Beyond wallpaper: street art works

August 16th, 2016 | By | No Comments »
Photo courtesy of Hyuro

Photo courtesy of Hyuro

Note: This post is in adaptation of what I presented last month at The Art Conference in London. So if you were curious about that talk, here you go.

As Rafael Schacter has argued, street art has moved “from dissident to decorative.” We’ve gone from politically radical drawings in New York subway stations to decorating music festivals so that attendees are a bit less bored while they sip beer and wait for Kanye to take the stage.

That safe public art is what I call wallpaper. Wallpaper is what when you mix street art with plop art, those huge, random, mostly abstract or minimalist sculptures that show up in semi-public squares as a result Percent For Art programs where a developer is legally required to install some public art in front of their building, so they just go for something big, expensive, and (most importantly) benign. Wallpaper, like plop art before it, reinforces existing power structures.

We live in a world of wallpaper. Mural festivals provide plenty of examples. When I see yet another mural by a globe-trotting artist who does most of their sketching on transcontinental flights, I have to ask, “Is this wallpaper productive?” There’s only so much funding for murals each year. Artists only have so much brainspace to create. Maybe more wallpaper isn’t the best use of our resources. Wallpaper is like sugar. Good in small doses, terrible in large doses, and we tend to overdo it.

Lady Aiko at the Coney Art Walls (2015). Photo by RJ Rushmore.

Lady Aiko at the Coney Art Walls (2015). Photo by RJ Rushmore.

Take the Coney Art Walls, a project that I actually do enjoy. In many ways, the Coney Art Walls are a prime example of wallpaper: concrete slabs installed solely for the sake of murals, high-end food trucks that the murals are meant to get you to eat at, a neighborhood that functions as an amusement park, funding from a controversial property developer… But unlike most wallpaper festivals, the Coney Art Walls are well curated, there’s a wide range of artists who are well paid and allowed to take risks, and many of the murals reference the historic neighborhood. Still, if the Coney Art Walls is among the best that the street art festival model can offer, it’s safe to say that festivals and similar mural projects generally do not live up street art’s radical roots.

On a good day, what can street art do, when we think beyond wallpaper? It can transform and empower. It can bring people together. It can propose better versions of public space.

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

Justin Giarla closes galleries, moves to Portland, allegedly screws over his artists

August 14th, 2016 | By | 5 Comments »
Justin Giarla. Photo by Lynn Friedman.

Justin Giarla. Photo by Lynn Friedman.

There was a time not to long ago when Justin Giarla loomed large over the street art/graffiti/low-brow art scene in San Fransisco. He owned three galleries simultaneously: White Walls Gallery, Shooting Gallery, and 941 Geary. All three closed quietly earlier this year, with their final shows opening in February. The building was sold. Last month, Giarla and his girlfriend Helen Bayly packed up their things, apparently abandoned his truck on the side of the road, and skipped town for Portland. That’s when the truth finally became public: Giarla hadn’t been paying his artists.

In a Facebook post that went viral, Ken Harman (owner of Hashimoto Contemporary and Spoke Art) claimed, “For years, Justin Giarla stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from artists who consigned works to Giarla’s gallery, White Walls / Shooting Gallery…  I don’t know if karma is a real thing (though I like to believe it is) but I do believe that [Giarla and Bayly] are sociopaths and criminals who prey on those who can’t defend themselves. If karma is real, you won’t hear me complaining.”

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Category: Art News, Gallery/Museum Shows | Tags: , , , ,

Billboards bridging two realities

August 13th, 2016 | By | No Comments »


Over 2.3 million people are currently held in American prisons, jails, and detention facilities. Many of them will be there for years, even for life. In most states, even juveniles can be put in solitary confinement, and visitation is becoming more difficult and expensive. It’s another world, largely cut off from the rest of us. A recent series from Know Hope aims to take one small step at bridging that gap.

Vicariously Speaking stems from letters that Know Hope has been receiving from inmates on death row in Nashville, TN. He used snippets of their words, re-wrote them in his own distinctive handwriting, and had the messages installed as a series of eight billboards as part of Nashville’s Oz Art Fest. It’s a beautiful series.


The question of power comes up though. The title of the project acknowledges its own possible imperfections. Does Vicariously Speaking give voice to people who are incarcerated, or does it exploit them as Know Hope takes their words and puts them in his voice? Power relationships between artists and their collaborators and subjects are always complicated, but it’s not like Know Hope surprised the letter writers with the billboards. Know Hope is a poet, and the people writing to him agreed to have their words re-framed as poetry and visual art, something that arts festivals are more used to providing funding for than some variation on the project where the speaking isn’t so secondhand.

