Interview with a “street art expert”

February 17th, 2014 | By | 6 Comments »
Banksy Bandaged

“Bandaged Heart Balloon”. Photo courtesy of FAAM.

On Tuesday afternoon, Fine Art Auctions Miami (FAAM) will be hosting an auction that includes pieces by BanksyFaileKenny Scharf, BambiAiko and Terror161/J.SON that have been pulled (sawed, ripped, unscrewed, hammered off, etc.) from the street and brought to the auction house in Miami. Two pieces from Banksy’s recent NYC residency “Better Out Than In” are up for auction, including a car door from the Crazy Horse installation, and the bandaged heart balloon. You can have a look at the full catalog here (warning: it’s a PDF) or go here to follow the auction live.

Some of you might be thinking “Hey, those were for the public to enjoy!” or “Why should an unaffiliated auction house profit from the work/legal risks of these artists?” Good questions. But consider this… Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a literal piece of New York City from the safety of their home?

Ethical qualms aside, FAAM contacted Vandalog with an opportunity that we just couldn’t pass up: An interview with the auction house’s official “street art expert” Sebastien Laboureau of Moonstar Fine Art Advisors. Since many published authors and curators with extensive knowledge of street art and graffiti still don’t consider themselves experts, I decided to see what I could learn from a real street art expert…

Caroline Caldwell: At what point would a street artist be considered a ‘sell out’? If possible, provide examples.

Sebastien Laboureau, Street Art Expert: Art has a market, and street artists also sell their works, as long as artists stay true to their personal style and create from their hearts the concept does not apply. Recently many works from street artists sell at auctions, and in galleries because this art is contemporary and talks to a wide audience and public. Banksy is the leading street artist, and he sells hundreds of works everywhere in the world every year at increasing prices.

CC: The Banksy’s “Bandaged Heart Balloon” from her residency in New York City is a portion of the wall that was physically removed and transported to Miami. How do you suggest or imagine people display large pieces like this in their homes?

Expert: Street art is amazing in the way that there is no set medium, street artists can work on canvas, metal, walls, doors. The beauty of it is to keep it in its original medium, we find that collectors enjoy buying and displaying street art because it feels like the work is created in their home.

What "" might look like in a home. Photo illustration by RJ Rushmore, using photos courtesy of FAAM and by Bart Speelman.

What “Crazy Horse Car Door” might look in a home. Photo illustration by RJ Rushmore, using photos courtesy of FAAM and by Bart Speelman.

CC: How much of the art available in this auction was actually relocated from the street to the auction house?

Expert: Quite a few came directly from the streets, including two Banksy walls, a metal roll down gate by Kenny Scharf, and another large security gate by Lady Aiko & Terror 161. The great thing about these works is most of them were created in the street and will live a second life now. They will be preserved for eternity.

CC: If a street artists paints work on a canvas, should it be considered ‘street art’ or just ‘art’?

Expert: I do not feel the need to differentiate between the two, all is art, street art is art regardless medium it is created on.

CC: What is the difference between a ‘street art’ and a mural?

Expert: Street art is a style of painting and a mural is large scale work done on a building, one is genre and other is a medium.

"Kissing Coppers"

“Kissing Coppers”. Photo courtesy of FAAM.

CC: Who was the first authentic street artist to refer to themselves as a “street artist”?

Expert: The reality is that street art has always been around us. Some say street art was born in the late 70’s in New York City through graffiti art in public places. Some called it vandalism, some are still calling it vandalism… THIS IS ART!

CC: Should street artists in New York have NYC at the end of their Instagram handle?

Expert: Street artists should have any handle they please, to show where they have come from or where they are working.  New York City is very active in street art, but Miami has also become a street art mecca, with so many murals painted over the past year with an incredible quality and concentration in the Wynwood District. Street art is everywhere, in the London suburbs, in Barcelona, Paris, everywhere! And even in museums now.

CC: Would it be advantageous for street artists to align their personal brands with current trends in urban wear?

Expert: Historically, street art has been linked to hip hop. Fashion has always been intertwined with art. There is no limitation into what can and should be done!

CC: Is illegal street art graffiti?

Expert: It is still illegal in many parts and areas of the world, but more and more artists have been granted areas where they can create their works. Art is above any law, as art is life! Art pertains to our everyday life, and everywhere I look when I see art I see beauty.

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Lady Aiko & Terror 161 on a metal gate originally located on the street in Wynwood, Miami. Photo courtesy of FAAM.

