Keith Haring’s Houston Street wall, a masterpiece of intersectionality, if you will.
Overall, “Beyond the Streets London” offers a smorgasbord of colors, flavors, and influences that are difficult to encapsulate in one show. However, Gastman, the visionary, gives it a good try, with a respectful nod to the many artists who have shaped this worldwide people’s art movement. Enjoy these behind-the-scenes shots from Ms. Cooper.
Beyond The Streets – London. Click HERE for more details, the schedule of events, tickets, and exhibition times.
Tonight is the VIP opening at the unveiling of Roger Gastman’s Beyond The Streets London edition, a combination gallery show, fine art exhibition, and superstore targeting the youngish hip fans and collectors of urban art. With historical roots and knowledge of culture at its base, BTS brings a largely American-centric roadshow previously configured for Los Angeles and New York into friendly European territory.
Most illustrative, perhaps, are the chapters that punctuate the multitude of stories installed throughout the entire Saatchi Gallery, known for its exhibitions of contemporary art and emerging artists since its founding in 1985 by the British art collector and advertising executive Charles Saatchi. The cross-culture nature of graffiti and street art and all of its worldwide tributaries during the last six decades is presaged perhaps by the intersectional spirit of such Saatchi shows as “Post Pop: East Meets West” in 2014.
Roger tells us that it was very important for him to bring this traveling feast here because of the interconnections shared in the shared evolution of popular culture and political movements between Britain and US cities during the last half-century in art, fashion, music, and the street.
“The story of graffiti and street art can’t be told without highlighting the significant role London, and the UK in general, has played in revolutionizing these cultures and continuing to spread the word of their existence,” Gastman says. “Pushing the global narrative has always been important to us, so we’re honored to continue telling these stories at a respected institution like Saatchi Gallery, whose prestige and impact are unmatched in the UK.”
The 70,000 square foot (6,500 sm) space is divided into chapters with names like “Dream Galleries,” “Blockbusters,” “Legends,” ”Larger Than Life,” and “Social Commentary,” the plastic arts, photography, ephemera, fashion, and site-specific installations will represent the multitude of ways western culture erupted and redirected itself with the aid of graffiti, hip hop, punk, and myriad expressions of DIY culture. By paying homage to these primarily youth-based monumental moments and the cultural narratives that reformed and rebelled, Beyond The Streets puts these 150 artists into representational roles for the hundreds of thousands of “rule-breakers and mark-makers” who collectively have pushed the culture forward.
They used to run from the Vandal Squad in this
neighborhood. Now people pay to see their art here.
Through the expansive glass wall on the 6th floor you can look down Kent Avenue to see the spot where a monster pickup truck with a heavy chain tied around a FAILE prayer wheel almost jackknifed on the sidewalk, gave up and sped away. Not that many Brooklynites saw that event in the 2000s – nobody walked here and few people drove through Williamsburg then except truckers looking for street walking ladies wearing high heels and spandex. Oh, and a serial killer.
Now visitors buy tickets to see a circular colonnade of FAILE prayer wheels here at 25 Kent – including the real estate developers and Wall Street professionals who displaced the community of artists whose work made the neighborhood attractive and “edgy”.
Along with Street Artists in this exhibition like Shepard Fairey, Bast, Swoon, Invader, Aiko, Dan Witz, Katsu, 1UP, and Lister, the FAILE duo put completely illegal artworks on walls under cover of night and threat of arrest in this same neighborhood then – transforming it with many others who are not in this show into an open gallery of the streets, placing Williamsburg on the map as New Yorks’ epicenter of the newly emerging Street Art scene.
The Nature of Graffiti and Street Art
As graffiti and Street Art are migratory and necessarily elusive by nature, this story is only one chapter in a volume of history that serious academics are now reconstructing and analyzing. With each passing year and published white paper, the practices of 20th century public mark-making are being examined in greater detail for archiving and for posterity. Not surprisingly, institutions, patrons, collectors, and brands are increasingly interested in this story as well.
When it comes to the anarchic subculture of illegal
street art practice and its influence on society, there are non-stop ironies
sprayed en route from verboten to Vuitton, and street culture has supercharged
the imagination of the mainstream and high culture throughout history – that’s
where the best ideas come from sometimes. Many seminal artworks from “the
scene”, as it were, represent much more than what you are seeing at first
glance. As art and cultural critic Carlo McCormick has described the iconic
Shepard Fairey ‘Hope’ image in Art in
America, many graffiti and Street Art works saved are “not a
fleeting pop-culture sensation but simply the latest crossover hit in a long
line of underground classics.”
The wide-ranging survey that is Beyond the Streets makes sure that you know where the roots are, and who many of the pioneers were. It is impossible to tell a complete story that includes scenes as diverse as west coast Chicano muralism, hobo graffiti, hip-hop commercial design, NY downtown artivism, Japanese low/hi contemporary, skateboard, tattoo, early train writing and a current romance with muralism, but BTS at least gives a serious consideration to each and offers you the opportunity to look further into them.
