Clickbait: The cash, flaws and ethics of “revealing” Banksy

September 3rd, 2016 | By | No Comments »

Banksy unmasked

Editor’s note: This guest post is by Peter Bengtsen, one of just a handful of academics worldwide whose research focuses on street art, and I highly recommend his book The Street Art World. – RJ

Back in March 2016, Vandalog published a post that questions why anyone would want to learn the identity of Banksy. In the post, RJ Rushmore echoed the sentiments of David Choe by commenting that focusing on who the artist is “misses the point of Banksy, like watching a magic show from side stage while someone whispers in your ear how every trick is done”, and he stated that “[n]o good comes from trying to reveal Banksy’s identity, or wondering who Banksy is”. In the decade I have been studying street art academically, I have found this attitude to be very common among members of what I call the street art world, and it is one I happen to largely agree with.

The media have of course been attempting to find out who is behind the Banksy moniker for a long time. The latest attempt, published by Mail Online on 1 September 2016, suggests that the artist may be a member of a famous British music group or perhaps is a group of people working together as one persona. While media speculation about Banksy’s identity is nothing new, the avalanche in March of news stories about the ostensible uncovering of the artist’s identity – which most likely prompted David Choe to write his text – stands out because it was a result of the publication of an academic article in Journal of Spatial Science. In this article, a group of researchers presented the results of a geographic profiling study in which they had paired clusters of artworks attributed to Banksy with addresses associated with a named individual who they presented as their prime suspect for being the anonymous artist. Basically, by finding correlations between the clusters of artworks and the addresses, the researchers seemingly substantiated previous tabloid speculation about the identity of Banksy. The media, unsurprisingly, jumped on the story and repeated the name given by the researchers in the article. This was highly problematic, not only for the person being “outed” as Banksy, but also for scholars who are relying on the confidence of members of the street art world in order to do their research.

In addition to the commonsense-based critique, which has been put forward by David Choe, RJ Rushmore and many other members of the street art world, that it is simply wrong to expose an artist who has chosen to work anonymously, it is worth noting that the geographic profiling study seems to be characterised by a number of fundamental methodological flaws and ethical issues. I have described these in more detail in the freely available article Hijacking Banksy: using a contemporary art mystery to increase academic readership, but to name one example, it is a problem that the geographic profiling study focuses on just one candidate for being Banksy. With no other cases to compare their results to, the researchers openly admit in their article that it is “difficult” to make any definitive conclusions about Banksy’s identity.

Banksy revealed

Given the lack of conclusive evidence produced by the study, I find it odd (and highly ethically unsound) that the researchers are still comfortable with publishing the name of the person they have been investigating. While one of the researchers suggested on Twitter that making public the name of the suspect is not an ethical problem because the name has previously been put forward by a national English tabloid newspaper and has subsequently been repeated on thousands of websites, this line of reasoning is clearly flawed. There is, or at least there should be, a significant difference between the expectations we have for the quality of the content of tabloid press stories and academic articles.

So why would the researchers choose to include the name without solid evidence? I can only speculate, but as this segment on the news satire show Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver points out, researchers are in sharp competition for funding, and this increasingly seems to lead to sensationalism within academia, be it in the research itself, the way it is presented to the public, or both. It is no secret that the level of international media exposure the researchers have gained by naming their suspect for being Banksy could be a factor when funding bodies are going to decide where to place their money. Playing the sensationalist card is certainly one way of getting ahead in the race for future funding (at least in the short term), even if it happens at the cost of academic integrity and at the expense of named individuals and the community of street art researchers at large.

Screenshots by Peter Bengtsen


Category: Art News, Guest 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.”

Read the rest of this article »


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

Can you copyright graffiti? We’re about to find out

April 21st, 2016 | By | 1 Comment »
Rime's artwork (left) and a suit by Moschino (right)

Rime’s artwork (left) and a suit by Moschino (right)

Last year, the fashion designer Jeremy Scott quite obviously appropriated artwork by Rime for a capsule collection with the brand Moschino. The collection got a fair amount of attention when Katy Perry wore one of the dresses at the Met Gala, and Rime decided to sue Scott and Moschino for using his work (and his name, in the form of tags on other clothing in the collection).

This week, Moschino and Scott’s lawyers filed paperwork arguing that the lawsuit cannot possibly go forward. Why? Because graffiti cannot possibly be copyrighted. They say, “As a matter of public policy and basic logic, it would make no sense to grant legal protection to work that is created entirely illegally.”