CC: Should there be a different word for street artists who are female?

Expert: There are more and more female street artists. We have great examples at our auction including Bambi and Swoon. Swoon has a museum show set-up in the Brooklyn Museum in April. Kazilla is a very talented street artist from the Wynwood who will be showing works and has brought local street artists together for the exhibition. There are many others! Once again, it makes no difference! ART IS ART!

CC: How long do you need to do the street arts before you’re considered a street artist?

Expert: There is no lead-time. A street artist is an artist that happens to use the streets as their canvas, there is no school. Some artists are better than others, but once again, there is no diploma to become a street artist!

CC: What’s the best city to get blog coverage in?

Expert: Miami is now becoming the street art mecca! But street art is everywhere in the world now.

Photos courtesy of Fine Art Auctions Miami (FAAM) and photo illustration by RJ Rushmore, featuring photos courtesy of FAAM and by Bart Speelman


Category: Auctions, Featured Posts, Interview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Melbourne Monthly Madness – December 2013

February 11th, 2014 | By | No Comments »

Damn, it’s February already. How did that happen?? (Actually – I have been extremely busy working on a new project which I hope to share with you soon). Sorry to keep you waiting for this post.

December 2013 was another MASSIVE month in Melbourne, a great way to end the year.

Darbotz, an Indonesian street artist, visited Melbourne in December and put together this great little video.

Adnate painted Strike Bowling in Macquarie in association with Red Bull. A great video by Michael Danischewski. Adnate’s photo realism is just amazing.

Wonderwalls, a 3 day street art and graffiti festival up north in Wollongong looked awesome, featuring a great line up of Australian and International artists. From Melbourne Shida, Wonderlust, Adnate, Two One, Idiot and Sirum.

Wonderwalls Festival 2013 from The Hours on Vimeo.

Backwoods Gallery had their last show “A Study of Hands” for 2013 and it was a cracker, continuing on in the anatomy series – which will apparently continue over ten years – epic. I particularly liked works by Dave Kinsey and Lister.

Alex Mitchell, Curator of Backwoods Gallery and writer for The Opening Hours was back in Melbourne for the month. Alex did some great studio visits with Two One, Miso and Ghostpatrol. Some great, intimate photos.

Two One - Photo by Alex Mitchell

Two One. Photo by Alex Mitchell.

Miso. Photo by Alex Mitchell.

Miso. Photo by Alex Mitchell.

Ghost Patrol. Photo by Alex Mitchell.

Ghost Patrol. Photo by Alex Mitchell.

Everyone’s been talking about this abando and I can see why. David Russell managed to find his way in and capture some amazing work. I really love Slicer’s geometrical shapes filled with his signature slices, as well as Deams, and Rashe’s pieces. All of this work feels so at home in this place. I do love abandos! More here.

Slicer - Photo by David Russell

Slicer. Photo by David Russell.

Slicer - Photo by David Russell

Slicer. Photo by David Russell.

Slicer - Photo by David Russell

Slicer. Photo by David Russell.

Slicer - Photo by David Russell

Slicer. Photo by David Russell.

Deams - Photo by David Russell

Deams. Photo by David Russell.

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Boa Mistura presents Somos Luz (We Are Light)

January 30th, 2014 | By | 1 Comment »

Spanish collective Boa Mistura has premiered their documentary based on Somos Luz (We Are Light), a project created in Panama last year in the community of Chorrillos.

Boa Mistura highlights a distinction between community based projects and street art for the sake of decoration or self-appropriating places. This work and many of their previous projects serve as agents for communities to trace memories, create narratives and involve a collective identity that serves to beautify their public space. The debate whether street art is done for the public or for the self- interested artist is becoming more widely discussed as many artists feel inclined to give back to the communities they temporarily work in. I have yet seen a collective that embodies so delicately this participatory inclination of sanctioned street art and community engagement. Community based projects are another vehicle for artists to push their perspectives and, at times, their visual tendencies and possibly propel more discussions that can give us varied answers to “what the hell are we doing with these large-scale murals?”

