RJ Rushmore has been involved in contemporary art as a writer, curator, photographer, arts administrator, and fan since 2008. With a focus on street art, graffiti, and public art, RJ facilitates and promotes catalytic and ambitious art outdoors, in galleries, and online. He founded the street art blog Vandalog and has worked at The L.I.S.A. Project NYC, Mural Arts Philadelphia, and Creative Time. Currently, RJ is Co-Curator of Art in Ad Places.
As just about anyone reading Vandalog will know, Banksy has opened up a hotel in Bethlehem, Palestine. The Walled Off Hotel has “the worst view of any hotel in the world,” with rooms looking out onto the illegal separation wall that Israel has built in the West Bank.
When the project was first announced, I was eager to hop on the first flight available and spend a week in Palestine. After all, when Banksy says to show up somewhere, it’s a good idea to show up. But I was reminded that perhaps it was a bit silly to visit Bethlehem just because Banksy’s got some art up there. That was a fair point, and then a dozen other real-life considerations started to make the whole thing feel impractical. So, on a personal level, perhaps I’m living on a boring life and I’d just rather pay my rent on time than have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
But on a broader level: That’s the whole question of the hotel, right? Should someone travel half way around the world to see a Banksy installation in Palestine? To what extent is going to The Walled Off Hotel “slum tourism” or its opposite (is there a phrase for visiting a country or a neighborhood for the sake of visiting a tourist attraction instead of experiencing the everyday of the place, like flying to the gated-off Mar-a-Lago and saying you’ve seen Palm Beach)? Is Banksy exploiting a situation or helping the local economy and bringing press attention to an under-reported and deeply-worrying situation?
I’m tempted to lean in Banksy’s favor here. He’s not an idiot. He knows that, as he’s done before, working in Palestine will give press attention to the situation there. He knows that people will fly to wherever he puts on a project (as I’ve done before). And, as is the case with so much of Banksy’s work, the question then becomes how the audiences reacts, and that’s largely on them. Which is why it was so encouraging when I saw a “review” of The Wall Off Hotel by my friend Doug from Fifth Wall TV. Check it out:
Well Doug, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I think that’s the way to experience The Walled Off Hotel. Actually, now you’ve made me want to visit again…
At first, graffiti writers wrote on walls to get their names up. Then, they wrote on trains because those trains traveled all over the city, and got their names up all over. Soon, they started snapping photos and mailing those photos to friends in other cities, to get their names known there. That evolved into zines and books, and the culture (and certain names) spread even further. All the while, styles of writing evolved to fit those new communication tools. And then the internet came along. #ViralVandals, an exhibition open now at MU artspace in Eindhoven, considers how graffiti writers have responded to the internet, social media, VR, and other new technologies. It’s a familiar question for me, as it was also the inspiration for my book Viral Art.
It’s exciting for me to see curators Jasper van Es & Good Guy Boris thinking about some of the questions that I looked for Viral Art, and to see how they see the scene having evolved in the years since Viral Art was published. Plus, their focus is more on graffiti while mine was on street art. Which is all to say, I’ve been looking forward to seeing #ViralVandals since I first heard about the idea for it, almost a year ago.
I just want to take a moment to applaud Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Jessica Sabogal, and Melinda James for their When Women Disrupt tour, where Tatyana and Jessica traveled through California, Arizona, New Mexico installing a series of bold murals (with Melinda documenting the process). The tour wrapped up this week, and these three women pulled no punches in their work. Here’s some more about the tour from The Root:
New Yorkers have been seeing a fresh influx of work by GATS this past week. He’s one of my favorite Oakland writers/artists, so it was exciting to see him in town to work with my friends at Spoke Art NYC and The L.I.S.A. Project NYC.
GATS provided a fresh update to one of my favorite rotating walls along Mulberry Street for The L.I.S.A. Project NYC (see above). Not an easy wall to photograph, so it’s especially worth checking out in person.
A hand-painted ad takeover also appeared in Brooklyn. Maybe it’s still there? Let’s hope so, but the lifespan on these things doesn’t tend to be all that long.
And of course there’s the project that brought GATS to town: Against The Grain, his solo show at Spoke Art. Great use of found materials, and as well as techniques like pyrography. Against The Grain is open through June 25th at Spoke’s location on the Lower East Side.
As much I’ve enjoyed the anti-Trump stickers that have been making up a healthy portion of my Instagram posts lately, they’re pretty basic: Trump sucks. We get it. New York agrees (except for maybe that one asshole putting up Infowars stickers in my neighborhood). I enjoy those stickers, but what I’d love to see some work that goes a bit deeper into the issues that Trump represents.