With the help of photography documentation from people like Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant, Jim Prigoff, Lisa Kahane, Joe Conzo, John Fekner, Bill Daniel, Maripol, and Dash Snow, the crucial importance of this work provides needed interstitial and contextual information that enables myriad stories to be elucidated.
Exhaustive, no. Exhausting, possibly. Pace yourself.
spent my life surrounded by graffiti and Street Art,” says the shows’ director
Roger Gastman “and you could say that I have been obsessed with understanding
the culture, its origins, and its evolution. It’s incredible to me how far it
With 150 artists whose practices span five decades
and various (mainly) American subcultures displayed in a maze of new walls in
this 100,000 sf, two-floor exhibition, the Beyond the Streets senior curatorial
team includes Gastman, filmmaker/ graffiti historian Sacha Jenkins SHR, Juxtapoz
Editor in Chief Evan Pricco, and author/ graffiti historian / graffiti writer David
CHINO Villorente. Each curator brings core competencies and knowledge of the
graffiti scene (Gastman, Jenkins, Villorente) as it has evolved to include the
Street Art practice and an eventual move toward contemporary art (Pricco).
“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” says Villorente, who says his history as
a graffiti writer compounds the impact for him. “I was glad that the show was
coming to New York because I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I couldn’t have
imagined it – especially when I think back on when I was writing on the trains
and doing illegal graffiti. To have of show of this magnitude is really
“We started writing in ’68 and here we are, fifty-one years later,” says Mike 171 as he gestures toward himself and crew writer SJK 171 when talking about how they began and continued writing their tags on the street in New York City. “This is the history right here,” he says, and you know you are about to be schooled about the plain realities of early graffiti writing. At the opening, you witness each guy tagging in a large dusty window here and realize the love for writing never actually stops.
“We were expressing something that was inside of us,” says SJK 171. “The streets were like ours,” he tells you against a backdrop of their work, Cornbread’s work, and of images full of one color, single line monikers that set the stage for the more colorful, character-driven pieces and burners a decade later, transforming trains into a rolling aesthetic symphony by the mid 1970s.
One of the actual “whole car” writers of that period, Lee “LEE” Quinones, here recreates a “Soul Train” car side on a canvas that looks like it could easily wrap an actual MTA #2-line car that he used to slaughter with cans in the middle of the night at the train yard. When describing the new work he said he was intentionally keeping it simple – perhaps owing the style to his earlier practice.
“I think this is one of Lee’s most amazing pieces,” says Charlie Ahearn, the director of the seminal 1982 “Wild Style” film that Quinones stars in. Ahearn self-produced that film which became an important distillation of the merging of graffiti with hip-hop culture during a pivotal moment in the history of both. Now also a professor of Hip-Hop, art, design, and documentary film making at Pace University, Ahearn is familiar with many of the artists work here, many relationships reaching back decades. “I told Lee that I liked that it was a one-off, that he painted all the color straight off without the embellishment, texturing, and all that stuff.”
Charlie’s twin brother John Ahearn is represented here popping out from walls as well, his sculptures serving as authentic portraits of people you may easily have seen on New York streets over the last four decades. Casted directly on top of the people themselves in a technique he has perfected, the placement of the sculptures gives life to the space.
Star Writers, Immersive Environments, Foundations
The individual clusters of work and canvasses by 1970s-80s train painters like Futura, Crash, Lady Pink, Freedom, Carlos Mare, Blade, Haze, and Daze and next gen graphic painters like Doze Green and Rime are complemented by a number of so-called “immersive” spaces here like the Mission Schools’ Barry McGee storefront with smashed window, and the Australian Pop duo Dabs & Myla’s eye candy floral walls with thousands of artificial fauna created in collaboration with Amelia Posada.
The high-profile graphic activist Shepard Fairey’s 30 year career overview takes a large area and encompasses all elements of his street and studio practice, and Bill Barminski’s cardboard home is open for you to explore with a wry smile, remembering the security room installation he did at Banksy’s Dismaland a couple years earlier.
also treated to a full rolling wall of Craig Stecyk posters that brings you the
sun and surf of California skate culture, sculptures by Mr. Cartoon and Risk, a
kid-friendly illustrated room with crafting supplies for young fans on tables
from HuskMitNavn, and an astute freight train culture educational display by
writer/painter/sculptor Tim Conlon (complete with a mid-sized Southern Pacific freight
on train tracks he and friends built), prints/photos by historian Bill Daniel, and
original drawings by the man some call the King of Hobo Art, buZ blurr.
are a self portrait as predicated on a first Bozo Texino person and I kind of
changed the image around,” says Mr. blurr, a legendary figure in denim
overalls, as he patiently describes his classic tag image of a railway cowboy.
is a writer motif – the pipe smoke is going up and then it is trailing back to
signify movement as the train goes down the track,” he says. “I worked in the
train yards and my job was as a brakeman. I had a little free time so I started
making drawings. I made my first one on November 11, 1971,” he says as he
recalls the state of mind that he was in at the time as he began to tag
freights with the image and text that came to him clearly – and may have
perplexed other travellers.
came from a confused state. I was questioning everything. I was putting kind of
cryptic messages under my drawings. It was anybody’s guess as to its literal
interpretation. I addressed some of them up to specific people but whether they
saw them or responded to them, I wouldn’t have any idea.”
it’s shipped in the crate its 550 pounds,” says Conlon as he stands by the 3-foot
high freight car re-creation on tracks and ties that is
hit with a couple of wild and colorful graffiti burners. “Here I’m going to
show you something,” he says as he pulls back the roof to reveal the narrow
coffin interior in rusted red. “So I’m going to hide some beer in here during
the opening party. This is like the fifth one of these I’ve made,” and he proudly
confides that one lives in the house of Robert Downey Jr.