Video courtesy of Boa Mistura


Category: Featured Posts, Videos | Tags: ,

Ian Strange updates Gordon Matta-Clark for a new time and context

January 27th, 2014 | By | No Comments »
IANSTRANGE-FINAL ACT-HOUSE2

“Untitled House 2″ by Ian Strange

Ian Strange aka Kid Zoom‘s latest work is FINAL ACT, a project somewhat similar to last summer’s very surprising and impressive SUBURBAN. The results of the project are on display now at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand. As you can see in the photos and video in this post, the work involved artfully deconstructing four homes in Christchurch. The process was heavily documented in video and still photography, as were the results of the deconstruction. Really, the final artworks in this project are the photographs and films (and some sculptures that come from the process of cutting up the homes), and that’s what is on display now at the Canterbury Museum. It’s all a part of the Rise Festival that’s going on there now, and Ian’s response to the earthquake that shook Christchurch in 2011.

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Photo by Jedda Andrews

If I remember correctly, Ian and I discussed the work of Gordon Matta-Clark when he first showed me some previews of SUBURBAN. SUBURBAN seemed to me like a uniquely Kid Zoom project, but also clearly influenced by Matta-Clark. And there’s nothing wrong with influence, especially if you bring a fresh perspective. I feel that Ian’s work does that. Because he incorporates these intricate photography, videography and lighting setups (as well as paint in the case of SUBURBAN), there’s something different going on than what Matta-Clark was doing. And Ian has grappled with ideas of suburbia in his work for years before FINAL ACT or SUBURBAN, and he’s also acutely aware of the power of documentation. So the work has a different impetuous and a different meaning from Matta-Clark.

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“Untitled House 3″ by Ian Strange

Still, when I saw the photos of FINAL ACT, I could not help but say to myself, “Wow. I can’t believe Ian’s just taken a quintessentially Matta-Clark visual and thrown in some fancy lighting, and then done some quintessentially Matta-Clark sculptures.” I suppose I could have brushed this off, except that nowhere in any official descriptions of FINAL ACT could I find a reference to Matta-Clark. It’s not like there was no explanation of the project. There was a written press release, and a sort of making-of video has been released in addition to the 12-minute video art piece and the still photos. Why, in none of that supplementary material, would such an essential reference point be neglected? It would be like this Sherrie Levine piece being described or displayed without any reference to Duchamp. That neglect rubbed me the wrong way.

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Photo by Jedda Andrews

In the Juxtapoz-friendly art world (or maybe just among PR people), I’ve found that it’s just not usually considered cool to acknowledge an artist’s influences or references unless they are somehow subversive or could be a way of getting more press attention (ps: that’s not a dig against Juxtapoz, just a way of describing a very large scene). I’m guilty of falling into similar traps sometimes too. There’s a lack of critical exploration of the artwork that blogs like Vandalog cover, and examples like this going unacknowledged only continue that pattern. And it’s even worse that museums perpetuate the same issues when education is one of their traditional responsibilities.

IANSTRANGE-FINAL ACT-HOUSE1

“Untitled House 1″ by Ian Strange

But maybe I’m just a pretentious “high brow weiner” (sic). So before ripping into FINAL ACT, I decided to reach out to Ian and ask for a comment on the similarity to Matta-Clark. Here’s his response:

Matta-Clark is a huge influence on my work – Also artists like John Divola, who’s work documenting suburbia and his vandalism series using aerosol, also his recent dark star series.

In Final Act, the initial idea was to use light if it was paint – Allowing the negative space of the cuts to be filled with light and in a sense be an extension of the painted gestures and markings from Suburban.

The house cut works in the exhibition have a strong reference to Matta-Clark’s work. But in this this body of work they were also a way for me to physically archive the Christchurch homes in their museum. The homes I worked on will be demolished, along with the entire neighborhood they are in, that neighborhood is part of over 16,000 homes which will be eventually demolished. I was interested in the works being artifacts which will remain long after the homes are gone – Ultimately I would have loved to move an entire house into the museum, which wasn’t possible.

That’s a well-considered and enlightening comment in what was almost an immediate reply to my email, so it couldn’t have taken too long to write up. And Ian has mentioned Matta-Clark in interviews before, so it’s not like he’s been trying to hide anything. Why couldn’t something like that have made it into a press release or some wall text in the museum (and if someone has been in the museum and they do have some wall text like this, please let me know, but it seems unlikely to me given the text I’ve seen about this project)?

IANSTRANGE-FINAL ACT-EXHIBITION_CHC3792

Photo by Jedda Andrews

While I still thing the similarities to Matta-Clark’s work are a bit much in FINAL ACT (less-so in SUBURBAN), I appreciate that Ian is trying to do is a bit different. While I suppose he would argue that it’s more than this, I see FINAL ACT as a modern update on a classic, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we acknowledge it.