First of all, it’s not entirely clear that the work was painted without permission, so that argument could be rendered moot pretty quickly. But part of me hopes that Rime’s Vandal Eyes was painted illegally, because that will be an interesting question for a court to take up.

In Australia, graffiti is protected by copyright, even if it was painted illegally. Enforcing that copyright can get tricky though, since the artist could still be arrested for vandalism. Why wouldn’t similar protections apply in the United States?

We’ll have the answer soon enough. Rime’s lawsuit is set to move forward in May.

HT to Brooklyn Street Art for spotting this story, and The Fashion Law for their more detailed article about it.

Photo from The Fashion Law


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Saving Banksy? A film about taking street pieces off the wall

April 18th, 2016 | By | 1 Comment »
Still from Saving Banksy

Still from Saving Banksy

This week, a curious film will premier at the Nashville Film Festival: Saving Banksy, a documentary about the legality, politics, and ethics of removing street art from the street, and what happens once you have a giant unauthenticated Banksy sitting in your garage. I’m curious to see how this turns out. If anyone is in Nashville this week and sees the film, let me know what you think. In the mean time, here’s the trailer:

For now, I’ll just add one thought about stealing/saving street art from the elements and the buff. Removing art off the street is a lot like an art theft. And not just because you’re stealing work from public view.

There’s a funny thing about art thefts: Usually, it’s not an inside job. Truth is, the heists are generally orchestrated by people who don’t quite know what they’re stealing. They just know it’s supposed to be valuable. Maybe they steal a painting that could be worth millions if it were sold legitimately at Sotheby’s. Except that stolen art is worth barely a fraction of non-stolen art, but stealing, transporting, and storing the art can be expensive.

Similarly, chopping up a wall to “save” a Banksy isn’t cheap. And then you have to ship it. And store it. And ship it again to where it might go on display. And to the buyer (if there is one). All the while, the vast majority of collectors would rather buy an authenticated painting than an unauthenticated piece with a shady history. Just because a giant authenticated Banksy canvas can go for $1,000,000 doesn’t mean that a similar street piece can be sold to anyone for any price. But by the time anyone figures that out, it’s too late. The piece is already off the wall and in private hands.

From what I’ve heard, Stealing Banksy touches on a similar point, which should be interesting to see play out on camera.

Still from the Stealing Banksy trailer


Category: Art News, Videos | Tags: ,

John Fekner on Blu, Bologna, and the nature of street art

March 17th, 2016 | By | 1 Comment »
Once the site of a mural by Blu in Bologna, now buffed by Blu and his team. Photo from blublu.org.

Once the site of a mural by Blu in Bologna, now buffed by Blu and his team. Photo from blublu.org.

Last week, we covered Blu‘s protest in Bologna, where he and a team of helpers buffed out all of his murals in the city (and some now face legal issues as a result). They were protesting an exhibition, Street Art – Banksy & Co., which includes murals by Blu that were removed off the streets of Bologna and are being exhibited against his wishes. I called on people to boycott the exhibition. However, the response from the street art community has been more mixed, with many supporting Blu, and others suggesting that Blu has acted like a petulant child. The exhibition opens today, so we’ll soon see how the public responds, and (as the show’s lead curator Christian Omodeo insists we hold our breath for) what the controversial mural remnants look like in the museum.

In the meantime, John Fekner, whose work is included in Banksy & Co. (as is the work of his long-time collaborator Don Leicht), reached out and shared his reactions with Vandalog. Fekner is a key historical figure in street art, a pioneer as a stencil artist with an unimpeachable record as a political artist and an artist’s artist.

John Fekner

John Fekner’s Slow Down Children Growing (right) and Burning Tech, Factory & John Wayne Cowboy tagged on Barbara Kruger Billboard. Spray paint & stencil, London England 1988. Photo courtesy of John Fekner/Artangel.