Digging Deep to Take Risks
to rest on laurels and previous formulas of success, the show keeps a freshness
by presenting known entities pushing themselves further and taking creative risks;
a reflection of that spirit of experimentation we have always prized on the
writer Earsnot from Irak crew, now known professionally as Kunle Martin, said
he had been making work for the gallery containing elements of graffiti, but
felt they were too “safe”.
“Then my friend Dan said ‘you should go back to doing drawings,’” he says as he stands before figurative canvasses in black and white on cardboard. “I said ‘I can’t! It’s too hard! But eventually I began working in my studio five days a week, and I made enough for a show.”
Reflective of the attitude of Gastman toward artists in the community, he told Martin that if he made enough of them, he could place them in this show. “I think he was happy to hear that I was in my studio working. He’s been very supportive of it.”
color-drenched graphic/photographic collage style is featured with plenty of
space in large frames from Chicago’s Pose, who says he is letting photography
and geometry lead him away from his previous pop collage style that may have reminded
many of Lichtenstein. His inspiration here comes from his research into early
photos of graffiti writers running from police “I was
obsessed with John Naars photos and I have usually Norman Mailer as in
inspiration. Some of these photo references are from the Philadelphia Inquirer,” he says.
New York’s Eric Haze also dares himself to take a new direction with three canvasses featuring a refracted piecing-together of imagery and memories of this city in monochrome. Based on black and white scenes of the city by photographer and NYC taxi driver Matt Weber, the scenes capture aspects that are culled from imagination and impression. The centerpiece canvas captures an iconic piece of the Williamsburg waterfront that has been removed in the last few years by developers; the signage of the old Domino Sugar factory by the Williamsburg Bridge.
Mr. Haze said he meant it as a gift and tribute to
his wife, actress and longtime resident of the neighborhood, Rosie Perez who
used to see it along Kent Avenue as a kid. “He’s not afraid to take risks. He’s not afraid to go in the
studio and express what’s inside of him. When he brought me to the studio, he
says, ‘I have a surprise for you’,” she remembers. “I saw the beginnings of the
Domino painting and I was stunned into silence and I got teary-eyed.”
An expanded version of the show that first mounted
in Los Angeles last year, the collection is focused a great deal on the
American history of graffiti with a balance of East/West coast graffiti history
– in a way that may remind you of 2011’s “Art in the Streets” at LA MoCA. That
makes sense, considering Gastman co-curated that show as well.
“It’s both a historical and current look at where
the culture went and where it started and how widespread it is,” says
co-curator Evan Pricco, who perhaps provides a lynchpin view toward the big
name Street Artists who continued to push expectations in the 2000’s on streets
and in commercial galleries around the world. “With the space spread over two
floors it has a way better curatorial sense. I also think it does compete with
museums because it shows that this kind of work is on the same level. You kind
of have to present it in a way that feels very institutional and archival.”
So is Beyond the Streets
a graffiti show or a Street Art show or a contemporary art show? For artist
Kenny Scharf, who first gained attention during the heyday of Downtown
Manhattan’s art scene that benefitted from an interlude where rents were dirt
cheap and Wall Street was on a cocaine high, there is no need to categorize
what kind of art this is.
“You know I never liked labels or titles anyway so
even back in the early 80s I was pegged like ‘oh you’re a graffiti artist,’” he
says. “People feel the need to title and label so I’ll
let them to continue to do that but I don’t fit into any of them and I don’t
want to. I want to fit into all of them and none of them.”
Streets opened June 21 and continues through the summer.
Martha Cooper’s work as exhibited at Beyond The Streets New York
Beyond The Streets NYC is now open in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to the general public and will run until August 2019. Click HERE for schedules, tickets and details.
Gastman’s Massive Graffiti and Street Art Show Arrives at Epicenter.
“I’m really excited to bring this show to New York,” says curator, graffiti historian and urban anthropologist Roger Gastman, “because the city plays such a pivotal role in the origin and evolution of the culture. The iconic images of covered subway cars made graffiti famous worldwide.”
He’s talking of course about “Beyond The Streets” the hybrid exhibition that he mounted in LA last year featuring the work of 150 who have proved to be pivotal to the evolution of a fifty year global people’s art movement that includes graffiti, street art, and urban contemporary art. Filling over 100,000 square feet of new space in Brooklyn, this two-floor cross-section survey will feature artworks by many of the same vandals, graffiti writers, Street Artists, and art activists who hit NYC streets, created dialogue with passersby, and were sometimes chased by the authorities. To see them showcased here is to recognize that there is not just one route to take – in fact there are many.