IANSTRANGE-FINAL ACT-BTS_CHC2957

Photo by Jedda Andrews

Photos by Ian Strange and Jedda Andrews


Category: Featured Posts, Festivals, Gallery/Museum Shows, Photos, Videos | Tags:

C215 in depth

January 15th, 2014 | By | 3 Comments »
Photo by r2hox

Photo by r2hox

While researching for my new book Viral Art, I conducted about 50 interviews with artists, curators, photographers and writers. Most were done in person or over Skype, but a handful were conducted via email. Only a handful of what came out in those interviews made it into the book, so now I want to publish a few of those email interviews in full here on Vandalog. In these extended interviews, you can probably see even more clearly than in Viral Art how I unashamedly ask leading questions, and the topics jump around a lot, but hopefully they are still interesting.

To start, we have C215. An abridged version of this interview appears in Viral Art. C215 was one of the street artists that first attracted me to the genre. His stencils peppered the streets of London right as I was discovering street art, and each one blew me away. His trademark style is hard to top for beauty and for capturing great details in just one or two layers.

Photo by _Pek_

Photo by _Pek_

RJ: How do you define street art?
C215: Street art is nothing else but urban poetry that catches someone’s eye. Being a street artist is impossible, because the city itself is the artist. Street art is a collective thing, participative and interactive, extremely linked to web 2.0 culture.

RJ: What was the Underbelly Paris like? How do you describe the Underbelly Project?
C215: For my part, it was an incredible time spent with very good friends. My vision is romantic. I had a nice time with some people Iove, others that I met and then admired after working with them. It was a beautiful collective project, led by beautiful artists.

RJ: Is it important to continue the tradition of illegal graffiti and street art?
C215: Graffiti consists in leaving tracks behind you, street art consists in placing art in the streets. You can do it with authorization, but the poetry of it would not be the same. There is something poetic in taking legal risk just to make your city more beautiful.

RJ: How did you start making art and how did your distinctive style develop?
C215: I began to paint when kid, but my style went strong the night I lost my grandmother. She was everything for me and supported me until her end. For a long time, I have had a borderline personality disorder, and when she disappeared my personality collapsed overnight. I was just lost, not knowing anymore who or where I was. I spent the night cutting a stencil of a homeless person’s face, to express my feelings. I cut it so detailed and with so many bridges that he looked crackled. This became my style for while. This style is now credited to me and imitated around the world, but comes from my self expression and from a very personal story.

Photo by RJ Rushmore

Photo by RJ Rushmore

RJ: Do you find it difficult to adapt your outdoor techniques to indoors? How did you go about it?
C215: I work indoors as little as possible, since I think my work is made for outdoors. I do not use stencils for doing patterns. I do not repeat images. I use them to go smaller than a spraycan cap, so to get details, and to create a proper artwork anywhere, very quick and without authorization. Galleries are white spaces that I find boring to paint in. It’s not new to paint on a white wall. What is new is to paint a nice work somewhere illegally, and spread it immediately to the whole world through internet.

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Category: Featured Posts, Interview | Tags: ,

The objectification of street art

January 10th, 2014 | By | 10 Comments »
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Alec Monopoly in collaboration with Justin Bieber. Photo from Alec Monopoly’s Instagram.

With the advent of street art as a post graffiti movement, the infiltration of a visual style highly influenced by the fashion industry’s mode of exploitation has taken a hold of an otherwise fertile art movement.

In the early days of graffiti, the visual aesthetic was dominated by a font-based style. This style developed over the course of the first two decades into a scripted freehand-based art form that was recognizable for its lack of outside influence.

By the 2000s, with the rise of the popularity of stencil art, the influence of a visual aesthetic informed by the post-pop movement came to dominate the graffiti and street art scenes. The ease with which an iconic image could be duplicated into a stencil using printers accelerated the spread of street art as a popular art movement.

Yet the narrative of this movement has become increasingly dominated by certain visual techniques, relying on fashion industry imagery to create popularly accessible art that is seen by a wider and more demographically homogenous mainstream audience.

Even a short trip down to any popular “street art gallery” will make the viewer immediately aware of the fashion industry’s overwhelming influence on this nascent art movement. Endless reproduction of women’s bodies and faces, superficially disassociated from their fashion industry roots, has permeated the creation of street art. Images of women in particular have come to be shorthand for catchy, iconic statements. Movie stars, music icons, and models all find themselves endlessly repeated, stenciled and pasted onto shops and walls; instagrammed out into the world, becoming a viral reinforcement of the level of popularity found in recreating a photographer’s work (often without credit). Subsequently pushed onto canvases in order to monetize the popularity of the work, this imagery continually recycles itself into an endless objectification of the female.

