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: , , ,
  • Norma Homberg

    Hmmm….lot’s of statements about gilf! Art Basel is a totally different Ball Game than Scope. We represent only emerging NYC artists and pretty much spend all our money to support our gallery and champion our artists as best as we possibly can. Neither the artist or her gallery is making a large amount of money. We are all surviving but happy doing so representing artists with a purpose. It would be nice if you spent your time commenting on positive things that street artists do. Do you even know what gilf! is doing in Wynwood. Are you even in Miami? I can send you a pic of her work when she is finished. It is a very important piece.

  • SCOPE follows the major art fairs around the world. It’s post-fair press releases focuses almost entirely on sales figures and who work has sold to. Are you there for charity work, or to sell art? Do you honestly believe that those little booths are the most beautiful way to display art, or are they an efficient way to sell it? SCOPE is on a different scale from Art Basel, sure, but it’s more like the difference between the minor leagues and the major leagues than the difference between baseball and basketball.

    No, I’m not currently in Miami going to the fairs and I resent your classist argument implying that only those who can afford to get to Miami and buy tickets to see your booth can comment on it.

    Does Gilf! know you’ve suggested that I only focus on positive things? Because I’m pretty sure Gilf!’s art doesn’t focus on the positive things that politicians and soldiers and clothing manufacturers and marketing executives do. I imagine James Jebbia might suggest that Gilf! only focus on the positive things that Supreme does and Coca Cola’s marketing team might resent her “Formula for Disaster” sculpture. Wouldn’t it be a shame if Gilf! only spent her time making art about the positive things that people do?

    Yes, I heard Gilf! is painting a tribute to Israel Hernandez-Llach, the 18 year old boy who was killed by police a few months ago, although in her email Gilf! incorrectly referred to him as 16 years old at the time of his death.

  • Allison Crawbuck

    Going beyond the focus on gilf! vs Alec here…

    The purpose of an art fair is and always will be to sell art and to sell it fast. Galleries spend thousands of dollars to display work by their artists in hopes that major collectors will walk by and buy. Booth prices start well in the thousands (yes, even a booth at SCOPE can easily cost over $10,000 for just 5 days of sales space). Quite literally, a fair’s success is based on the dollar amount in sales. We can’t ignore that art fairs and the galleries exhibiting in them cater to a specific demographic who can afford to shop at these “art malls,” as RJ put it.

    That’s not to say that an artist’s views or body of work outside of this environment is compromised, but an interesting point is raised here about how the placement of art can alter its message. Would a piece that says “Fuck the 1%” hold the same meaning hanging on the temporary art fair walls as it does on the street or even back in a local neighborhood gallery after the fairs are over? Then again, can we critique the business of street artists’ commercial work by the same values we do their public art?

    So many things to debate!

  • Rhiannon Platt

    It is ridiculous to expect someone to spend an article mentioning only positive things. If street art wants to be put on par with canonical art history there has to be critical dialogue.

  • Rhiannon Platt

    For that matter are blockbuster marketed shows any different than an art fair? There is still a lot of marketing and push for sales with the end result of paying for a space to show the art.

  • lancephoto

    Meh – And yet you can buy CDs by The Clash at Wal-Mart… In my opinion, getting your art/message in front of a major, art-appreciating audience is good. No matter if your message is “abstract lines are cool.” or “Fuck Capitalism.” Sure, it’s ironic. But if you’re trying to say that Shepard (or Banksy) are in ANY WAY “removed from the worst parts of capitalism.” I must respectfully disagree emphatically. – I can agree that Gifl!’s “caption” is kinda weak though. Let the message come across as it will. Trying to explain/justify it is a bit demeaning to the work imho…

  • Ben Macdonald-Evans

    I’m always a fan of this kind of debate despite how horribly cliched it can be, but its a strong article and things like this need to be said for the healthy progression of our art form, it being one that has historically existed (and more so TRIED to) outside of the institutionalised means of exhibition.

    but maybe we should start focusing more on how we can further escape this, if we are bound by a want not to join in – then lets celebrate that and discuss it more. lets highlighting, more planning.

  • gilf!

    I create art that makes aggressive statements, with that comes
    the responsibility to think through every step of my sourcing, production, and
    eventual selling of these works, and I take that responsibility seriously.