“We have an incredible roster of artists for New York,” Gastman tells us, “and a brand new space in Williamsburg that has a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline as our backdrop.” Notably the lineup includes artists whose work BSA has documented on the streets in this very same neighborhood over the past two decades, including Shepard Fairey, Faile, Swoon, Bast, Invader, Aiko, and others. Ironically the appearance of free-range Street Art in the neighborhood has been seriously diminished since that time.
The exhibition is one more verification that a significant portion of the scene is being widely recognized for its cultural contribution and value in the contemporary art canon – a significantly fluid scene fueled by discontent and a desire to short-circuit the established routes to audience appreciation. Like large survey shows elsewhere, the takeaway is the significant impact street culture and its tangential subcultures continues to have on the culture at large.
Gastman says the New York version of “Beyond The Streets” will take an
additional interest at the role of music and art activism on the street, along
with immersive installations, a tattoo parlor, a special Beastie Boys
installation with artifacts and ephemera, a new 30th Anniversary
Shepard Fairey project “Facing The Giant: 3 Decades of Dissent,” and large
scale works by Gorilla Girls, Futura, Cleon Peterson, and Takashi
More news coming on programming and events, but the important opening date to know right now is June 21st.
“All in all, it will make for a really special show this Summer,” says Gastman.
BEYOND THE STREETS TEAM
Curator: Roger Gastman
Co-Curators: Sacha Jenkins SHR, Evan Pricco, David CHINO Villorente
A-ONE, AIKO, Al Diaz, Alexis Ross, Alicia McCarthy, André Saraiva, Barry McGee, BAST, Beastie Boys, Bert Krak, Bill Barminski, Bill Daniel, BLADE, Broken Fingaz, Buddy Esquire, buZ blurr, Carlos Mare, Carl Weston, Cey Adams, C.R. Stecyk III, Charlie Ahearn, Chaz Bojórquez, Claudia Gold, Cleon Peterson, COCO 144, Conor Harrington, Corita Kent, Craig Costello, CRASH, DABSMYLA, Dan Witz, Dash Snow, DAZE, DEFER, Dennis Hopper, Dondi White, Doze Green, EARSNOT, Estevan Oriol, Fab 5 Freddy, FAILE, Faith XLVII, Felipe Pantone, FREEDOM, FUTURA 2000, Gajin Fujita, Glen E. Friedman, Gordon Matta-Clark, Guerrilla Girls, HAZE, Henry Chalfant, Herb Migdoll, Husk Mit Navn, INVADER, Jane Dickson, Jason REVOK, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jenny Holzer, Jim Prigoff, John Ahearn, John Fekner, John Tsombikos, Joe Conzo, José Parlá, KATS, KC Ortiz, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Kilroy Was Here, LADY PINK, LAZAR, LEE Quiñones, Lisa Kahane, MADSAKI, Maripol, Mark Gonzales, Mark Mothersbaugh, Martha Cooper, Matt Weber, Maya Hayuk, Michael Lawrence, MIKE 171, MISS 17, Mister CARTOON, Nina Chanel Abney, NOC 167, Pat Riot, Patrick Martinez, Paul Insect, POSE, PRAY, Rammellzee, Randall Harrington, RETNA, Richard Colman, Richard Hambleton, RIME, RISK, Ron English, Ruby Neri, SABER, Sam Friedman, SANESMITH, Sayre Gomez, Shepard Fairey, SJK 171, SLICK, SNAKE 1, SNIPE1, STAY HIGH 149, Stephen Powers, SWOON, Takashi Murakami, TAKI 183, TATS CRU, TENGAone, Tim Conlon, Timothy Curtis, Todd James, Trash Records, UGA, VHILS, and ZESER
The show is developed in partnership with Adidas and Perrier. Additional support provided by Modernica, Montana Colors, NPR, NTWRK, Twenty Five Kent and WNYC.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening : 1. Okuda San Miguel. The World is Ours 2. Vhils – Annihilation 3. C215 Au Pantheon 4. On Set / Kenny Scharf
BSA Special Feature: Okuda San Miguel. The World is Ours
The awesome expanse of one artists’ life during the course of a year, as expressed visually in the travels of Okuda San Miguel. Prolific, pro-people, kaleidoscopic in his imaginings; Okuda’s public works are as engaging as any artist working outside today, and in some cases, very inspiring. This is a good era for the artist, and with talented people on his team galavanting the globe, at this moment the world is theirs.
Okuda San Miguel. The World is Ours
Vhils – Annihilation
Finding the right partner for collaboration is no easy matter, and Vhils is here studying the contrasts and shiny chaos of the US in late stage capitalism, finding that harmony can be struck from the most unlikely of pairings. Europeans can’t believe the disparity here, and we know its setting aflame the very fabric of our society – but it’s so dazzling as it burns. Feel your pulse quicken as you see Vhils chip away at the veneer with Shepard, Retna, and a jackhammer.