From Fekner:

  • Whether you stole a pencil from your schoolmate, or a lover from your best friend, or a stapler from work, the cold-hearted facts remain: everyone steals. We exist in a confusing and twisted reality of unscrupulous financial gain and artistic theft.
  • If you create rock, punk, rap or any other type of music, there’s no way of stopping some Muzak elevator-friendly dispirited interpretation of your original rebellious music.
  • If you originally aspired to be an underground artist; then just stay underground. Similarly, if you’re a musician, don’t get pissed off if a fan asks you to sign a copy of your cutout vinyl album that they bought for a buck or less.
  • In the 80s, low brow thieves literally ripped Keith Haring’s chalk drawings from subway advertising spaces and entrepreneurial high brow scoundrels ripped off New York City urban kids’ graffiti sketches for pennies.
  • The bottom line is: what’s done in public-doesn’t remain in public. There’s no protection for artists who trespass. It’s the chance one take outdoors.
  • If you create illegal art murals, street rules are always in effect:
    1) You can’t stop a drunk in the middle of the night from pissing on your wall.
    2) You can’t stop a bulldozer from razing your work.
    3) You can’t stop a neighborhood anti-graffiti squad from painting over your work.
    4) You can’t stop a well-dressed thief in a suit, or their hired slug with a chisel, from removing your wall work and hauling it off to their lair, garage, museum or art market.
  • Under any circumstances, don’t immediately and irrationally react. If your original aspirations were to be an artist- then just do what you were meant to do: be an artist. Don’t double shift and be a night watchman patrolling the streets to try and thwart thieves of your work. Unique temporary outdoor creations engendered a public conversation that includes everyone: art lovers and art haters, lowbrow and highbrow, and everyone who interacts with your public work.
  • If you analyze and then destroy your creations; that’s an overreaction. Courageous? Yes. But it goes beyond your original spirit, freedom and joy of creating your work. It might potentially backfire and flame unquenchable desires for something else: more acceptance, more branding, more visibility, more publicity, more interviews, more legendary status, etc. It’s tricky.
  • The rip-off and resale of an artist’s artwork continues long after the artist is gone. If the artist doesn’t erase it in his/her lifetime, there’s a good chance that the corrupt art world of bankers, developers, board of directors, scholars, academicians, curators or art history itself, will erase you.

Photos courtesy of Blu and John Fekner/Artangel


Category: Art News, Guest Posts | Tags: ,

The Grey Revolt: Blu and friends return Bologna’s walls to the public, with buff

March 12th, 2016 | By | 2 Comments »
Blu's work being buffed in Bologna, Italy

Blu’s work being buffed in Bologna, Italy

Fuck the buff! Fuck the theft, love the buff!

Because Bologna’s wealthiest citizens and the powers-that-be cannot be trusted with street art, Blu and a crew of volunteers are in the process of buffing all of his murals in Bologna, Italy. Next week, a detestable exhibition opens in Bologna that will include chopped up murals by Blu and other street artists. The artists did not consent to the removal of their work, and, at least in Blu’s case, they are not happy about having it mangled and exhibited out of context. It also doesn’t help that the exhibition is backed by a large bank and shady Bologna power-brokers. In response, Blu has organized a mass buffing to remove all of his work, 20 years worth, from Bologna’s streets.

Blu has buffed his own work before, when property developers in Berlin were using his mural to sell condos. That was one mural. This time, it’s every one of his murals in an entire city. And it makes sense. Blu’s murals art anti-state, anti-bank, environmentalist, anti-capitalist, pro-activist… certainly not made to make bankers and career politicians look good. To remove these murals and exhibit them in this exhibition is to completely upend their meaning and importance. It’s a disgrace.

The must-read full story of what’s happening in Bologna, as well as the political context of the mural and the exhibition, including the can be found here. A few choice quotes from that article:

This exhibition will embellish and legitimise the hoarding of art taken off the street, which is only going to please unscrupled collectors and merchants.

This “street art” exhibition is representative of a model of urban space that we must fight, a model based on private accumulation which commodifies life and creativity for the profits of the usual few people.

After having denounced and criminalised graffiti as vandalism, after having oppressed the youth culture that created them, after having evacuated the places which functioned as laboratories for those artists, now Bologna’s powers-that-be pose as the saviours of street art.

The people who take this action don’t accept that yet another shared asset is appropriated, they don’t want yet another enclosure and a ticket to buy.

On his blog, Blu has written a brief statement about the buffing: “In Bologna, there is no more Blu, and there will be no more while the tycoons speculate [on street art]. For acknowledgments or complaints, you know who to contact.”

Online, the international street art community has largely been echoing Blu’s statement and supporting the mass buffing:

  • Andreco, who helped buff Blu’s murals, said, “Deciding which wall to paint or not paint has always been one of our free choice. This operation, to uncork the walls and move them elsewhere, oversteps this freedom.”
  • Living Walls’ Mónica Campana said, “It’s been a fun ride y’all, but this is over.”
  • Nuart’s Martyn Reed said, “Go Blu,” and called the action “one of Street’s Art’s most audacious and important moves in recent times.”

