Articles I’ll Never Write

June 26th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

mobstr. Photo by Bablu Miah.

I just discovered a list on my phone of headlines for fake/satire street art articles that I wanted to write a few years ago, but never found/created a satire art site to pitch it to. So here they are:

  • Non-native Street artist had a lot to say about gentrification
  • The difference between street art and graffiti, according to angry graffiti writer
  • Street artist priced out of own neighborhood
  • Blogger recently discovers women are also artists, decides to “put them on the map”
  • Local mom discovers “possible Banksy” which is clearly signed by other artist
  • Man does first piece of graffiti, immediately makes Instagram
  • Why bodega tribute murals are the realest shit on the street
  • Local artist with no street presence commissioned to do “graffiti” in new barber shop
  • [Famous Artist who I won’t name] paints pretty woman’s face from NEW angle
  • Instagram famous street artist discovered to have only painted one wall repeatedly. “The internet enabled this”
  • First ever graffiti group show happens for the 300th time
  • Small town overwhelmed by years of street art festivals “we have no more white walls”
  • Shepard Fairey indecisive about personal stance on political controversy
  • What if the real Banksy is “friendship”?
  • Shepard Fairey peer pressured into collaboration: “sometimes it’s easier just to do it,” he says quietly.

I’m bored. You’re bored. Punk is dead. Cowabunga ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

PS, Shepard, I think ur great. I know u can take a joke.


Category: Featured Posts, Random

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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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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Portals to a future of healing: uplifting women of color in public art

January 7th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

O Wind, Take Me To My Country by Jess X. Snow. Kingston, NY, ft. Safia Elhillo. Photo by Jess X Snow.

Jess X Snow (@jessxsnow), the author of this post, is an artist, filmmaker and Pushcart-nominated poet.

At its worst, public art can be imagery that heightens already existing social hierarchies and inequalities, and at its best–can be a portal into a future of healing and transformation.

I am a queer Asian American immigrant woman and non-citizen to this country. I grew up with a speech impediment so severe it caused me to fear my own voice. When my speaking voice failed, I fashioned myself a new one on the blank page.

I became a muralist because public art became the closest thing to a voice after a lifetime of feeling silenced. When I started painting murals, I was both exhilarated to make work on such a large level and immobilized by a fear of taking up public space. Where did this fear come from? For my childhood, every time I stuttered, my classmates finished my sentences for me. As I grew up, I experienced gender and racially-exoticizing harassment just walking down the street. As a woman of color working in film and public art, the icons I have to look up to are few and far between. As a migrant, I grew up watching my mother get denied at the U.S. border, homeland security giving her trouble every time she renewed her visa, up until we finally obtained our green cards after nine years. In all this, the ability to survive as an artist, and live here legally, comes at so high of a cost that the idea of doing illegal art, or physically taking up public space, can feel life-endangering.

Read the rest of this article »


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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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Weekend link-o-rama

October 9th, 2016 | By | No Comments »
Lady Liberty at Pedro Reyes' Doomocracy

Lady Liberty at Pedro Reyes’ Doomocracy

Between two projects launching at Creative Time and preparations underway for two major personal projects (more on one of those in just a moment), Vandalog has been pretty quiet lately. Taking a step back has allowed me to get excited about all the good things happening in street art, graffiti, and public art over the last month or two, and there’s lots more goodness still to come in through the fall. So here’s a bit of a round up of what I’ve been working on, the great things some friends of Vandalog are doing, and all the interesting stuff that people who I were were my friends are doing.

Photo by RJ Rushmore


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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:

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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David Choe on the beauty of Banksy’s anonymity

March 14th, 2016 | By | No Comments »
Banksy's work in Bristol

Banksy’s work in Bristol

“Are you an asshole?”

That’s the question David Choe asked last week in an essay (which is very NSFW) on his blog. The piece, Why Saving Banksy Means Saving Yourself, is a must-read. David Choe is generally not the best arbiter of who is or is not an asshole, but in this instance, he’s spot on: No good comes from trying to reveal Banksy’s identity, or wondering who Banksy is.

Whenever a news story comes out saying “We’ve finally proven that Banksy is X,” or, “Banksy’s married and his partner is Y,” or “Banksy is a woman,” or whatever story about Banksy’s identity the media wants to promote this week, I have two reactions. My first reaction is to laugh. Something about the search feels ridiculous to me. It misses the point of Banksy, like watching a magic show from side stage while someone whispers in your ear how every trick is done. But then I get sad, because one TMZ-quality reporter desperate for clicks could ruin something for the entire world. Those journalists, whether their claims are right or wrong, are no better than the drunk mall Santa who spill the beans to little kids.

The next time an article comes out claiming to reveal Banksy’s identity, don’t be an asshole. Don’t click. Instead, read David Choe’s thoughts on the matter.

Photo by Walt Jabsco


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Returning from an accidental hiatus

November 2nd, 2015 | By | No Comments »
Michelle Angela Ortiz installing a piece for the Cit of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

Michelle Angela Ortiz installing a piece for the Cit of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

Vandalog has been silent for about a month. My apologies. I knew it would be a busy month, but I didn’t realize just how much would have to fall to they wayside.

My October was absorbed by Open Source, an exhibition curated by Pedro Alonzo for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. In one way or another, I’ve been working on Open Source in my own very small way for about two and a half years. In October, the exhibition finally culminated in a month-long series of art installations and events. I found the entire experience extremely rewarding, maybe even life-changing. It’s always an honor to work for Mural Arts’ Jane Golden, and adding Monica Campana and Pedro to the mix made took things to new heights.

So I think that Mural Arts, Jane and Pedro and Monica in particular, did something special with Open Source, but of course it’s literally my job to say that. Instead of going into self-promotional detail, here are a few people who generally seem to agree:

Still, that’s highlighting three out of about a dozen projects, which leaves me curious: What did people think about Open Source? Was it a success? Was it relevant? Philly seems to love it, but does the internet care (does that even matter though)? I’d love to get some feedback on the project. Leave a comment or, if you prefer, shoot an email.

Thanks, and again, my apologies for the unexpected hiatus on the blog. Hopefully things will get back on track this week.

Photo by RJ Rushmore


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