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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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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Placement makes perfect

April 20th, 2016 | By | No Comments »
Os Gemeos in Milan. Photo by Os Gemeos.

Os Gemeos in Milan. Photo by Os Gemeos.

It’s no secret that good placement can make or break a piece or street art or a mural. That can mean picking the perfect place to install an artwork, or responding to the space that’s available and making something that takes that space into consideration. Think of it this way: Site-specific should mean the work is in some way specific to a site, not simply located at a site. And when art is site-specific, it can make a big difference. Recently, some artists practicing good placement have really caught my eye. Here are a few examples:

1. Os Gemeos in Milan (above): Wow. Milan is a lucky city right now, with a spectacular new mural by Os Gemeos, facilitated by Pirelli HangarBicocca. Responding to the shape of the site, Os Gemeos took a drab building and transformed it into a massive subway car. Os Gemeos’ murals are always a treat, but they knocked it out of the park with this one.

Invader in London. Photo by Butterfly.

Invader in London. Photo by Butterfly.

2. Invader in London: Simple, but effective, placing his mosaics around a CCTV camera. In some ways, quintessentially London.

Biancoshock in Milan. Photo by Biancoshock.

Biancoshock in Milan. Photo by Biancoshock.

3. Biancoshock in Milan: This series form Biancoshock seems to have really caught people’s attention on social media. I’ve been seeing these photos posted everywhere, so if you’re reading this, they probably aren’t new to you. But why are they so popular? Yes, I have a tiny apartment and can appreciate the joke too. But I think it’s more than that. Placement is an essential part of these pieces. If Biancoshock had made small rooms as sculpture for a gallery, or painted a tiny apartment on a wall, it wouldn’t have worked quite so well. It’s that he took a space and make work inspired by the location that simultaneously transformed the location.


Exercise Of Anamorphosis #2 by Elian. Photo by Elian.

4. Elian in Ostend with Exercise Of Anamorphosis #2: What happens when you get to a mural festival and you’re told that you aren’t painting a flat wall, but rather two walls of a building without a lot of flat surfaces? For some artists, this could trip them up. Or they could still treat the surface like they are applying wallpaper, and it would probably work out okay. But Elian went a step further, creating an optical illusion that messes with your perspective. He took something that could have been a weakness (an odd wall), and he made it a strength.

eL Seed in Cairo. Photo by eL Seed.

eL Seed in Cairo. Photo by eL Seed.

5. eL Seed in Cairo, for his Perception series: eL Seed painted this mural across dozens of buildings in Cairo, Egypt. It’s painted in a marginalized neighborhood in Cairo, where the residents are written off by the rest of the city as dirty because many of them are trash collectors. eL Seed’s text reads, “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.”

Photos by eL Seed, Butterfly, Biancoshock, Elian

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Murals for Bernie Sanders

April 17th, 2016 | By | 1 Comment »
Nick Kuszyk's Bernie Sanders mural in Greenpoint. Photo courtesy of Nick Kuszyk.

Nick Kuszyk’s Bernie Sanders mural in Greenpoint. Photo courtesy of Nick Kuszyk.

Are you feeling the Bern? Artists definitely are. On Saturday night, Bernie Sanders stopped by The Hole in NYC to check out an art exhibition inspired by his campaign. Artists are also taking their love of Bernie to the street, with pro-Bernie murals popping up in Philadelphia and NYC (and probably other cities too, so let us know if you’ve seen others). Here’s a bit of what’s been going up…

Nick Kuszyk has painted two murals in Brooklyn. One (above) welcoming Bernie back to his hometown in anticipation of the New York primary (takes place on Tuesday!), and one highlighting Sanders’ commitments to criminal justice reform.

Nick Kuszyk for Bernie Sanders. Photo courtesy of Nick Kuszyk.

Nick Kuszyk for Bernie Sanders. Photo courtesy of Nick Kuszyk.

In Philadelphia, things started small. Brooks Bell painted a modest pro-Bernie mural on a candy store back in December. And then last month, Conrad Benner of StreetsDept brought together Old Broads and Distort for a huge mural that has quickly become a local icon.

Mural and photo by Brooks Bell.

Mural and photo by Brooks Bell.

Old Broads and Distort in Philadelphia. Photo by Conrad Benner.

Old Broads and Distort in Philadelphia. Photo by Conrad Benner.

And now, with just days until New York’s primary, a team of street artists, muralists, and graffiti writers came together for a bold Bernie mural in the Bronx. The piece was organized by Garrison Buxton and Alan Ket, designed by Noah McDonough, and painted by Garrison Buxton, Ces, DOC Tc5, Ewok One, John Fekner, Alan Ket, Noah McDonough, Queen Andrea, Part One, Python, and Rath.

Bernie in the Bronx. Photo courtesy of Garrison Buxton.

Bernie in the Bronx. Photo courtesy of Garrison Buxton.

New York’s primary is this Tuesday, April 19. Get out and vote (for Bernie)!