Presumably, due to Oz Arts’ marketing efforts, at least some of the people who saw the billboards knew the story behind them. But of course most people didn’t. And there’s a beauty in that ambiguity. Maybe one of these mysterious billboards particularly touches you, so you want to find out more about it, and it’s only later that you hear the backstory, if you hear about it at all.


We are fundamentally and intentionally disconnected from the incarcerated population, so these billboards are a little bit magical. As Know Hope puts it, the billboards are a link “between two separate realities.”

In you’re in Nashville, photos of the billboards are on display alongside the original letters at Oz Arts‘ space through the end of August.


Photos courtesy of Know Hope

Category: Photos | Tags:

NDA’s time-warping mural in a small Virginia town

August 9th, 2016 | By | No Comments »


Fun story behind NDA‘s mural Fathers and Sons, which was painted last month as part of the Staufferstadt Artist Residency in Strasburg, Virginia. NDA explains, “The bottom half is a photo I found of a man in town from 1932. He had a prominent last name and after four phone calls we had tracked down his son (featured on the top part of the mural).” Of course, that son is now in his 70’s, so you end up with a portrait of a man in his 70’s combined with a portrait of that man’s father in his 20’s.

Photos by Jason Simmons

Category: Photos | Tags: ,

Photos About Buff at Tendertrap

July 29th, 2016 | By | No Comments »

Photos About Buff

Next week, I’ll be exhibiting some photos at Tender Trap in Brooklyn as part of Andrew H. Shirley’s #frontallabotomy series. When Andrew asked me to take part, I had no idea what I’d show. Eventually, I realized I’ve taken a bunch of photos of buff, or of artists making work that responds to the buff, and that seemed like a funny thing to have a show about. And now we have Photos About Buff. So come by Tender Trap on August 3rd to have some drinks, enjoy some music, and maybe even check out some of these odd photos.

Category: Gallery/Museum Shows, Vandalog Projects

Heads up: Beautiful new Swoon print coming this week

July 18th, 2016 | By | No Comments »


Swoon is releasing a new print this week, and it’s an image that her fans have been looking forward to for years: Alison the Lacemaker. Despite being a familiar image in Swoon’s work for over a decade, this is, I think, the first time that Alison is being made available as a print.

Here’s a bit from Swoon about the portrait:

“When I’m drawing a portrait, I will often have an art-historical reference somewhere in my mind. It’s usually not that I set out to make a reference; just that when I’m drawing, I’ll find a similarity in spirit or composition and let it keep the portrait company while I’m drawing. For Alison the Lacemaker, I was drawing a portrait of my friend sewing when Vermeer’s Lacemaker emerged as a natural muse. The portrait is in honor of the Lacemaker, but also a separate nod to the ability of early European woodcut masters—like Jost Amman in his noted depiction of Adam and Eve—to tell such poignant stories about the knowledge of our own mortality.”

I can never pick my personal favorite Swoon image, but Alison is definitely up there, especially in this format. Swoon generally produces top-notch prints, and Alison has a nod to her lino-block printing as well as her papercuts.

The 4-color screenprint is an edition of 150, measures 20″ x 26″, and will be available through Swoon’s online print shop starting at noon on Wednesday the 20th.


Photos courtesy of Swoon

Category: Print Release | Tags:

Dave the Chimp’s surprising “human beans”

July 16th, 2016 | By | No Comments »


Fancy spray paint with a dozen different caps. Professional photographers. Scissor lifts. Street art doesn’t have to be so complicated. Just take Dave the Chimp. His little characters, “human beans” as he calls them, are generally simple and small figures, but because they’re site-specific, they’re more surprising than most bombastic murals.


Dave’s beans respond to their environment, whether it’s acting shocked at strong language (or perhaps at the buff) or offering a joint to another street art character, Berlin’s walls are Dave’s playground.


Since the best thing about Dave’s work is that there’s the potential for surprise in real life, the potential to look at a wall or a tag in a different way, it feels a bit silly to say this, but Dave only just got on Instagram, and I’d suggest giving him a follow.

And can we all agree that we need more of this? Is site-specific street art, something beyond wallpaper, too much to ask?


Photos by Dave the Chimp

Category: Photos | Tags:

Alan Ket captures the names we should know

July 13th, 2016 | By | No Comments »

Alton Sterling

A new photo series by Alan Ket is a quiet and beautiful, but still extremely potent, form of activism at a time when it’s desperately need.