Blu’s mass-buffing is unfortunate, but admirable and necessary. The murals will be missed, but his action helps ensure that Bologna’s public spaces are for the people of Bologna, not the profit of Bologna’s elite. Bologna’s curators and elites deserve only grey walls. Bologna’s people deserve this massive reset button, which returns public space to the public and creates an opportunity for the next generation counter-cultural content.

As fans, the only respectable action is to support Blu and the people of Bologna by boycotting the Museo della Storia di Bologna’s “street art exhibition.”

Photo by Andreco


Category: Art News, Featured Posts | Tags: ,

Another London “art dealer” chops up a mural

January 27th, 2016 | By | 1 Comment »
finished

Photo courtesy of Stik.

London-based street artist Stik is internationally known for painting cute stick figures that just generally make people smile. It’s a harmless bit of good that he does. Sometimes he even collaborates with kids in the towns where he paints. He’s the most heartwarming kind of muralist. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that Stik used his art career to lift himself out of homelessness. Who would ever do something to mess with Stik?

Andrew

Andrew Lamberty. Photo from lamberty.co.uk.

Meet Andrew Lamberty, founder of Lamberty Antiques. His Twitter profile says that he sells “James Bond furniture for the discerning villain.” He has decided to mess with Stik.

The Institute of Art and Law Blog has a good explanation of the story up to this point. It goes something like this:

  • Back in 2011, Stik painted two murals on shipping containers in Gdańsk, Poland.
  • The murals were commissioned by the Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art in Gdańsk, and were a painted in collaboration with 10 local young people.
  • In late 2014, the containers disappeared. Later, it was discovered the owner had sold them for only $4,000. That’s approximately market rate for two standard shipping containers without murals on them, suggesting that nobody in Gdańsk was aware of what was about to happen.
  • In October 2015, 10 pieces of the containers reappeared (representing 16 out of the 53 figures originally in the murals), chopped up and on display at Lamberty’s gallery in London. The asking price was £10,000-12,000 per section.
  • Initially, Lamberty’s website include the claim that “All of Stik’s street works that come into Lamberty are fully approved by the artist.” This was not true, and is still not true.
  • In late October, Lamberty posted a statement on their website about the situation. As hard as they might try, it does not make Lamberty look good. Some choice quotes from that statement:
    • “Lamberty legally purchased these works with full documentation. We removed them from a harsh outdoor climate, where they were deteriorating, and prepared them for indoor instalment.”
    • “Lamberty has requested that Stik recognise and endorse the removal of these pieces – in exchange we have offered to return the works over decorated by local children for the enjoyment or benefit of the local school community.” You read that right: Lamberty is holding some of the Gdańsk segments hostage, and his price is that Stik authenticates other Gdańsk segments for Lamberty to then sell.
  • Today, in January, Stik is still fighting to get the works back from Lamberty and stop the sale of the mutilated and unauthenticated mural.

So here’s how the situation appears to me: A scumbag went to Poland, bought a community mural from a private owner, mutilated that mural by chopping it into little pieces, tried to sell those little pieces for a profit, got caught being a scumbag, and finally decided to make everything better (read: save his detestable investment) by trying to pressure a kindhearted artist into sullying his reputation and authenticating inauthentic artworks.

The current state of the shipping containers. Photo courtesy of Stik.

The current state of the shipping containers. Photo courtesy of Stik.

But what makes these Lamberty pieces inauthentic? Assuming these pieces are the shipping container that Stik painting, they were once Stik murals. And now they are not. How? By chopping them up, Lamberty has irrevocably changed the meaning of the artwork. What was once a message of solidarity (50-odd people holding hands) is broken apart into lonely, separated people. Only a fool would call that the same artwork. What is Guernica if you only see the oil lamp? What is The Great Gatsby if you only read page 103? Therefore, these works are not authentic Stik paintings (at least not anymore than someone trying to sell you page 103 of The Great Gatsby is selling you a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald). This is moral rights 101.

Lamberty’s defense, that he paid for the shipping containers before cutting them up, is like saying that it’s okay to own a stolen car, as long as you paid someone to steal it for you. Oh, and then you cut that stolen car into 53 pieces and tried to sell each of piece separately as one fully-functional new car. And then you tell the car’s original owner than you’ll return half pieces, but only if they will tell the police that nothing was stolen in the first place.