Photos courtesy of Nick Kuszyk and Garrison Buxton, and by Brooks Bell and Conrad Benner

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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

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Another London “art dealer” chops up a mural

January 27th, 2016 | By | 1 Comment »

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 Lamberty. Photo from

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

Category: Art News, Featured Posts, Gallery/Museum Shows | Tags: ,’s Street Art Project, curated by Vandalog

November 29th, 2015 | By | 1 Comment »


In December, an eclectic set of seven prints and editioned works from some of the world’s most interesting street artists will go for sale on… Starting December 7th and available for one week only, will be offering new works by Ron English, stikman, Faith47, Gaia, AIKO, Logan Hicks, and Ganzeer. There are three screenprints, one etching, one letterpress, one done entirely with spraypaint and stencils, and one hand-finished giclée. Each artist’s piece is an edition of 50, and the prices range from $200-550. If a lot of the artists in the line up look familiar to regular readers of Vandalog, that’s because I curated the collection.

"After the Starstuff" (detail) by Ganzeer

“After the Starstuff” (detail) by Ganzeer

This is the first time that Amazon has worked with a curator to arrange a series of new works specifically for them. When I was brought into the mix, the idea was pretty open-ended: A series of prints by seven street artists to be released in December. With that in mind, I wanted to capture a small slice of the variety that exists within street art, to show how street art resists being defined by a single style or medium. That’s how we wound up with a collection that ranges from Ganzeer’s subtly dark letterpress print to AIKO’s bold pop art utilizing screenprinting and spaypaint.

"Bunny" (detail) by AIKO

“Bunny” (detail) by AIKO

I think, and I hope you’ll agree, that we’ve put together a suite of seven extraordinary pieces by a broad sampling of some of street art’s finest. You can preview the entire Amazon Street Art Project on The works will be available online starting December 7th.

Photos courtesy of

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Has street art “sold out and gentrified our cities”?

November 12th, 2015 | By | 10 Comments »
The entrance to Wynwood Walls in Miami, Florida. Photo by Osseous.

The entrance to Wynwood Walls in Miami, Florida. Photo by Osseous.

Earlier this week, the online street art community was abuzz about an article by Rafael Schacter for The Conversation, From dissident to decorative: why street art sold out and gentrified our cities. Between the time I left my apartment on Monday morning and when I arrived at work half an hour later, it seemed like a dozen of my friends had shared the article or reacted to it in some way.

Schacter has captured a feeling about street art and contemporary muralism, a nagging fear really, that seems to have been bubbling just beneath the surface for a while now. Basically, Schacter argues that street art isn’t rebellious anymore. Rather, that it’s most notable form is as a tool used by corporations to spur gentrification. Agree or disagree, the article is a must-read.

Rather than go on my own rant responding to Schacter like I would usually do, I reached out to some of the biggest names in street art and muralism for their reactions. A few of them answered. The prompt was pretty open-ended, basically just to share some thoughts after reading the article. Here’s what Buff Monster, Living Walls’ Monica Campana, 1xRun’s Jesse Cory, Jeffrey Deitch, Libray Street Collective’s Matt Eaton, Tristan Eaton, John Fekner, Gaia, Ganzeer, Carlo McCormick, The Painted Desert Project’s Chip Thomas, Jessie Unterhalter, Vexta, and Wall Therapy’s Ian Wilson had to say (with emphasis added)…

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Dismaland: Teenage dream world

September 25th, 2015 | By | No Comments »


Dismaland closes on Sunday, but I’m a slow writer, so I only just finished my review today. Check it out on Hyperallergic.

Photo by RJ Rushmore

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

Shepard Fairey on art, politics, and being a role model

September 16th, 2015 | By | 3 Comments »
Photo courtesy Obey Giant Art via Shepard Fairey

Photo courtesy Obey Giant Art via Shepard Fairey

As the leading American street artist and one of the country’s most recognizable graphic designers, Shepard Fairey himself needs no introduction. But these are strange times for Fairey, and a refresher might be in order. His latest exhibition, On Our Hands at New York City’s Jacob Lewis Gallery, is set to open on Thursday evening. The show tackles the influence of money on politics, the way that legalized bribery has corrupted our democratic system. His new book, Covert to Overt, is due out later this month. The book tackles the influence of money on Fairey’s art, the way he’s fed his ever-growing fame and commercial success back into the work he’s always been doing. He’s on top of the world, or at least the art world. Except that Fairey also standing trial in Detroit for some wheatpastes that the city calls “malicious destruction of a building,” and he could wind up going to prison. So the next few months could really go either way.

Fairey has left an indelible mark on American politics and culture. No matter what happens next, I suspect he’ll continue on that path in one way or another. As he prepares for the opening of On Our Hands, we had the opportunity to ask Fairey a few questions about his career, his place in the art world, and his politics.

RJ Rushmore: As your own fame has grown, as you’ve gone from covert to overt, how have you learned to strike a balance between using your fame for positive change and simply enjoying it?

Shepard Fairey: There are pros and cons to being known whether you call it famous or infamous, but I definitely try to leverage my higher profile to push socially conscious and sometimes provocative ideas. I have a large audience now, which I view as a tremendous resource but also a group to be considerate of and responsible toward. It may sound trite but I take my situation seriously as, for lack of a better word, a role model. I try to provide strong justification for my actions and my viewpoints and I think one of the reasons many of the doors have opened for me that have, is because I’m community and socially minded, not only with my work but with the organizations I support and the activism I engage in.

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