    It’s shortsighted to assume that the source of my materials wouldn’t be a thoughtful part of my process. Shipping pallets are constantly swapped between shippers and receivers and from what I understand a loss of one or two is negligible. As for the steel, it came from a company that has treated my fellow artists poorly in the past and while I will not disclose the location, I will say that these scraps were not taken from a
    Brooklyn warehouse with unionized labor, but a global corporation.

    I spend copious amounts of my time learning about, and
    researching the state of our economic and social realities. The details in
    which I make my work reflect these understandings, and while my press release
    was not clear enough for RJ’s liking I have thought through all of the steps in
    which to make this work as an effective a message as possible: Take from the
    rich that which they do not value and create art which someone responds to,
    values, and wants to see every day in his or her home.

    As for RJ’s statement,
    “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.” I find it to be
    incredibly offensive to then tear me apart for showing at one solely because the theme of my work is to push the conversation away from corporate consumption. The only reason I am able to live off my art, and continue to create, is because I am able to sell
    work at these fairs. Art fairs are the best way to sell my work and subsequently eat and pay rent. I got my start by representing myself at Fountain Art Fair back in 2011. To create the work, hang it, write the press release, prepare the booth, sell the work, ship
    the work, and manage payments and clients is an incredible amount of work and
    to discount that effort because I’m surrounded by my peers and have a stronger
    chance of selling work and thus seizing my dream of being a full time artist is

    Yes an art fair can be compared to a mall with the rows of
    booths and the extreme lighting- but it’s a mall filled with creativity,
    beauty, and ideas you’ve never thought of, work that makes your jaw drop, and
    it’s all in one place that can create exponential inspiration, which it does
    for me when I’m surrounded by all that talent. This isn’t a mall filled with
    American Eagles, Victoria’s Secrets, and other massive corporations selling
    young girls terrible self-esteem with products made in sweat shops. It’s a mall
    filled with small businesses passionate about creativity and the artistic minds
    that inspire others, and step out of the standard way of life to communicate with people differently. These fairs aren’t always so successful, yes you can sell some art, but nothing is guaranteed and galleries put up thousands of dollars to champion their artists. Booth, travel, shipping and countless other costs come up for these small
    businesses whose owners are hoping to break even or possibly get into the black while following their passion. Yes, I’m speaking of Scope specifically, and its focus on emerging artists.

    I would love a real answer to where I should sell my work that
    is a “less money-centric environment”. Art does not sell itself in a vacuum.
    Living off my art creates NO financial guarantees. I need to eat and pay
    December’s rent so if RJ has a better idea for me, please let me know my
    landlord sure would appreciate it. Until he has an answer for me I will just
    say this: I’ve spent a good part of my career being a critic as well, but of
    the pathetic system we are ALL a part of. In recent months I’ve realized I can
    be critical and bitch or I can try to create an answers to my angry questions
    and work for solutions. It is easy for us to judge others when we are not in
    their shoes, we do not face their problems, and we do not understand their
    perspectives. A little communication can go a long way.

    I have always appreciated RJ’s critical mind, I’ve said that on numerous
    occasions but this time I believe he was too quick to jump the proverbial gun.
    Perhaps he should’ve reached out to me for clarification, like a friend would
    do, instead of calling me a hypocrite to his readers.

  • Lori Zimmer

    Heya RJ. I get your point in the above article, but I gotta say, I disagree. I don’t see showing an artwork that criticizes capitalism in a selling-forum like an art fair to be contradictory at all- but instead a way to present art works that criticize a certain type of people (1%, commercial, whatever) right in front of their faces. Artists have been manipulating the art world like this for years. Bosch used his commissions by the church to criticize religion back in the 15th Century, Manzoni canned his own shit and priced it at the same weight as gold as a way to draw attention to the absurdity of pricing art. The Singapore Biennale this year is called “if the world changed” and is focused entirely on issues relevant (to the world) but that region of Asia especially like environmental destruction and social injustices.

    In another venue, these people may not even see this work. Showing anti-capitalist work solely to an audience of like-minded individuals would be a missed opportunity, and sort of an injustice to yourself (meaning the artist). To me, its in the same vein as a protest- you don’t stage a protest in a place where you’re comfortable, you do it in the faces of your opposers, who may otherwise ignore you, or not come into contact with your thoughts or views at all.

    Whether you like the work or not is up to you, of course.

    A side note, Gilf has a piece in my booth at Scope (not the one mentioned). A collector asked for a discount, but she refused, because the price is also part of the piece- it is the average dollar amount for insulin for a child with diabetes for a year. Sounds like she is sticking to her guns to me.