C215 Au Pantheon
master C215 continues his move into other arenas, in this case the crypt of the
Pantheon with his portraits of great men and women. Full of character and
dignity, his people are somehow brought to life in his depictions through
On Set / Kenny Scharf
Is this a commentary on the times, or a commentary on The Times? Maybe Kenny knows
You made it! Thanksgiving is over and you did not explode from eating too much pumpkin pie. Right?
A number of subverting artists and activists took over billboards in cities around the world this Thanksgiving holiday to celebrate “NO AD DAY” – an aesthetic effort to reclaim public space from advertisers who have slowly but surely crept into everything, producing an ever-present artificial and continuous knawing in the stomach that you are not handsome or pretty enough, rich enough, or somehow incomplete in a thousand ways.
Check out folks like Brandalism to learn more about a growing grassroots movement that began perhaps in the 60s with folks like the Billboard Liberation Front but has picked up speed and technique in the last decade. Of course artists like Abe Lincoln Jr. don’t need a special day to take over a phone booth – any day is fine.
So here is our weekly interview with the streets, this week featuring Abe Lincoln Jr. Adam Fu, Bortusk Leer, Kenny Scharf, Lucky Rabbit, Maia Lorian, Mastro, Norm Magnusson, Tito Ferrara, Rawraffe, Solus, and Uncle Susan.
We have a lot to show you this week of art from the street, museum, and studio. This horrid and chaotic political environment is proving to be fertile soil for the growth of politically themed works by artists everywhere.
We start todays’ posting with the image above created with the simplicity of a mirror held up during a recent demonstration as if to say, “this is what America looks like”, by the artists “Icy & Sot”. The people who is reflected back to the camera appear in stark contrast to the nearly exclusively white, male, ultra-rich cabinet he has selected as his advisors.
Here’s our weekly interview with the streets, this week featuring: Chor Boogie, EC13, Homless, Icy & Sot, JPO Art, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Love Breeds Love, Shepard Fairey, UNO, and Wayne.
First thing to know about the new piece in Lisbon above is that the Street Artist who made it, UNO, has a phobia with birds. The second thing is to know that if you see a crow flying overhead in Lisbon, some people will tell you that it is protecting the city. The belief is a remnant from a 12th century story that says the beloved Saint Vincent was buried in Sagres, where his body was protected by crows. When his body was moved to Lisbon by the first King of Portugal, D. Afonso Henrique, it is said that two crows accompanied the body. This is why the flag of Lisbon has a ship and two ravens on either side with the motto “MUI NOBRE E SEMPRE LEAL CIDADE DE LISBOA” (the most noble and always loyal to the city of Lisbon) .
The gates are open to the new public/private art project called Coney Art Walls and today you can have a look at all 30 or so of the new pieces by a respectable range of artists spanning four decades and a helluva lot of New York street culture history. We’ve been lucky to see a lot of the action as it happened over the last five weeks and the range is impressive. These are not casual, incidental choices of players lacking serious resumes or street/gallery cred, but the average observer or unknowing critic may not recognize it.
By way of defining terms, none of this is street art. These are murals completed by artists who are street artists, graffiti writers, fine artists, and contemporary artists. In the middle of an amusement park, these are commissioned works that respond in some way to their environment by thirty or so local and international heavy hitters and a few new kids on the block comprising a 40+ year span of expertise.
Open to many strata of the public and fun-seekers who dig Brooklyn’s rich cultural landscape, this outdoor show will surely end up as backgrounds for selfies — while perhaps simultaneously elevating a discourse about the rightful place of graffiti/street art/urban art within the context of contemporary art. Okay, maybe not such loftiness will result, but let’s not rule it out entirely.
It should come as no surprise that it is the dealer, curator, perennially risk-taking showman Jeffrey Deitch who is the ringmaster of this circus, or that the genesis of this cultural adventure is perplexing to some who have greeted his newest vision with perplexity and derision. His Deitch Projects and related activities in the 2000s regularly presented and promoted the street-inspired D.I.Y. cultural landscape, having done his due diligence and recognizing that new life springs from the various youth movements always afoot. The Jeffrey-conceived “Art Parade” itself was a street-based all-inclusive annual panoply of eye candy and absurdity; inflicting humor, sex, gore, fire, glitter and possibility into the minds of Manhattan sidewalk observers.
As MOCA Los Angeles director Deitch also flipped the script with his “Art In The Streets,” organizing a vast survey of a half-century of the modern grassroots genres including graffiti/street art/urban art/tattoo/punk/hip-hop/skater culture that far surpassed anyone’s predictions for audience attendance and public engagement. Aside from tripping wires and a public misstep here and there, the show earned critical praise, pinched art-school noses, and pushed skeptical institutions and patrons to question their prejudices. It also gave voice to a lot of people.
