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.”
Next week, I’ll be exhibiting some photos at Tender Trap in Brooklyn as part of Andrew H. Shirley’s #frontallabotomy series. When Andrew asked me to take part, I had no idea what I’d show. Eventually, I realized I’ve taken a bunch of photos of buff, or of artists making work that responds to the buff, and that seemed like a funny thing to have a show about. And now we have Photos About Buff. So come by Tender Trap on August 3rd to have some drinks, enjoy some music, and maybe even check out some of these odd photos.
Seth Globepainter has spent the last few weeks in Rome thanks to a residency with the 999Foundation. The residency culminates on Thursday, July 7 with Range Ta Chambre, a one-day solo exhibition by Seth at the Teatro India, an experimental theater space. The details are slim for now, but curator Stefano S. Antonelli promises, “Whatever you expect, you’re not even close.”
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?
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.
“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.
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.
Around this time last year, Philadelphia got great news with NDA moved to town. He very quickly became one of the most noticeable street artists on Philly’s walls. Now, we’re celebrating NDA’s first year in the city with a show at LMNL Gallery. Minor Anniversary opens February 5th. The show is NDA’s diary of the friendly faces, characters, and environments he has come across since coming to Philadelphia.
It’s particularly exciting for me to be working on this show. I’ve worked with NDA before through The L.I.S.A. Project NYC, and been a fan of his work for years. However, until recently I was mostly observing from afar through Instagram or blogs. When NDA moved to Philly, I was finally able to catch his work in person. Maybe I’m a bit biased, but I think the energy of Philly’s street art community shifted when NDA arrived. Over the last year, I’ve seen more wheatpastes than ever, often by NDA or people he gets up with.
And if you really can’t wait for Minor Anniversary to see new work from NDA, he’s also a part of the upcoming #StreetsDeptTurns5 show at Paradigm Gallery + Studio, one of my favorite Philly galleries. #StreetsDeptTurns5 is curated by Conrad Benner of the blog StreetsDept, a stellar blog of Philadelphia street art, and also features Joe Boruchow, NoseGo, and others.
One of the most common questions I get from people outside of the street art world is some variation on “How do street artists show in galleries?”
My 30-second answer is that just as painters can sculpt and illustrators can take photos, artists aren’t restricted to just one way of displaying their work. I tell them that street artists often have a studio practice too. I tell them that what the street/studio combination looks like can vary, but sometimes the two can feed off of one another in a brilliant synergy.
That’s a best-case scenario though, overly optimistic, which is fine when I’m being an evangelist for street art, but not quite suitable for a conversation among the already converted. We all know that the reality isn’t so cut and dry. What works for street art, what works for murals, and what works in a gallery setting are rarely the same.
So how do you find that synergy between street and studio? I don’t have a great catchall answer, but I do have a recent example of someone getting it right.
Taking Sides, a new series from Know Hope, is one of a handful examples that I can think of where documentation of street art actually works as a piece in a gallery. It reaches a rare and coveted level of synergy between street and studio practice. For Taking Sides, Know Hope created a series of subtle street pieces in Cologne, Germany and photographed them at just the right moment. In the gallery, he paired each photo with one of the more “typical” studio works that he is best known for. As street pieces, they are solid. As photographs, they take on a new dimension. Paired with paintings, each piece in the pairing informs the other.
This approach won’t always work. That synergy isn’t as simple as putting some photos in a gallery. A photo of a mural next to a print based on that mural is going in the exact wrong direction, even though that seems to be how a lot of art is sold. It works for Know Hope (and also Barry McGee) because the photos capture something that their paintings and drawings can’t, and vice versa. That’s the key. And while I’m focusing on Know Hope today and it’s still not a catchall answer, it remains true even if the street and studio pieces aren’t literally exhibited side by side.
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.
In case you’ve been living under a rock… Banksy’s next major project has arrived: Dismaland. What is it? A sort of Burning Man-esque amusement park / art exhibition curated by Banksy with his own work and work by dozens of other artists. It’s located the British seaside town of Weston-super-Mare, among the ruins of what was once an outdoor swimming pool. Just when you think Banksy can’t outdo himself, he outdoes himself again. Of course, that part is just speculation. Dismaland isn’t open yet. A limited number of journalists, bloggers, and photographers were let inside today, and Dismaland opens to the public on Saturday.