    I could debate about the subject in general forever, but I have to get to SCOPE to sell art to the masses. Hehe.
    xLori Zimmer

  • I agree, it would be great to focus more on how to escape or improve this system, but we can’t begin to think about that until we acknowledge that we’re in it. Gilf! is making a mistaken claim that she’s removed herself from “the monetary system of consumption.” If she isn’t called out, people might believe that her strategy is an appropriate and effective tactic.

    Just to put some positive energy out there, I would suggest that Rafael Rozendaal’s practice of selling websites as if they are public artworks is interesting. He’s essentially only selling cultural capital since the people who buy his websites have to keep them online and publicly accessible. He’s still certainly within the capitalist art-world system, but at least the sales he makes don’t remove his art from public view.

  • Lori, you seem to be ignoring the issue here. It’s not that Gilf! is simply showing work that critiques capitalism in an art mall. I think if someone painted a canvas that said, “I hate capitalism” and
    tried to sell it at SCOPE, it might feel a bit out of place, but not
    inherently hypocritical to the point where the piece itself loses all
    meaning. Sometimes we participate in things that we don’t like because
    it’s necessary, like if we need to pay rent or we think it might be a more effective form of protest. Gilf! has said that not only does she not like a certain system, but that she has removed herself from it (at least within the context of this artwork), which is not true. If the power of the piece comes from it being outside of “the monetary system of consumption,” then Gilf! has neutered the artwork by choosing to insert it back into that system.

    So far as I know, Manzoni and Bosch never said, “I have removed myself from the system that I am critiquing.” They might have subverted and critiqued those systems, but they were still very much a part of them. And if they claimed not to be, I would argue that point.

    You seem to have shot yourself in the foot a bit here by bringing up Gilf!’s piece at your booth. I think that’s a great sculpture. One of the best things I’ve seen from Miami this year (although of course I’ve seen everything through photos). As you point out, Gilf! has determined that in the case of that sculpture, its price/how it is sold is part of the piece. She could have sold the sculpture and paid her rent for December, but she made a decision not to compromise the integrity of the artwork. That’s admirable. She did not make that same decision about the pieces being discussed in this post. Instead, she has implicitly claimed that, for those pieces, the price/how they are sold are not relevant to the meaning of the artwork. I would contest that point, and apparently Gilf! would too, sometimes.

  • I have absolutely no problem with you selling your work at an art fair or selling art to pay your rent. I have a problem with you claiming to have removed yourself, or at least some of your art, from a system that you, and those artworks, are embedded in. Perhaps you did choose “to step out of the monetary system of consumption” with the production of these artworks, but then you chose to step right back in by selling them, particularly at an art fair.

    Like I say in my reply to Lori’s comment, I really like the sculpture you have at her booth. I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t be sold at SCOPE or why you shouldn’t have those booths that Fountain. But with that piece you aren’t making any claims about not participating in a capitalist/consumerist system. You may be critiquing those systems, but you don’t claim that the work is removed from them. In fact, you acknowledge with that piece how the sale of an artwork can affect its meaning.

    You’re the one who placed a political/conceptual burden on yourself. If it’s impossible for you to live up to your claims, either don’t made those claims or don’t make the work. Why not admit, “I tried to step out of the system of monetary consumption with these artworks, but we are so embedded in that system that I found it impossible it live up to my ideals and had to step back into it”? That might be interesting. Maybe that makes the work weaker, or maybe it makes the work stronger and more complex because it acknowledges something deeper about society and the difficulties of resistance. That speaks to this very real issue of you having to consider both your politics and your landlord when making art. Instead, you’ve made a very strong claim and failed to live up to it.


    Uggh. GILF, just make art that speaks for itself. RJ is right. This is all a bunch of pretentious and hypocritical nonsense and you know it(including your whiney response). It’s one to grow on so stop the huffing and puffing. If you are “stealing” supplies, you should not brag about it. Real gangsters never tell. Also, stop trying to be a photogenic, female BANKSY. It’s all very lazy from a creative standpoint. To me this represents everything that is wrong with the street art industry and it is not a good look.

  • CDH

    I like to read Vandalog precisely because it’s thoughtful and critical, as distinct from the obsequious reviews and image catalogs elsewhere online.