Notably, that MOCA exhibit drew a little over 200,000 attendees in four months. Coney Island beach and boardwalk gets about 14 million annually. Even if the Smorgasbord pop-up village food trucks feed a fraction of that number, there will be more folks viewing art and interacting with it here than, say, the Four Seasons dining rooms, which also display street artists and contemporary artists in the restaurants’ artistic programming. Side by side comparisons of Smorgasbord/Four Seasons diners ethnic diversity, income, age, education level, museum board membership or real estate investments were not available at press time. But neither can be fairly described as exploitative to artists or audience without sounding patronizing.
These multicolored and monochromatic murals illustrate a wide and balanced smorgasborg of their own; examples of myriad styles are at play with some engaging in activism and local politics and Coney Island history. From original train writer Lady Pink to aerosol drone sprayer Katsu, from eL Seed’s lyrical Arabic calligraffiti to Retna’s secret text language to graffitist-now-collagist Greg Lamarche, from Shepard Fairey’s elegant Brooklyn salute to polluters and blasé consumerism to Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s spotlight on current Coney Island neighbors, from urban naturalist ROA’s monochrome marginalized city animals to How & Nosm’s eye-punching and precise graphic metaphors, you are getting a dizzying example of the deep command Deitch has of this multi-headed contemporary category that is yet to settle on a moniker to call itself.
Coney Art Walls assembles world travelers from NYC and LA and Miami and internationally; Belgium, Barcelona, Brazil, Paris, Tunisia, London. Some are 80s Downtown NYC alumni, others were train writers in the 70s or big crew graff heads and taggers from the decades after. Some are considered historical originators of a form and cross-genre risk takers pushing beyond their comfort zone. Take a close look and you’ll find names that are in major collections (private, institutional, corporate) and that go to auction.
Some are regularly showing in galleries and are invited to street art festivals, exhibited in museums and discussed in academia and print. Others have studio practices spanning three decades, are lecturers, panelists, authors, teachers, community advocates, art stars, reality TV personalities, film actors, product endorsers and art product makers working with global brands. One or two may be considered global brands themselves. A handful have been painting on the streets for 40 years. Monolithic they are not.
One more notable aspect occurred to us as we watched this parade making its peregrination to these summer walls – either because of Deitch or the romance or history of Coney or both; When you are looking at the range of ages and ethnicities and family configurations and listening to the variety of accents and opinions expressed and seeing the friendly but tough-stuff attitudes on display — you might guess you were in Brooklyn. You are.
Coney Art Walls continues to take shape before your lying eyes, ladies and gentlemen, snake oil salesmen, and painted ladies in fishnet stockings. Watch now as our intrepid camera wielding high wire walker slithers upward into the sky for his shot!
Constantly risking absurdity
whenever he performs
above the heads
of his audience
the poet like an acrobat
climbs on rime
to a high wire of his own making.
In this amazing expanding collection you can see that the history and legacy of the location is clearly inspiring many of the artists who painted this week. From Miss Van’s “Gypsy With Stallions” to Aiko’s multi-ethnic mermaids to Jason Woodside’s clown-car of pop-optic patterning to Kenny Scharf’s amorphous fun-house characters, Buff Monster’s melty ice cream, and Ron English’s mutated funny/frightening grinning cartoon characters…this weeks additions are giving the place a cheerfully happy and vaguely creepy magic vibe.
One more week of this painting madness and many surprises are just behind this velvet curtain, Ladies and Germs.
It is a rainy day in Philadelphia, but you can’t tell it by listening to Jane Golden.
After 30 years and countless meetings with community groups, artists, city agencies, elected officials, volunteers, and donors, the founder and Executive Director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has developed a perpetual advocacy style that leans decidedly toward axioms that tell you the glass is half full. No painting is happening on walls in the city of brotherly love today, but the phones are still ringing in this agency of 50, and as Golden sees it, the community is still being served by their educational programs and a remarkably wide variety of outreach efforts.
Street Art and graffiti have been parlaying with their cousin, the community mural, in recent years thanks to the growing popularity worldwide of the former so we thought this would be a great opportunity to learn about the largest and most successful version of the latter. What we found was that we share an underlying philosophy toward and an awe of the creative spirit, however it is expressed. In 2011 BSA curated a gallery show in LA with 39 artists called “Street Art Saved My Life” after hearing enough artists and graffiti writers express a similar sentiment over the previous 10 years or so. So it should not have been a revelation to find that Jane Golden is known to repeat an analogous mantra that summarizes her work here in Philadelphia: “Art Saves Lives”.
Initiated as an anti-graffiti campaign by the city in 1984, the program originally made the common mistake of equating a style of art-making with illegally made works. With time, education, and outreach to the graffiti-writing youth she met in the streets, Golden gradually helped the city to begin to make a distinction between aerosol art and vandalism. As graffiti writers and others were invited to participate in the mural program, interact with the community, and to get paid for their work, the city witnessed a slow and gradual metamorphosis to becoming a capital of public art revered by many.
A trained artist and political science scholar, Golden never embraced the so-called “Broken Window Theory” that typecasts people as it pertained to graffiti writers and instead she shepherded that creative instinct among artistic types whom she met into creating work that gives back.