As it seems new headlines comes up almost every day about another person murdered at the hands of the police, more than a few people have taken to memorializing the victims by simply writing their names in public. Sometimes the message is a major production, sometimes it’s small and rushed. Lately, Ket has been photographing some of these small memorials, just tags in black ink, during his commute around New York City.

Philando Castile

The act of writing these names is important because it helps get them into our limited head-space: Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Delrawn Small, Tamir Rice, Anthony Hill, Freddie Gray… of course the list could go on much longer. But these are tags on New York City subway trains. They won’t last long. They’ll be buffed quickly, because that’s how New York City deals with tags on the subway. They don’t want commuters to see any of it. Which is what makes Ket’s photographs all the more important. They serve as a document that these names were written, and might even inspire others to pick up a marker and start writing.

Sandra Bland

As too many police departments try to sweep misconduct under the rug and wish that we’d all just stop saying, writing, and seeing these names, clearly the thing to do is the opposite. These tags won’t last, but Ket’s photos will. Here are a few more, and you can see the full series on Ket’s Instagram:

Laquan McDonald

Delrawn Small

Tamir Rice

Anthony Hill

Freddie Gray

Photos by Alan Ket

Category: Photos | Tags:

So it’s come to this: An eight-year-old showing off her ass in a Bushwick Collective mural

July 10th, 2016 | By | No Comments »

Lisa Simpson-clean-ish

This afternoon, Caroline and I had lunch at Sea Wolf in Bushwick, at the heart of The Bushwick Collective. Unfortunately, we couldn’t enjoy the meal. We were seated right below the most sexualized painting of Lisa Simpson I’ve ever seen. Lisa is eight. I cannot imagine how The Bushwick Collective or the artist, GIZ, thought this was a good idea. Because the mural is NSFW and potentially triggering, I’ve cropped it in the above photo, but you can scroll down to see the full image.

Chris Tackett was, as far as we know, the first to call out The Bushwick Collective for this mural. He wrote an letter to Sea Wolf and The Bushwick Collective on Instagram:

Dear @seawolfbk,

Lisa Simpson is an eight-year-old child. It seems a bit creepy to have her showing her ass on your wall.

As listed on her Wikipedia page, “Lisa is a vegetarian, a strong environmentalist, a feminist, and a Buddhist. She enjoys many hobbies, including reading and playing the baritone saxophone.” She has been an inspiration to young girls for more than 20 years. A mural showing her doing any of these inspiring things would be far more fitting of your fine establishment. By allowing this to remain on your wall, you insult Lisa and make this precocious youngster into a sexual object. It’s weird.

If I may offer a suggestion, I think it’d be a welcome change to replace this with something less pervy, both for the people of Bushwick that have to look at it every day and also so people don’t feel like creeps when enjoying drinks on your lovely patio this summer.

As a huge fan of @thebushwickcollective, I don’t like complaining about something I love so much. But this one just feels off and worth reconsidering.

PS: I should add that I was there last night sitting at the table to the right. I was with four friends and their two infant girls. We had a great time, but it was that moment of sitting there with 4 of my favorite women that I was inspired to send this note. We were all talking about how weird it was. I’m always a little sad to see #bushwickcollective murals rotate out, but I can’t imagine there is anyone at all that will be bummed to see this one go.

Caroline has a great solution: Buff the mural and replace it with a portrait of a breastfeeding mother. I’ll pay for the paint for Caroline’s mural, if goes up in the next week. I’ve reached out to The Bushwick Collective and made that offer, but haven’t heard back yet.

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Category: Featured Posts, Photos | Tags: ,

Ad Takeovers: Learn from the best

July 6th, 2016 | By | No Comments »

Public Ad Campaign

Ever wondered how people like Abe Lincoln Jr., Joe Boruchow, or Icy & Sot install their artwork in bus shelters and phone booths? Next week, New Yorkers will have a chance to learn from the best. Public Ad Campaign is leading “a practical introduction” to ad takeovers at Mayday in Bushwick.

Led by Jordan Seiler and Thomas Dekeyser, the workshop will cover the history and philosophy of ad takeovers (the topic of Dekeyser’s PhD research), as well as the tools and techniques that Seiler has spent the last 15 years perfecting and sharing.

I’ve attended one of Jordan’s workshops before, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. It will be fun, and you’ll see just how easy ad takeovers can be. The more people who know how easy it is to open up ad kiosks, and have access to the tools to do it, the better.

The workshop is free to attend, but you have to register in advance.

Category: Events | Tags: , , , , ,