  • Christian Guemy

    ahahahaha very good article RJ

  • Christian Guemy


  • Soda Pop Curtis

    I love it when beneficiaries of capitalism critique those who question and contest the structure of capitalism. Irony. GILF is one of the few “street artists” with any sense of integrity and concept. Your critique is somewhat valid though it is based mainly on assumptions. It’s assuming that these pieces were made soley for Scope. And I might point out that the pieces were presented by a gallery, not by Scope itself. As artists we are subjects to the country we live in and the structures that govern our commerce. The only way to deny capitalism would be to remove ourselves from a capitalist regime. We can critique our systems, but until the system changes we are subject to it. Your flaying of GILF for selling her work in this manner is counterproductive and excessive. She’s at least trying to draw attention to the faults of our society in hopes of creating a better platform.
    And while we are critiquing, is there any vandalism on Vandalog? Maybe Muralog or possibly Commissionedog? Legalog

  • Did you read the article? Because I completely agree that “We can critique our systems, but until the system changes we are subject to it.” That’s essentailly what I am basically calling out GILF for denying. GILF claimed to remove herself from the system, and I’m saying that she did not (because it’s quite difficult). GILF had a piece at Lori Zimmer’s booth at SCOPE also critiques capitalism/consumerism/marketing…, but she never makes the claim in that piece that she is removed from those systems, so I have no issue with that piece. Actually, I really like that other piece.

    Have you ever visited this site before? True, we don’t post illegal work every day. There’s a lot of murals here and that might be a bit weird. It’s something we’re aware of. We spent all of this August grappling with that issue and only posting illegal work – September was a lot of legal stuff again, but also interviews with people like stikman and Droid907 whose work outdoors is done almost exclusively without permission. Then, probably at least 50% of what we posted in October was illegal. November tilted towards legal work, but included pieces like this essay by C215 that deals in part with the transition from doing street art to making murals –, this mural by Escif which is itself critical of murals – and this piece about Banksy’s time in NYC and the importance of seeing the (mostly illegal) pieces on the street rather than online – This month we’ve posted a lot of legal stuff, but it’s also not the time of year that a lot of artists are out doing illegal work. Still, tomorrow’s post is about illegal work being embraced by a local government and how one artist explored that odd relationship by making more illegal work.

  • Norma Homberg

    RJ – you are after all a writer and you like to misinterpret people to agitate and get a good conversation going. Even better…your other followers don’t always read the entire string of the conversation and just blindly jump on a bandwagon of bullshit. When you say “Does Gilf! know you’ve suggested that I only focus on positive things? I have to LAUGH. When I stated “It would be nice if you spent your time commenting on positive things that street artists do, “I obviously mean the positive things that street artists doing to wake us up through their thought provoking work. Also it is irrelevant that REEFA was 18. I grew up in NYC and I am directly faced with the police state we live in because I have a 15 and 17 year old that have been stopped & frisked and on another occasion arrested without any real charges. I am lucky my children are alive. Showing work like gilf!’s at an art fair is the BEST place to wake up lots of people that really NEED it.

  • I don’t think it makes a difference whether you added “are doing to wake us up through their thought provoking work” to that statement or not. What if I suggested, following your statement, that it would be a waste of time and just plain mean to critique The L.I.S.A. Project NYC, a mural project I’m involved with in Little Italy? I love the project, but it’s certainly not perfect. Some people might suggest that it only exists to serve the interests of local merchants and so is a sort of disgusting perversion of street art’s original aims. Or they might be upset that we pay for artists’ supplies but not a fee on top of that for their time and creativity. I’m sure there are other issues too, but if I’m blind to those issues and nobody is allowed to bring them up with me because I’ve said that they can only ever tell me positive things about the project, how will I know? On the other hand, we’re giving a lot of artists opportunities to have murals in Manhattan, we do at least pay for supplies, the murals add something new and different to the neighborhood and Little Italy is a very different environment from where these artists usually get to paint. If people can’t have that discussion about the pluses and minuses of the project, how are we to get feedback and improve? How will future projects by other people identify our weaknesses and build something better themselves?

    I agree that if we’re talking about systemic issues relating to the use of physical force or other forms of intimidation by police, REEFA’s age hardly matters. My point was that Gilf! painted a tribute mural to this young man and claimed to know his age, but was either mistaken or made a typo in her description. Seems to me that if you’re going to paint a memorial of sorts to a person you really care about and not just someone you’re using as a convenient symbol, you should make sure to verify any facts you are claiming about them, especially simple things like age that aren’t at all in dispute.