It’s time for Lamberty to do the right thing. He should immediately return every piece of the Gdańsk shipping containers to Stik or to the people of Gdańsk. He should also pay for Stik to paint a new mural in Gdańsk. If Lamberty won’t do that, he and his gallery need to shut up and stop pretending to have the moral high ground here.

As for the rest of us, we just need to keep one thing in mind: Buying unauthenticated street pieces is not okay, and the people who sell street pieces tend to be shady, even by art dealer standards. Why deal with with shady people? Support your favorite artists by buying direct from them or the galleries that represent them. It’s really that simple.

Photos courtesy of Stik and from lamberty.co.uk


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

Saying goodbye to Vandalog contributor Laura Patricia Calle

November 28th, 2015 | By | No Comments »

Laura

This week, we at Vandalog lost a friend and colleague, as well as one of the most promising (and already accomplished) public art advocates in the United States. Laura Patricia Calle passed away this week at the age of 26. In addition to being a Contributing Writer on Vandalog, Laura was a long-time volunteer staff member for Living Walls in Atlanta (most recently as Programming Director). For Vandalog, Laura brought a fresh voice as a champion of South American street art and muralism. In Atlanta, well, she was an integral part of the Living Walls family for as long as I’ve been visiting the conference.

Atlanta’s alt-weekly Creative Loafing has their own article about Laura, which includes an inspiring Facebook post from Laura about the way she lived her life.

Atlanta won’t be the same without her, but Laura’s legacy lives on on the walls of the city and in the hearts of the artists, arts advocates, and friends spread out from Columbia to Paris, and everywhere in between.

Photo from Laura’s Facebook


Category: Art News, Site News | Tags:

Helping people is complicated, especially if you’re a famous street artist or an art collector

November 19th, 2015 | By | 1 Comment »
28 Millimeters, Women Are Heroes. Action in Kibera Slum, General View, Kenya, 2009. Photo by JR.

28 Millimeters, Women Are Heroes. Action in Kibera Slum, General View, Kenya, 2009. Photo by JR.

Helping people is difficult. Recently, I heard a completely logical and sincere argument that “empowering” people is a colonialist concept. So what’s a caring person to do? Donate to the Red Cross? If you’re a street artist looking to use your art and resources to skip over that middlemen and effect change directly, it can get even more complicated. That’s what Banksy and JR have discovered this fall.

Earlier this month, we mentioned that supplies from Dismaland were sent to Calais, where they were used to cloth and house refugees. Then, some aid workers stole Banksy’s “Dismal aid” sign. Okay, admittedly, the sign wasn’t essential to as a shelter, but it spoke to the situation and helped raise awareness for the plight of migrants in Calais. So it did serve a purpose. What’s next? Will aid workers start stealing the spare Dismaland shirts and hoodies that were distributed to the refugees? I guess those could go on eBay. Undoubtedly, Banksy and his team were doing good in Calais, and with minimal fanfare. But aid workers are claiming that Banksy was just there for the publicity, which is a pretty ridiculous claim. I mean, Dismaland had already gotten its fair share of press. If this was about attention, shouldn’t Banksy have just put up a stencil in central London or something? That seems like it would have been a lot easier than building shelters in a foreign country.

JR seems to be facing a similar problem with a project of his from back in 2009: His Women Are Heroes installation in Kibera, Kenya, shown above. For that action, JR photographed women in Kibera and printed their portraits onto vinyl sheets, which were then installed as roofing material on a few of the homes in the slum. You might think that it was a clever method of creating art for an international audience while simultaneously providing a much-needed service to the local community. Or you could see Kibera as a gold mine to be exploited.

The charity Water Is Life sent a team (accompanied by a film crew) to Kibera to “steal” (actually it was done with permission) a piece of JR’s work and put a new roof in its place. The idea was that they could take these JR pieces, bring them to the United States, and sell them for a lot of money, which would then go into funding Water Is Life’s work.

They made this snazzy video about the whole thing (Water Is Life actually removed the video from their own account for unknown reasons, but other copies are available online):

Okay, so, aside from referring to the residents of Kibera the “mark” in this “heist” and the generally murky ethics of selling work from the street, I think I can acknowledge there is the seed of a good idea here: Build better roofs for people who need them, and make money for water projects while you do it. Great.

Unfortunately, things went a little pear-shaped. The printed tarp that was sold for about $10,000 at Julien’s Auctions probably isn’t actually by JR. According to the Guardian:

“After his initial installation six years ago, JR formed a foundation, which continues to add new tarpaulins to uncovered houses in Kibera. These later works feature photographs shot by local kids. JR says the piece Deutsch auctioned was not by him, but is instead one of these later prints, by a young, unknown Kenyan.”

