Reactor

Your Graffiti “Looks Like Shit,” a Historic Letter to Alicia McCarthy

by Hrag Vartanian on April 21, 2014

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Letter dated April 8, 1992, Addressed to Alicia McCarthy from Michael Grady, Dean of Students, San Francisco Art Institute (image courtesy of the artist)

The artists of the so-called Mission School, that indie-inspired band of DIY artists centered around the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) in the 1990s, are getting their moment in the New York sun with Grey Art Gallery‘s Energy That Is All Around exhibition.

Featuring the work of Chris Johanson, Margaret Kilgallen, Alicia McCarthy, Barry McGee, and Ruby Neri, the show is a walk through a time when these artists, who emerged during the Bay Area’s first dot-com boom, effortlessly combined elements of the visual world around them (Bay Area Figuration, the Beats, Funk art, street art, and punk) to create an aesthetic and attitude that battled the beast of gentrification that has since swallowed the city whole.

One of the most amusing artifacts on display in the exhibition is a letter written by then San Francisco Art Institute Dean of Students Michael Grady to Alicia McCarthy regarding some graffiti on campus. The anger in the letter is palpable, but what makes the epistle more interesting is that the Mission School, in which McCarthy is a crucial figure, is now being hailed by SFAI as one of the best things to come out of the institution.

Makes you wonder if SFAI would buff graffiti by McCarthy if it showed up on campus today, or if they’d try to preserve it under plexiglass.

Energy That Is All Around continues at the Grey Art Gallery (New York University, 100 Washington Square East, Greenwich Village, Manhattan) through July 12.

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