Dear Kitsch Street Artists…

May 18th, 2017 | By | 1 Comment »

Editor’s note: This guest post is from Cedar Lewisohn, a writer, curator, and artist whose work and words I’ve followed for nearly a decade. His solo show Ndungu, Isca opened last week at Exeter Phoenix in Exeter, UK. – RJ

There is currently a case of a mixed-race artist in America who has appropriated an image he found online, originally by a black female artist, and turned it into a mural. I understand that this has now become a legal issue. I have been an expert witness in several graffiti and street art related court cases in the UK, so would not want to comment on this case too directly while it is on-going. What I would say is, the world is awash with kitsch murals, and this appears to be another example. Street art and kitsch for me is an on-going area of frustration. With the continued explosion of street art, there is also an explosion of kitsch. That means art that is sentimental, lacks criticality and where the materials the work is produced with have no relevance to the subject of the work. It might also mean the artist has not considered site specificity. Kitsch pushes the discourse of visual art back around seventy years, or perhaps further.

The issue of appropriation (particularly by white male culture) in relation to street art is very complex. It is a major issue within the street art scene, but also a wider problem of inexperienced artists who don’t really understand the difference between post-modern appropriation, that is copying something to give it a new context and make a political point, and simply copying something, with no other real motive other than, they “like” the work. Street art today has become the preserve of what has been called the “skater dad”. That is a man (can be a woman also), who is old enough to be a father, but dresses like he is about to go skateboarding. This is pretty much a global trend. The way this links to “white male appropriation” is that the skater dad has basically appropriated youth culture as whole. It’s not standard appropriation, where someone with no links to a culture, simply steals from a genre. Skater dads may well have been skaters back in the day. But now, they really should focus on being dads.

Aside from the predominance of kitsch, a major problem of the street art movement around the world is not only that so many of the artists are white and male, but that the institutional structures that surround the scene are white and male. This also means the people who primarily make money out of this scene are white and middle class (there are also a surprising number of aristocrats involved in street art and graffiti at various levels), and if they wanted, could get a job in a bank tomorrow. That’s the difference and that’s what separates the skater dad from the real deal. Some people have a choice. They can be skater dad on the weekend, and go to the office on Monday. But not everyone has that choice. Skin colour or gender are not so easy to leave at home when you feel like it. And that’s the problem with blindly appropriating culture.

YT, POC, “they”, latinx, race, and gender issues are coming thick and fast. While those topics are relevant and important, sometimes the bigger picture can get lost in these nuances, which in turn can lead to more populist arguments seizing the agenda. Put simply, while we argue over the ethic make up of an art exhibition or the moral implications of stealing an image from Instagram, someone else is busy running the country into the ground. Should some random American mural artist have stolen another artist’s work and painted it on a wall? No, probably not. Am I hugely offended by this on some ethno, gendered, white man bad, level? No. I think there are more important issues to worry about, and kitsch murals aren’t going to solve them. Artists now, perhaps more than ever, should fight to make work that has meaning. Not only for today, but for the people who will look back at 2017 and ask, “What was going on?”.


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The Bushwick Collective and McDonald’s Team Up to Screw Artists

March 12th, 2017 | By | 7 Comments »

The opening to a new McDonald’s ad featuring murals in Bushwick.

UPDATE (April 23rd, 2017): A group of artists whose work was used in this campaign without their permission is now threatening legal action against McDonald’s.

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 ArtMcDonald’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.

Lmnopi’s mural, as featured in the ad. The mural was not painted as part of The Bushwick Collective.

On Facebook, Lmnopi made her feelings clear:

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

Similarly, Beau Stanton was unaware that his work was featured in the ad until someone sent him a link to the video. Stanton’s mural was commissioned by the building owner, and is not affiliated with The Bushwick Collective either. Read the rest of this article »


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Artists in a State of Resistance

January 28th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

Donald Trump is president, and things have gone south even more quickly than most people imagined. Now what? Since the election, I’ve heard from so many artists who are reevaluating their work in this new context. I’ve also heard from or come across artists are already taking action. I thought I’d bring together a few of my favorite public projects so far, in the hopes that they might spark a bit of hope, inspiration, and action in others.

First off, this piece didn’t last long, but I came across the above urinal while I was out in Haverford, PA for the opening of ALL BIG LETTERS. Just glad that I was able to snap a photo (and make use of the work) while it lasted.

On a similar note, whoever is putting up these PLEASE PEE ON ME stickers around NYC deserves a medal.

For more anti-Trump street art (some old, some new), The Huffington Post has a nice listicle.