Also in the Guardian, JR points out that the ethics and practical implications of selling the work aren’t quite so rosy as Water Is Life would like to have you believe. For one thing, Water Is Life is trying to create a market for JR street pieces out of Kibera, and they are saying it’s a million dollar market. If residents suddenly believe, rightly or wrongly, that their roofs are worth a million dollars, that could create absolute chaos. And then there’s the question of whether Water Is Life is exploiting these residents by giving them pennies on the dollar for products that the charity will then go out and sell to fund Water Is Life’s own projects. Finally, the whole idea of going and taking these JR pieces seems to imply that the work JR did in Kibera was basically frivolous, but that Water Is Life’s work is valuable.

It’s all very strange. JR tries to do something good, and then a charity swoops in to disrupt his work and exploit the people he was trying to help. Now, JR says he might have to stop working in Kibera. What if this same problem spreads to other places where he has worked, as it has with the removal of Banksy’s work from the street?

So if you see Water Is Life trying to sell a tarp out of Kibera, buyer beware. It might not be what you think it is, and it’s only because art collectors create demand for street pieces that they have any possible value. Plus, the artist that you’re such a fan of? He doesn’t support your purchase. Is there a million dollars worth of art sitting in a Kenyan slum? Only if we all decide that there is.

Update – November 20th, 2015: One more story should have been included in this post. So here it is… London-based street artist Stik is facing similar troubles to JR, except this case seems even more clear-cut. No surprise: The villain is a posh art gallery. A public mural that Stik painted years ago with children in Poland has been sliced up and shipped to the UK to be sold. If the pieces do sell, it could disrupt Stik’s market for legitimate studio works, which isn’t so great when you’re trying to make a living. So now, an artist like Stik has to wonder: Should I be painting murals if they could later be resold? And what of the children who helped paint the piece, and the local town that enjoyed it? So yeah, doing good for people is complicated once shady art dealers get involved.

Photo by JR


Category: Art News | Tags: , ,

Dancing in the street with London Kaye

September 23rd, 2015 | By | 5 Comments »

London kaye

London Kaye, whose work I would usually ignore because it is more boring and derivative than The Cleveland Show, has become an accidental symbol for street art’s role as a gentrifying force. Oddly enough, she seems to be okay with that, even embracing it her newfound position as the symbol of white hipsterdom steam-cleaning the longstanding culture out of Bushwick.

A yarnbomb that Kaye put up on the wall of a Bushwick home has gained national attention because A. She didn’t ask the Salvadorian property owner and resident of the building for permission, B. She did ask the anti-immigrant white guy who runs a flea market in the lot next door for permission, C. Kaye’s piece depicts two little white girls and a boy from a Wes Anderson film, and D. She’s been at best naive and at worst unapologetic and taunting in her response to feedback that her work is rubbing residents and the property owner the wrong way.

The Gothamist has the full story, including an interview with Will Giron, the nephew of the property owner. Giron put the situation most succinctly: “I don’t feel like London was doing anything malicious. I truly believe that from the bottom of my heart. At the same time though, that’s a lack of awareness of your own privilege. If any black or Latino person were to do what London did, we’d have to worry about being bashed by the cops.”

What’s happened to Kaye could happen to almost any well-meaning street artist these days, but I have no sympathy for her. Of course, gentrification is a process that takes place (and in which I am a participant in my own neighborhood), and it’s not Kaye’s fault that graffiti writers are sent to prison and people of color are beaten and killed by police, she is literally dancing in the street after using a nailgun on someone’s home without permission. Kaye seems almost gleeful in the way that she has embraced her role as a symbol for white privilege and an active participant in claiming Bushwick for a gentrifying community. It’s an embarrassment to the potential of street art. Caroline Caldwell hits the nail on the head: “London Kaye is so up her own ass with the idea that she’s beautifying the world through street art that she’s missing the larger context of her work.”

Of course, you might say that Kaye was just doing some illegal street art, and should be applauded in a culture of muralism. Illegal street art is one thing, but what Kaye did here was ask permission of the white guy in the room, ignore the property owners, and then defend her actions while taunting her critics.

Kaye completely deserves her inevitable future selling a “street art inspired” clothing line on QVC alongside Paula Deen.

Photo from London Kaye’s Facebook


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