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Today, Wooster Collective has published the above work by street artist Zevs that is only visible using UV light and was created in the actual room that the convicted 9/11 terrorists stayed in before their infamous attack (Room 233, Comfort Inn on 90 Maine Mall Road in South Portland, Maine).

I called the hotel and the woman who answered the phone informed me that they had no idea of the work and then abruptly said that if I had any questions I should contact their corporate offices. Which means we are not sure if this image is even real or potentially Photoshopped.

Let’s assume it is real, the question is what does a work like this do, beyond extending the fame and notoriety of an artist who is capitalizing on tragedy? Even Marc Schiller of Wooster Collective seems to know, as suggested by his tweet, that Zevs walks a fine line in this piece and its timing.

One would assume that few people — if any — use UV lights in their room, so who is this work exactly for? Street art groupies? His hordes of online fans?

The image itself is cartoonish and unreal. It almost feels like a caricature. In an age where artists, particularly street artists, are angling to stand out from the crowd this seems in poor taste and only supports the image of street artists as opportunistic self-promoters. He isn’t using the language of the tragedy, nothing here is familiar as being from the events. Sure, this may be a version of conceptual street art but that doesn’t mean it’s any good, just controversial.

UPDATE: On Hyperallergic LABS, we just posted a photography by artist Jonathan Hobin that might win the “most questionable 9/11-related art” award.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

11 replies on “How Far Is Too Far With 9/11 Art?”

  1. This piece is a perfect example of street art conceived with the internet audience as its primary audience rather than the physical public as the primary audience. As you say, almost nobody is actually going to see this in person, and it may very well be photoshopped, but Zevs’ image is still going to spread around the world like crazy anyway. The potential that it has been photoshopped is irrelevant in that regard. In addition to whether this piece is exploitative of 9/11, I think it’s also interesting to consider what kind of art it is. It may be more photograph than painting/street art, since the photo is doing more than just document a mural, which is what most photos of street art are about doing.

    1. Good point about the photo but I’m surprised he didn’t use some of the language of the event. As a photograph I don’t think it’s very successful, the blue UV glow from below makes it look like some erie nightclub.

  2. The poses are important, too. They seem to be silhouettes in prayer.

    If it is done in black light reactive paint, it would show up slightly in the sun, and you’d be able to see the texture (since it comes in matte and gloss finishes).

    It’s kind of a great medium for the piece. The hotel room has a history–a fairly terrible one, as things go. You’d never know it if you didn’t do the research, and you’d never see any evidence of the room’s history. Black light reactive paint suggests that the intent of the piece is to parallel the way one would discover the history of that room.

    Yeah, in poor taste, perhaps, but still a pretty good play on inscribed but unseen information. The image itself is pretty lame, too.

  3. Going back to the actual hotel room where two of the perpetrators
    actually stayed before their crime was committed has potential in my mind as a strategy for addressing 9/11. Painting
    day-glow terrorist ghosts on the walls of that room makes this work a total failure in my opinion.

  4. we find this an interesting piece conceptually.  we think they are ghosts, consumed by fire, writhing in the corner, and if it is real and not photoshopped then, like ghosts, indeed you cannot see them unless you look for them or know they are there.

    as far as “exploiting” the events of sept 11, 2001, all art exploits something.  throwing around the word “exploit”, it seems to us, is a way of controlling or trying to control how people react to something.  is this artist making money from this image?  is he mass marketing it, or doing it only to get attention?  do you know for sure?  we don’t think you do.  so just taking it on its face, we find it interesting and a peculiar angle on a subject that some human persons seem to be regarding as almost religious and sacred when, in fact, that day was a day you humans have perpetuated on each other over and over again throughout your history.  the method differed.  and we are sure you will come up with something new in the future.  we would appreciate it if you just took that nasty energy and focused it on things like putting form to the ghosts in the corners, instead of making more of them.

    1. All art exploits something?  I’m not sure I quite buy that, but even if we take that to be true, there is a huge difference between simply exploiting “something” and intentionally exploiting the worst terrorist attack this country has ever seen, especially when the art in question is of dubious meaning and merit to begin with.

  5. I agree that the photograph is the least interesting element here, but is the photograph the work? Much of Francis Alys and Chris Burden’s work functions best as oral history. It’s satisfying to hear and to know that someone got shot in the arm in a gallery. Or moved a mountain. The images of the mountain covered in workers or the wounded arm are important only insofar as they build trust in the story.

    Similarly, many artists work in relative secret. Dan Martinico made a series of what I guess you would call public interventions by subtly editing tapes he’d rent from Blockbuster Video and returning them. Again, these sorts of pieces are about the story–the poetry of knowing that they exist.

    I don’t know whether I like this piece yet–it hasn’t infected me as a story, and the image is way too easy. But I like the way the piece as a whole riffs off the local news scare-story in which they take a blacklight into the hotel room and show you where all the fecal matter is. And I like that it’s a secret, that it probably won’t go away because nobody can see it. These aspects of the piece give it oral history potential.

  6. I don’t like any art about 9-11.  Or wars… or things like that.  I feel manipulated. Unmoved.  Annoyed.  Bored.   I prefer pure journalistic documentation and essays and histories when it comes to this stuff.  The memorial is different.  It has a calling to embody something for the broader public… it’s not an artist preaching or expressing.  

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