Luckily, there’s Alexandra Bell. Her new series of posters smacks you in the face, highlighting the everyday racism that was hiding in plain sight even before the age of “Trump’s America.” Bell has been putting her journalism degree to work critiquing articles from The New York Times to highlight the implicit bias in their stories, headlines, and page layout.
She starts with a real page layout from The New York Times, and redacts, critiques, or remakes the page to remove or highlight the paper’s implicit racial bias. Would Michael Brown have been referred to as “A Teenager Grappling with Problems and Promise” if he were white? Why was a major article about Brown given equal billing as an article about his killer? Why was Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s photo used below and article about the four white American swimmers who got caught vandalizing a Rio gas station?
Bell’s posters have been appearing across NYC, in the subways and on the street, and they’ve provoked differentreactions. At first look, they may be confusing, and that’s also why they’re so powerful. These alternative versions of the Times give a glimpse into a different reality, and in doing so highlight the racism still present in ours, even in supposedly liberal and culturally sensitive publications like The New York Times. It’s some of the best street art I’ve seen all year.
Sad news to report: Very Nearly Almost, the UK’s premier magazine covering street art/graffiti/muralism…, is shutting down after 10 years.
VNA was an early inspiration for me when Vandalog was just starting out. I would devour their interviews. VNA privileged the voice of the artist, publishing in-depth interviews with street art superstars like Shepard Fairey, as well as people who probably don’t get quite the same chances to take deep dives exploring their work. A few times, I’ve been fortunate to contribute to VNA as an interviewer. Actually, an interview with Case for VNA might have been the first time that someone else published my work.
The community around VNA, a community of contributing writers, photographers, and even artists who collaborated on limited edition covers, is a testament to the importance of the magazine and the genuine love and excitement with which the VNA team approached their work.
This time around, the film stars the writers Avoid, Smells, and Wolftits playing alternative versions of themselves in a post-apocalyptic dreamworld. The trio, fueled by beer and weed, spend their days searching out the next spot to catch a tag and chasing traces of the God-like writer UFO. Other writers, mostly members of 907 crew or closely associated with the crew, make cameos too. But what makes Wastedland 2 a must-see is the immersive installation that accompanies some of the screenings, where Shirley and his team transform venues into mini-Wastedlands. Attendees get a film screening, plus an art exhibition to set the vibe.
Pat Perry‘s latest mural really is stunning. On Instagram, Pat captioned the work, “trying to keep the vision during these unraveling times.” We do have to keep trying, whatever the odds, and I love that Pat has referenced the importance not just of science, but also of art, craft, and creativity in preserving and replenishing our natural environment.
As an aside, Sea Walls is an especially interesting mural project in a sea of mediocrity and artwashing. All of their murals take on a pro-environment theme, with a particular focus on oceans. Sea Walls murals have gone up around the world, most recently in Napier, New Zealand, where Pat Perry painted his mural. So far as mural festivals go, it’s a nice model. The same team could just as easily travel the world, going to whatever town wants some pretty pictures on whatever warehouse district is being “revitalized”, commissioning artists to paint whatever the hell they want. So, within the parachuting-artist model of muralism, I’ve got to give credit to Sea Walls for at least basing their work in useful and important content.
Many artists are feeling betrayed this week, as they realize that their art has been used without their permission in a McDonald’s advertisement, apparently thanks to the cooperation of The Bushwick Collective‘s Joe Ficalora.
As first noted by Brooklyn Street Art, McDonald’s new ad campaign for the “New York Bagel Supreme” (a burger/bagel hybrid launching in the Netherlands) centers on “the vibe of Bushwick.” They got that local flavor from The Bushwick Collective, one of New York’s more well-known mural projects. A cornerstone of the campaign is a 4-minute advertisement (UPDATE: McDonald’s appears to have taken the advertisement offline, but we’ve uploaded a copy to Facebook) with Bushwick Collective founder Joe Ficalora giving a tour to highlight his project’s collection of murals. Except… At least two of the murals in the ad aren’t even Bushwick Collective murals (despite what is implied) and at least five artists whose work is featured did not give their permission for McDonald’s to use their work.
McDonald’s just teamed up with the Gentrifying Bushwick Collective to exploit street art in Brooklyn to sell Burgers in Netherlands. This will not stand. They did not get my permission to use my work in their psuedo doc and the mural is NOT part of the Bushwick Collective. PERIOD