Graffiti and street art have long been male dominated practices. Despite the recent “Women on the Walls” program in Miami and other female-centered group shows and mural festivals around the world, there are still much fewer female artists working in the medium when compared to other visual art movements. This male dominance has created an intractable acceptance of exploitative female imagery, the selling of which only reinforces the desire in younger artists to utilize similar imagery within their work.

The image of the human face is something that feeds a very deeply rooted desire for pattern recognition in the mammalian mind. We see faces in even the most abstracted blots of colour, stains of water on walls, bits of burnt toast, dust on the windows of abandoned factories. The mind is wired to react to the recognition of the human face with a sense of pleasure. Once we see the face within some random abstraction, it is likely that we can never “unsee” this imagery as it was before.

As street art has gone mainstream, its popularity has birthed an industry that capitalizes on its pop culture status. Demographically targeted goods from custom graffiti paints to clothes have seen an enormous upswing in the past decade. Far from its modest origins as an illegal art form, street art more often finds itself sponsored by corporations looking to broaden their niche appeal and to cash in on the massively swollen “subculture” that it has given birth to. The culmination of this is the interaction between the fashion industry and the “hot” street artists willing to basically license their brand in order to cash in.

The fashion industry is without a doubt the most exploitative commercial industry on the earth. From the forced gender stereotypes and impossible to achieve body presentation of its models (invariably fictions created in photoshop) to the garment workers’ horrifying work conditions and third world wages, the fashion industry reeks of the blatant disregard for both the welfare of its disposable minions and the crass exploitation of its customers.

Stencil (possibly depicting Kate Moss) by unknown artist. Photo by a_kep.

Stencil (possibly depicting Kate Moss) by unknown artist. Photo by a_kep.

In order for street art to become a truly groundbreaking and self-aware art form, young artists of this generation need to recognize that the exploitation of women through sexualized and objectified imagery is merely a continuation of the corporate stranglehold over young people’s ideas of self worth, societal value and personal gender identity.

Streets artists working in this medium need to take a deeper look at the content of their creations. Given some introspection and forethought, one comes to see that the use of fashion imagery is like a cancer spreading inside of a once independent subculture. Rotting away the core of its value by co-opting its aesthetic techniques in order to market products via the continual appropriation of youth culture that has so long fed the fashion industry. The truth is that these corporations have stolen and co-opted street art and are selling it back to young artists at a retail markup.

Just because that movie star’s face or that fashion model’s body gets an artist shares and likes on social media doesn’t make the work profound or valuable to the dialog of creative practice. We must free ourselves of this insidious institutionalization of objectification that has grown within the street art and graffiti communities and learn to support women in the arts, not just those that paint murals, but all women young and old.

Photos from Alec Monopoly’s Instagram and by a_kep


Category: Featured Posts, Guest Posts, Random | Tags: ,

Street art celebrating whistleblowers

January 2nd, 2014 | By | 1 Comment »
An anonymous artist's portrait of Edward Snowden, next to a Borf sticker. Photo by RJ Rushmore.

An anonymous artist’s portrait of Edward Snowden, next to a Borf sticker. Photo by RJ Rushmore.

It’s been quite a year for whistleblowers. In the last six months or so, the information that Edward Snowden leaked has changed the world, but Snowden is still hiding in Russia, hoping that some country will grant him permanent asylum and a way to get there. Meanwhile, Chelsea Manning, the whistleblower behind what became the Collateral Murder video and so many other documents released through Wikileaks, was sentenced in August to serve 35 years in a military prison. And just a few days ago, the email of a US government whistleblower was hacked and documents essential to his case were deleted. With the US government taking such a harsh stance against whistleblowers, it is even more essential that we, the people, stand up to support them. With that in mind, I’ve started Whistleblower Art, a tumblr archive of art and design celebrating whistleblowers. Last July, I collected all the Snowden-related street art I could find for a post. Whistleblower Art expands on that post to include all whistleblowers (most notably Manning at this point) and art and design beyond just street art.

For Vandalog though, I’ve put together this update on my Snowden post: Pretty much all the street art, graffiti and murals I could find in support of whistleblowers.