Protest signs are another way artists can help. Everyone needs a good protest sign. One of the highlights of my week was seeing this post on the British graffiti blog Hurt You Bad. Shepard Fairey has once again been designing some iconic protest posters. And the Amplifier Foundation made sure that plenty of beautiful and powerful posters were on hand for the Women’s March in DC. Hopefully we see more great projects coming from them in the coming months and years. Really though, Hyperallergic nailed it with this post of the best signs from the Women’s March locations across the country.

And signs aren’t just for protests and anger. Organizers in Philadelphia and Atlanta sprang into action for Signs of Solidarity, a project where artists made dozens of handmade signs to hang all over various private buildings throughout Philly and Atlanta during inauguration weekend. It’s amazing to see how quickly and smoothly that project came together. Of Signs of Solidarity is any indication, the art world is poised to mount a serious resistance, but that only happens if we keep taking action.

Of course, being anti-Trump is important, but we also need some acknowledgement of the specific harms that he is inflicting (and the Women’s March touched on that). Just one example from this week (and yes, I know this feels like 25 news cycles ago, but that’s just how bad shit is right now): Trump made moves to restart the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. So now, once again, we need artists who can take on that issue and arm the opposition with strong visuals. This week’s installation for Art in Ad Places, a poster designed by Monica Canilao and Eric Loundy, is one example. Spencer Keeton Cunningham’s new mural in Brooklyn, the latest in a series of murals he’s painted in support of Standing Rock, is another. And okay, maybe Standing Rock isn’t what pulls at your heartstrings. What about immigration? Healthcare? Voter suppression? Take your pick, but do make a choice to be active.

Resist.

Photos by RJ Rushmore


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ALL BIG LETTERS: Exhibiting graffiti tools and strategy

January 6th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

Philadelphia graffiti. Photo by Steve Weinik/@steveweinik.

On January 20th, I hope you’ll join me in Haverford, PA for ALL BIG LETTERS, an exhibition I’ve curated at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, just a few minutes outside of Philadelphia.

ALL BIG LETTERS includes art, photos, tools, and ephemera from Adam VOID, Aric Kurzman, BLADE, Biancoshock, CURVE, DB Burkeman, Egg Shell Stickers, EKG, Evan Roth, FAUST, Fumakaka Crew, Jordan Seiler, Katherine “Luna Park” Lorimer, Lee George Quinones, Loiq, Martha Cooper, MOMONTEL, Smart Crew, Steve Weinik, stikman, and more.

Generally speaking, when galleries try to bring graffiti indoors, the focus is on style. Those shows portray graffiti writers as designers, illustrators, the new pop-artists and calligraphers… Headlines along the lines of “Can you believe what he does with a spray can? Now you can buy it on canvas!” still seem all too common. But style is just one component of graffiti. Or maybe the shows focus on writers who have gotten up a lot, trying to capitalize on their fame. Or, as in the case of someone like Barry McGee or Boris Tellegen, the art is (largely) removed from graffiti, a separate practice.

For ALL BIG LETTERS, I took a different approach. To write graffiti is, at its most pure, the performance of an illegal act; the performance is as important as the product. The best graffiti is also strategic. It relies on a combination of repetition, longevity, visibility, degree of difficulty, novelty, and style. ALL BIG LETTERS explores all of those strategies, and the tools writers use to realize them.

Because of the show’s angle and some deep digging over the last year, it’s full of surprises. New work from FAUST, Curve, NTEL, and EKG, never-before-seen photos of two Philadelphia graffiti legends at work (you’ll have to come to the show to find out who), homemade graffiti tools dating back as early as the 1960’s, and more.

ALL BIG LETTERS opens January 20th (4:30-7:30pm) at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery in Haverford, PA. The exhibition runs through March 3rd.

On a personal note, I worked at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery for just about my entire time as a student at Haverford College. It’s humbling to be invited back to exhibit at the space where I learned so much, and where we exhibited the work of so many amazing artists and curators (Hank Willis Thomas, Natasha Logan, the Dufala Brothers, Sam Durant, Pete Brook, Raymond Pettibon, Christine Sun Kim…). I can’t say thank you enough to everyone at Haverford for this opportunity.

Photo by Steve Weinik


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52 weeks of ad takeovers in NYC

January 6th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

Admittedly, things have been a bit quiet on the blog lately. Not very many posts on Vandalog, and you may be wondering what’s up, but we’ve been staying busy on a few major projects behind the scenes. This week, we’re excited to share to share one of those projects with you: Art in Ad Places (AiAP), an entire year of ad takeovers in NYC.