“I think that it is almost the opposite of the “broken window” stereotype,” she says, “This is about opportunity and possibility. It is opening up a window that wasn’t previously open in a way that people hadn’t anticipated.” She talks about the impact the Mural Arts Program has with its tireless outreach to engage neighborhoods in the decision making process about what work goes where, and she guarantees you that the overall effect is greater than a pretty picture.
“I have seen it in communities where there was support for the project, but maybe not universal support. Then the mural goes up and suddenly there’s this ripple effect. When people start talking about it, connecting with it, thinking about other things and then sometimes thinking about things that are totally unrelated to us but if you were to do a diagram of the various outcomes, you know that it started with us.”
One example is a mural in the late 1980s that enlivened a neighborhood and inspired a community group to form and eventually become a powerful force of advocacy for the needs of neighbors. “When we did this “peace” mural the neighborhood reclaimed the space and then they bought a house from the city for a dollar and turned it into a headquarters. Then they lobbied for more art, then they lobbied for educational programs,” she says as she describes the evolution of a community that may have once felt like prey to a vocal one that now comes to speak to her students a the University of Pennsylvania about topics like economic development.
“I’m not saying that what we do is a panacea for all that ails the city but the catalytic role that art plays can’t be discounted because it is igniting something in us; it’s transformative. Art engages people in a way that just doesn’t happen in their day-to-day life. We want to help change the city and we feel that art is part of it.”
A particular threshold sighted for Street Art into the mural arts program was when artist Keith Haring painted “We the Youth” here in 1987, and that mural became part of the city in such a strong way that Mural Arts undertook a painstaking restoration of it a few years ago, as it has with many murals. It wasn’t unusual in those early years of the program for murals to be done without proper consideration for life of the paint or the surface it was on.
“With the Keith Haring mural the stucco was in such a bad shape we had to almost re-do the entire surface and that was an extensive process of peeling layers off. We wanted to make sure as we were restoring it we were remaining true to the original that Keith painted and it had to be done with incredible care, love and integrity. So we took its restoration and preservation really seriously and because it was necessary to do it right, we re-routed some funding from new projects to restoration.”
Procuring funding for the many Mural Arts programs is an original model that other public arts programs have looked at – a balance of public and private that has enabled it to grow and support artists as well as the city itself – a system of securing funding that Golden describes as sort of an art in itself. “We are a city agency and we have gotten to a point where our budget is 35 % city and the rest is non-city funding through foundations, corporation and individuals earned income. It is an interesting hybrid model but that city part still resonates.”
She describes the alchemy of going to private donors as well as testifying about her budget before the city periodically. “We formed a board, we got our own 501c 3, and I just went underground,” as she describes the additional funding that enables multiple programs and actually pays artists a fair price for their work – something that the majority of Street Art festivals and various real estate holders are very reluctant to do – to the tune of nearly $2.2 million a year.
“Someone told me about this art festival recently and said that they are paying the artists 300-500 dollars to do a major work and I said ‘What?’” she says incredulously, and scoffs at the idea that artists would work simply for “exposure”. “We pay our interns! We pay our middle school students in the summer. Seriously? Everybody here is getting paid.” Granted, it isn’t always as much as they would like to pay an artist, but she makes sure the artists understand the full scope of the project before asking them to commit.
Despite the negative association many still have with graffiti and Street Artists a fair number have been joining in with the Mural Arts Program in recent years. With known and respected Street Art blogger RJ Rushmore joining the enterprise as Communications Manager two months ago, you can expect to see perhaps a few more names from the Street Art scene on the walls as time goes forward.
“The Street Artists are inspired by Mural Arts and we are inspired by them,” says Golden, who is enthusiastic about this subtle programming shift that she began a few years ago with the encouragement of people like real estate developer Tony Goldman, who was credited with transforming neighborhoods like Manhattan’s Soho and Miami’s Wynwood District, and whose company acquired 25 properties from 1998 through 2003 in Philadelphia, according to the Goldman website.
“When (graffiti and Street Artist) Steven Powers contacted me to work together and he had this great idea, I said ‘I totally want to work with you’,” she says of his multi-building text project “Love Letters” that you can view from an elevated train line. There weren’t any rules that say I couldn’t – we just need to get funding.” Of course it was as simple as Powers may have originally thought because the neighborhood also needed to be consulted, a practice Golden will not waver from.
“Steve couldn’t believe he had to go to community meetings and I said ‘but you have to’.” As it turned out, the neighborhood had no interest in love letters. “We don’t want to talk about love. We are actually really angry at the city because the mass transit agency has shot down one of the major thoroughfares for repair work'” she remembers.
Some also didn’t understand the idea of text-based artwork rather than representational or figurative work. “’This isn’t a Mural Arts mural’, some folks in the neighborhood remarked. And I said ‘There isn’t really such a thing as a Mural Arts mural – its about creativity and its impact on the world’ and people then interestingly enough started to open up. They started to talk to Steve about their past, about what they did love about their neighborhood, about their memories and history and stories. It was fantastic and so it was a different kind of process and it had power on its own. That was a clue to us that we had built up 20 years of goodwill and we can now take risks as long as we are respectful and that will never change. It paid off because it opened the door for us to think differently about how we work.”