DROID 907, SARZ TKG and AMANDA WONG in Atlanta, GA. Photo by SARZ TKG.

DROID 907, SARZ TKG and AMANDA WONG in Atlanta, GA. Photo by SARZ TKG.

Daniel Ellsberg by Thierry Ehrmann at the Abode of Chaos outside of Lyon, France. Photo by Abode of Chaos.

Daniel Ellsberg by Thierry Ehrmann at the Abode of Chaos outside of Lyon, France. Photo by Abode of Chaos.

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Category: Featured Posts, Photos, Vandalog Projects | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Viral Art is now available at ViralArt.net

December 16th, 2013 | By | 1 Comment »

viralartcover-640

Two weeks ago, I announced that Viral Art: How the internet has shaped street art and graffiti, my new ebook, was set to launch on December 16th. Excerpts have appeared on Hyperallergic, Complex.com and Brooklyn Street Art, I was interviewed over at Graffuturism and the book even got a shout-out from Shepard Fairey. Well, today’s the day. Viral Art is live and you can read it now at ViralArt.net and download it as a PDF or find it in the iBooks Store now.

I want to thank everyone who has been sharing the news about Viral Art these last two weeks, especially everyone who supported the Thunderclap campaign. Just this afternoon, there have been over 200 posts about Viral Art across Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. So, a big thank you to everyone who participated in that. Promoting this book is an entirely grassroots effort, and I’ll be forever grateful for your help.

In case you didn’t catch that last post or you’ve forgotten, here’s a reminder of what Viral Art is all about…

What is Viral Art?

It’s an ebook that you can read online or download to your computer or ereader. It’s full of text, hyperlinks, photos, animated GIFs and embedded videos.

What is Viral Art about?

Viral Art traces how the histories of street art and graffiti have been shaped by communication technologies, from trading photos by hand to publishing books to sharing videos online. It’s the most comprehensive look to date at how the internet has affected street art and graffiti. Conceptualizing the internet as a public space, I conclude the book by arguing that the future of street art and graffiti may lie in digital interventions rather than physical ones.

Why does Viral Art matter?

If you want to understand street art and graffiti, you have to understand how books, movies, magazines, photographs and the internet have affected artists and fans. Viral Art gets into all of that.

Today we live on our laptops and smartphones, so I argue that the best way for street art and graffiti to stay relevant is for artists to take over the public space of the internet. It’s a claim sure to cause controversy in the street art, graffiti and internet art communities.

Viral Art isn’t just another street art book cheer-leading the movement on. It’s history and theory with a critical stance, and my plea to keep the core values of street art and graffiti alive in a digital world.

What else is inside?

In researching for this project, I interviewed over 50 members of the street art and graffiti communities. In Viral Art, you’ll find brand new interviews, quotes and anecdotes from Banksy, Shepard Fairey, KATSU, Poster Boy, Ron English, Martha Cooper and many more.

Another cool touch is the cover, which you can see at the top of this post. It’s an animated GIF designed by General Howe, featuring artwork by Diego Bergia, General Howe and Jay Edlin, as well as photographs by Martha Cooper and myself.

What does this “book” cost?

Nothing. You can read Viral Art for free at ViralArt.net. There are also PDF and EPUB versions available for download.

How can fans support the book?

This book is the result of two and a half years of mostly-unpaid labor. It’s being self-published. My marketing budget consists of a few bucks for ads on Facebook. Major publishers spend thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars marketing everything they produce, but this project has no book tour or publicist or anything like that. There’s only your support. If Viral Art sounds interesting, or you read it and you think it is interesting, please tell your friends.

Where can people read Viral Art?

Just go here to read it online, or you can also download it to your computer or ereader.


Category: Books / Magazines, Featured Posts, Vandalog Projects | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Miami, consumerism and wtf moments

December 6th, 2013 | By | 20 Comments »
Gilf! (above) and Jesse Scaturro (below) at Arcilesi & Homberg Fine Art's booth at SCOPE in Miami

Gilf! (above) and Jesse Scaturro (below) at Arcilesi Homberg Fine Art’s booth at SCOPE in Miami

Let my start by saying that I have no inherent problem with artists selling their art or being pro-some-form-of-capitalism, or even pushing an ultra-consumerist agenda. If someone can make a living making art and doing what they love, great. That’s a lot better than working some job that they hate and giving up art or only making art in their spare time. That’s a large part of why I embrace street artists and graffiti writers who want to sell their work in galleries. Hell, I don’t even have a huge problem with art fairs. It’s not the best way to look at art, but I don’t fault artists or galleries for showing there. They can sell a lot of work and find new clients at fairs. Still…

If there’s an anti-consumerist message inherent in your artwork, maybe trying to sell that work at what is effectively a mall for art, where it costs money just to get in the door and have a look, is not the best way to go about things.