Co-curated by Vandalog contributor Caroline Caldwell and I, AiAP is a 52-week public art campaign replacing NYC advertisements with artwork. AiAP launched on Thursday with artwork by Adam Wallacavage and an article on Hyperallergic. Every week, starting this week and continuing for a full year, the AiAP team will install a new artwork by a different artist at a payphone in New York City. AiAP is an active and artistic response to the unending proliferation of outdoor advertising in New York City and elsewhere.

AiAP was inspired by a specific instance of an especially body-shaming billboard that we walked by almost every day this past spring, a general dislike of outdoor advertising (consuming advertising is unhealthy, and with outdoor advertising, there’s no way to opt-out, except to remove it), and a desire to see a different kind of ad-takeover campaign. Rather than putting up a lot of ads in one day, AiAP will be sustained over a year, one artist at a time, with each artist giving their reason for participating.

We kicked off AiAP with an installation by Adam Wallacavage. The poster, part of Wallacavage’s Shipwrecks of Unicorn Beach series, can be found in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Further AiAP installations will come from artists from all over the country and who work in a variety of mediums. Artists will be announced each week on Instagram as their posters are installed, with the full line up only being revealed at the culmination of the exhibition.

To keep up to date with AiAP and learn more, check the website, follow the campaign on Instagram and Facebook, and sign up for the AiAP email list.

Photos by Luna Park


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Why is someone emailing me about Alec Monopoly, Mr. Brainwash, and Kim Kardashian?

October 25th, 2016 | By | No Comments »
An object by Kim Kardashian, available now on Paddle 8.

An object by Kim Kardashian, available now on Paddle 8.

The following is an open letter to a trio of people (I’ve removed their names) who emailed me about promoting this auction on Paddle 8, and asked for my advice on spreading the word. Despite their C- rating from Charity Intelligence Canada, I am optimistic that the Baycrest Foundation does good work around Alzheimer’s disease and dementia research. You can contribute, without engaging in their auction, here. – RJ Rushmore

Hi X, Y, Z,

So here’s the thing… if you want to promote things made by Mr. Brainwash and Alec Monopoly, I suggest you do it far away from art blogs. Of course, I can’t say what they do is not art, because clearly it technically is an art-like thing, and when something it considered “not art,” it is all too often later regarded as groundbreaking. However, what Alec and Brainwash do is five steps backward. It is, at best, pop art solely for the sake displaying money and celebrity. If Donald Trump collected art (other than, of course, portraits of himself) Brainwash and Alec are the artists that he would collect. They are unabashed displays of wealth, for no other purpose than the display of wealth. These are the guys who show up to your high school reunion wearing a Rolex on both wrists, just because they want to tell everyone that they are wearing a Rolex on each wrist.

Yes, in this particular case, these two artists are choosing to raise money for charity, but have you ever considered why that might be? BP sponsors the TATE in London. Why? Not because they are good people, but because they are looking for a way to look like good people. (Thankfully, Liberate Tate has brought a stop to that.)

I have had Alec tell me to my face that his art is a joke, a money-making/get-laid scheme and nothing more. He knows it.

I have literally threatened to quit two jobs when the question of working with Brainwash was raised, and I was prepared to do it. Actually, one of them I did quit for a few days until they decided not to work with him.

But wait! Perhaps you think: Well, Brainwash is a fun man bringing art to the people. I can’t really convince you otherwise until a recording comes out saying “fuck ‘the people,'” but I don’t think it will because I think that Brainwash is just an idiot and who believes his own hype and doesn’t see how his work is at best misguided and at worst damaging. The one and only time I’ve ever written positively about Mr. Brainwash was when he made a pro-Obama poster, because he accidentally ended up on the right side of history and with a budget to hire a halfway-decent graphic designer to put him there. But with Alec, he’s never hidden it. You may look at Alec and think: He’s “subverting the idea of the Monopoly Man, laughing at Wall Street.” Alec thinks he’s being subversive too, but he doesn’t understand the meaning of the fucking word. Like, he literally believes it means the opposite of what it means. He’s an ostentatiously oblivious piece of shit. Coincidentally, this piece I wrote about Alec a few years back mentions healthcare and elaborates on my perspective.

I could kind of give a fuck about Kim Kardashian and Michael Buble. I mean, if people want to own a thing that a pop star touched and that thing raises money for charity, great. But no art site could possibly care, except for the clicks it would generate.

All the best with the Baycrest Foundation. I can’t quite buy a brain, but I hope that my modest personal contribution is helpful.

– RJ


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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.

Read the rest of this article »


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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.

Read the rest of this article »


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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.

Elian

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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