She speaks as well about some of the other Street Artists from recent years. “Then we had Shepard (Fairey), and Chris Stain and How & Nosm,” she recalls. “I think their art is terrific and when they are here I want them to be a role model for the kids. Like How & Nosm – they were role models. They couldn’t have been nicer, kinder to our kids. Here are guys who started writing graffiti on walls and now they are traveling the world with their art and that is a fantastic message. For our kids to know that Shepard started out as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, that he was doing stickers, and that now he’s got a big design firm, it was important. We do have an entrepreneurial division at Mural Arts and Shepard is a role model for them.”
Sometimes the value of the project is not simply monetary but goes far deeper, which explains the level of commitment many have shown. We asked Golden to describe a couple of projects that have been personally satisfying for her, and we share one here that illustrates the entirely holistic approach Golden and the Mural Arts program take to art in the streets.
She describes what evolutionary process contributed to the creation of a series of “healing walls” that depict all the members of community who are affected by crime; the criminal, the victim, and all the people they touch. Of the many outstanding aspects of the project, one is that the people who are involved, including the offender, are deeply involved in its creation.
“We did a project with crime victims, victim’s advocates and prisoners in our mural class. We decided to start work in the prison. The men in the class said they wanted to do outdoor murals. I said ‘you are lifers, you are never getting out, how in the world are you going to do that?’” she says as she describes a solution that enabled the artwork of the prisoners to be mounted on the mural walls. “We work a lot on parachute cloth, so we thought we could do this, we can work inside and take it outside.”
The rallying together of the participants was not always smooth as the project began, she says, as the raw emotions and torn lives at times overwhelmed the process of creating the mural and voices of discontent threatened to capsize the project. “So I went to the Pennsylvania Prison Society, and I did research and designed a project called “Healing Walls” and I said ‘We are going to bring together everyone to talk about the impact and consequences of violent crime, because when crime happens everyone loses.”
In a process emblematic of the painstaking lengths Mural Arts goes to seek common ground, Golden describes where the main obstacle to the project lay. “So we asked everyone in this group from all different walks of life to come together to create a series of murals about this. We are going to work partially in the prison, we’ll work in a church in the neighborhood, we are going to work here at the Mural Arts offices and we are going to work in some schools. Then the project started and it was contentious,” she says.
“No one wanted to get along because everyone had their story;
‘My pain is bigger.’
‘I’m from the neighborhood and we are scarred.’
‘Our neighborhood has been victimized.’
And no one understands the pain of the victim; The victim said, ‘I lost everything.’ Then the prisoner said, ‘I have been in pain since I was young. I’m filled with remorse.’ ”
After each party was heard and the project threatened to fall in disarray, an unexpected outcome began to emerge, says Golden.
“Then eventually, over time, we started to create together. We’re in a giant auditorium and we have tons of tables. On each table we have crime victims, victims advocates and prisoners. Then people started to say, ‘Can you pass the glue? Can you pass the brush? What about my shape? Then what happens was kind of miraculous because people began to listen to each other as they painted together. Eventually people were like ‘You know what? We really need to come together. We all want a safer city. What can we do about it and people started brainstorming – People behind the walls and people on the outside.”
“Then the murals went up and we had a dedication at this church and tons of people showed up. People’s whose sisters and brothers were incarcerated were there, victims were there, the Department of Corrections came and there was a major conversation about redemption and rehabilitation and giving people a chance. It sort of tapped into people’s humanity that no one had articulated.”
Thirty years and a few thousand painted walls are only some of the outcomes of a program like this, but countless more are told in the generative effects, the rippling of waves of the efforts by artists and community. Those outcomes are impossible to measure or to quantify, even though we try.
BSA:It appears that you can use the art as a vehicle and you are a bit of an anthropologist, ethnologist, sociologist – so along with your formal education you are getting many degrees as you go in the process. Jane Golden: I believe in what we are doing, that art making is really about access, justice and equity. That’s the real deal for us, a lot of it. But I love this merging of worlds but you are right in order to do this work it is anthropology, sociology, urban planning, urbanism its everything…
“When people think of mural arts I want them to think: ‘They have a little budget, they do tons of work, they are relevant to my life and they are impactful,’” says Ms. Golden. “And that, I think, is important and that connects me to something else that I have seen especially over the last five, six, or seven years. That is that when it comes to solving societies’ more intractable problems – we can never discount the role of innovation and creativity to make a difference when our traditional interventions have failed us.”
And then we go out and ride the train and look at more murals in the rain.
Here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week featuring Adam Fujita, Be Everything, Che Man, Clint Mario, Dan Witz, E.L.K. Icy & Sot, Ishmael, JR, Kenny Scharf, LMNOPI, Mika, Mike Makatron, Rusebk, Sabio, Solus, Sweet Toof, and You Go Girl!