It’s art fair week in Miami right now, which means a good chunk of the art world there partying and buying and selling and painting and hustling. I wish I was there, but I’m in Philadelphia working on my final exams. However, I’m still getting plenty of emails from people in Miami about what’s going on and what I might want to be covering on Vandalog.

The other day, I got an email from Gilf! that included a photo of one of her new pieces accompanied by the following caption:

“This work, continues my exploration within the realms of advertising and its subversive means to propagate consumption. By stealing steel and pallet wood, two materials deeply rooted in the production and transportation of consumer goods, I am choosing to step out of the monetary system of consumption. I use these materials to ask the viewer to rethink his or her place in this unsustainable economy through subliminal ideas through typography. You will find Evolve, along with 3 other similar pieces with Arcilesi Homberg Fine Art at Scope Art Fair in booth J25.”

Two of those three similar pieces are in the photo at the top of this post.

Now, when I read that caption, two things came to mind:

  1. I don’t know where Gilf! stole those materials from, but I’m curious: Did she steal them from Walmart, or from some small warehouse in Brooklyn with unionized labor? It’s just $10-15 worth of materials, but if the act of the theft matters to Gilf!, then the victim matters to me, especially since the work is now for sale for presumably thousands of dollars through Arcilesi Homberg Fine Art (booth J25 at SCOPE).
  2. If Gilf! is going to make an artwork where the production of the work plays into its meaning, I think it’s fair to ask what role the sale of the work has on its meaning as well. Here Gilf! is hoping that the work will be sold at a venue that is all about “the monetary system of consumption” which she claims to be removing herself from. The most recent post-fair press release from SCOPE (for their Basel fair in June) is all about sales. On her own Instagram, Gilf! called Art Basel Miami Beach (the main art fair going on at the moment) “Black Friday for the 1%.” It’s naive to think SCOPE is any different, even if prices are lower. So, for me, seeing Gilf! show these pieces at SCOPE pretty much negates any anti-consumerist message that the work may have. The situation reminds me of the scene in this classic screenprint by Banksy.

Let’s compare this move by Gilf! to what Alec Monopoly has been up to this week. Last night, Alec held “a VIP-only exhibition located aboard a 151-foot yacht” in Miami. Sort of a hilarious setting for an artist whom I always assumed was at least pretending to use The Monopoly Man to critique out of control capitalism, the super-rich and the finance industry, but I recently realized that I’ve actually been looking at Alec’s work all wrong for years.

When have you have seen a street artist appropriate Mickey Mouse or Ronald McDonald or The Monopoly Man in order to say, “Let’s go watch a Disney movie, eat at McDonald’s and give high-fives to the folks at Goldman Sachs”? Usually, it seems like street artists using those symbols are more likely to be saying, “Let’s question our obsession with pop culture figures, remember that McDonald’s pays low wages and eating there too much might make you fat and reform our current economic system.” And Alec’s bio on his website states that he “subversively depict[s] various iconic pop culture characters.” A piece with a meaning like “Mickey Mouse is awesome” does not subvert Mickey Mouse, so I figured that his subversion of The Monopoly Man would be about subverting the capitalist system that the character represents. Makes sense, right?

If you actually read interviews with Alec (like this one) or read press releases for his shows (like this one), it turns out that he isn’t making a critique at all. He’s actually celebrating capitalism by using The Monopoly Man character. He has said, “I feel that Mr. Monopoly, Rich “Uncle” Pennybags, represents capitalism, but my use of his image is more about reminding the general population that we are all a part of game that anyone of us can win.” Try telling that to someone without health insurance who’s just been diagnosed with cancer or a student graduating college with $100,000 in debt and no job prospects.

So, I guess I was confused as a result of Alec not understanding what the word “subvert” means. I hope I was the only one who thought Alec was pretending to critique capitalism. But, just in case other people out there were under that impression too, I thought I’d bring it up here.

I’m still not a fan of Alec’s work and I find his take on the world to be somewhat naive, but at least he’s not being hypocritical.

