Setting a time and a place for the birth of street or urban art is always a tricky question, as one could argue that its history is as old as humanity. Besides, it’s not that easy to find documentation about the development of street art and graffiti before the 1980s because of the way technology has transformed the way we study the past. Any episode before the advent of the internet or digital cameras isn’t as easy to track down, particularly in regards to underground scenes. Sure there’s the library but only academics, writers, and intellectuals tend to venture into the hallowed halls of learning to spend a whole day (or days) researching. Here are some precedents you may not know about.
If it looks like lighting, smells like lighting and lights things up, it’s probably lighting! At least so says the European Commission in an argument over whether or not the work of Dan Flavin and Bill Viola qualify as art. They don’t think so, and express their criticisms in a series of hilarious quotes.
The scandal that erupted when the Smithsonian’s secretary G. Wayne Clough decided to remove David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly” from the National Portrait Gallery’s Hide/Seek exhibition under Republican political pressure shows no sign of calming down. Only in the past week, the Warhol Foundation has threatened to cease funding the Smithsonian’s programming if the piece isn’t restored (it will not be) and the New York Times has published an op-ed by Frank Rich declaiming the move as “gay-bashing,” and one of the artists involved with the show is requesting his work be removed from the show. The anger has expanded to the extent that some are calling for Secretary Clough, the single individual responsible for the censorship decision, to resign. Here’s why that won’t happen.
At a conversation held with Hide/Seek curators Jonathan Katz and David C. Ward at the New York Public Library December 15th, a few things became clear about the censorship scandal: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery director Martin Sullivan is far from repentant over the decision, and the Catholic League, who initiated the “offense” taken at the video, are largely absent.
Regional Painting (2010), at Winkleman Gallery, is not a remarkable presentation; the casual viewer could be excused for thinking it is just another painting show. Twelve paintings on linen, each twelve by sixteen inches, beautifully framed in walnut, greatly varied in technique and style, are hung equidistant around the gallery. Some are intentionally amateur, others unexpectedly virtuosic, all preserve some part of the clear-primed linen. There is an antique quality to some, taking their cue from early 20th C. abstraction, others are more contemporary and even a little slick. They are Christopher K. Ho’s legitimate attempt at earnest painting, but also represent a much larger system of conceptual artworks.
Artist Blu has just blogged about his surprise that the word “censorship” is disappearing from the discussion of his whitewashed mural and being replaced by the word “curatorial choice.” He also reveals why the mural isn’t as finished as some of his other work …
New York-based artist and artistic director of the Institute of Art, Religion and Social Justice AA Bronson has sent an email to the National Portrait Gallery requesting that his work “Felix, June 5, 1994” (1994/99) [pictured above] be removed from their Hide/Seek exhibition in light of the recent censorship of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire In My Belly” video.
In a protest that has become practice in China, Karen Patterson is starting a movement to flood imprisoned Chinese artist Wu Yuren (AKA “Little Ai”) with Christmas cards as a gesture of support. The artist has been imprisoned for his participation in a protest against studio demolitions since May 31, 2010.
There has been so much talk about Blu’s commissioned mural but few people are talking about the work itself and what it could mean. As a critic who has been looking at a great deal of street art for years, I want to weigh in on the topic. Some art critics have been dismissive of the work and thought it callous, while some writers and online commenters are of the opinion that it’s not much to look at.
Most of these people have a limited knowledge of street art and the criteria that is often used to judge it and its meaning, interest, etc. That’s not to discount their judgments, since I think it’s important that people weigh in on the debate regardless of their perspective, and art is culturally valuable when it generates discussion. Blu’s work often probes responses of all kinds. The artist doesn’t seem to differentiate between the positive and the negative responses in a way you might think, and in his 2009 Barcelona video he included the voices of people who disparage his work as an important part of the record. So, who is Blu?
In Chris O. Cook’s first book, called To Lose & To Pretend, published by Williamsburg’s own Brooklyn Arts Press, the poet creates a collection of poems that are perfectly suited for subway rides. The brief passages are at times funny, at times ambivalent, turning from contemporary cynicism to a world-weary romanticisim that lends itself to depicting the poignancy of everyday crap. That’s meditations on shitty summers and bad jobs, old girlfriends and meaningless personal flailing, grasping at shreds of nostalgia-inducing pop culture names and places but ultimately only holding on to the feeling of loss.
The Bygone Bureau’s Jimmy Chen imagines what it would be like if Picasso had used eBay. Hilarity ensues. Great line, “bitch i’m trying to make a living. check out my new painting.”
Now the man who gave us Hope and then made us Hope-less is weighing in on the Blu mural controversy and it’s rather embarrassing. The good part …