I’m not one to see things in black and white. I know people who are upset that Banksy sells his work at all, or that Shepard Fairey has a clothing line or who hate all art fairs, but I don’t have a problem with any of that. I think one of the great things about being an artist today is the potential to make a living and basically be your own boss. Yes, the artist is still participating in a consumerist/capitalist economy and their work may critique that world, but as Gilf! suggests, they can perhaps keep themselves at least a step removed from the worst parts of capitalism. But Banksy selling prints through Pictures on Walls or Shepard selling shirts with a message of “I’m not saying consumerism is good or bad, just that you shouldn’t follow blindly,” is quite a bit different from selling explicitly anti-consumerist art in the midst of an art mall and simultaneously claiming that you’re removing yourself from that system by your actions. That claim is just false. The question is whether or not Gilf! realizes it.

So what should Gilf! do? I would like to say that there’s some way to salvage these artworks, but I’m not sure. Maybe selling them in a less money-centric environment would be a step in the right direction, but I dunno. At the very least, Gilf! needs to acknowledge that selling these artworks in the way she is trying to does not allow her “to step out of the monetary system of consumption” in any significant way. Stealing $10 worth of materials to sell a product in a mall for thousands of dollars? That sounds to me more like the worst parts of capitalism and consumerism than a removal from those systems.

Photo from Arcilesi Homberg Fine Art’s Instagram


Category: Art Fairs, Featured Posts | Tags: , , ,

Announcing Viral Art, my new ebook

December 2nd, 2013 | By | 1 Comment »

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Today I have some news that I hope you’ll find very exciting, although you may have already heard a bit about it if you’re following me on Twitter. I’ve been waiting two and a half years to say this… Viral Art: How the internet has shaped street art and graffiti, my new ebook, comes out in just two weeks. Starting December 16th, the entirety of Viral Art will be available to read for free online at ViralArt.net. For now, there’s a brief excerpt published on Hyperallergic, and two more excerpts will be going up on other blogs between now and the 16th.

What is Viral Art about?

Viral Art traces how the histories of street art and graffiti have been shaped by communication technologies, from trading photos by hand to publishing books to sharing videos online. It is the most comprehensive look to date at how the internet has affected street art and graffiti. Conceptualizing the internet as a public space, I conclude the book by arguing that the future of street art and graffiti may lie in digital interventions rather than physical ones.

Why does Viral Art matter?

If you want to understand street art and graffiti, you have to understand how books, movies, magazines, photographs and the internet have affected artists and fans. Viral Art gets into all of that in depth, from the early days of graffiti through today.

Today we live on our laptops and smartphones, so I argue that the best way to keep the core values of street art and graffiti alive is for artists to take over the public space of the internet. It’s a claim sure to cause controversy in the street art, graffiti and internet art communities, but it might be the best way to save all three from irrelevance.

At Vandalog, we try to take stands and to go beyond just posting the latest pretty pictures. In that same vein, Viral Art isn’t just another street art book cheer-leading the movement on. It’s history and theory with a critical stance, and my plea to keep street art and graffiti relevant in a digital world.

What else is inside?

In researching for this project, I interviewed over 50 members of the street art and graffiti communities. In Viral Art, you’ll find never-before-published interviews, quotes and anecdotes from Banksy, Shepard Fairey, KATSU, Poster Boy, Ron English, Martha Cooper and many more.

Another cool touch is the cover, which you can see at the top of this post. It’s an animated GIF designed by General Howe, featuring artwork by Diego Bergia, General Howe and Jay Edlin, as well as photographs by Martha Cooper and myself.

What’s all this gonna cost?

Nothing. You will be able to read Viral Art for free online. There will also be PDF and EPUB versions available for download.

How can fans support the book?

To help get the word out about Viral Art, you can join the campaign on Thunderclap.it. Thunderclap is kind of like Kickstarter, but instead of asking for money, I’m asking you to send out a link on the day that Viral Art goes live. Joining the campaign that will let you automatically tell your friends about Viral Art through Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr on December 16th.

This book is the result of two and a half years of mostly-unpaid labor. It’s being self-published. My marketing budget consists of a few bucks for ads on Facebook. Major publishers spend thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars marketing everything they produce, but this project has no book tour or publicist or anything like that. There’s only your support.

If you can help spread the word about Viral Art by joining the Thunderclap, I would be extremely grateful. Thank you. And of course, I hope you’ll read the book come December 16th.


Category: Books / Magazines, Featured Posts, Vandalog Projects | Tags: