I’ve been traveling a bit and I’m in London at the moment, so here’s me playing some catch up:
There seems to be a big question mark on the freshly launched Street Art Project from Google. I’ve been getting friends outside of street art sending me links to the NYTimes article about the project and asking what the hell to think, and everyone within street art that I’ve spoken with seems unsure of what to think about the thing. I’m also unsure so far. On the surface, sounds great: A major institution offering to archive, tag, map and promote the best high-resolution photos of street art around the world. But the more I think about it, the less exciting it sounds: Only a select few contributors (from the amazing Living Walls to the questionableGlobal Street Art), essentially replicating the functions of flickr without the ability for anyone to participate, using art to whitewash the reputation of a controversial company… Honestly, if I had the opportunity to contribute photos to this project, I probably would just because of the possible selfish promotional value, but at the same time I’m not sure that this project is of any real worth the the street art or graffiti communities. I don’t know. I’m just not sold on the idea that this is the best strategy or documentation or archival. Anyone have any thoughts on this thing?
Ken Sortais aka PAL Crew’s Cony had a show on in Paris earlier this month. The show has closed now, but it’s worth checking out the photos. The sculptures are very George Condo-esque, but Sortais has some real talent. The work isn’t completely removed from his graffiti, but he’s certainly not using his graffiti reputation or skills as a crutch for these gallery works, something that happens all too often with less talented artists as they move from the street to the gallery.
All of London is talking about the Roa and Ripo shows opening today at Stolenspace Gallery. I’m looking forward to the opening: Two artists whose work I enjoy, and it will be my first time at Stolenspace’s new location.
Next week four of the great early photographers of graffiti will be on a panel hosted by Jay J.SON Edlin at the Museum of the City of New York as part of the City as Canvas show. That’s one event not to miss. I may even come up from Philadelphia for it, so if you’re in NYC, you have no excuse not to go. Use the discount code in this flyer to save a bit on tickets to the event.
These last few weeks, I’ve been processing Banksy‘s Better Out Than In residency project and reading what other people have had to say it about it. Now, some mainstream media outlet like Forbes writes a silly article about Banksy and focuses almost entirely on money using numbers pulled from thin air, I understand. And hey, Jerry Saltz isn’t a fan or someone with a background in street art or graffiti, so of coursehis list ranking the pieces in Better Out From In from terrible to less terrible is a somewhat ridiculous. What really upsets me is when writers on media outlets that should know better miss the point entirely. Two articles in particular, in Juxtapoz’ print edition and on Complex’s website, struck me as particularly off-base.
The latest issue of Juxtapoz arrived in my email inbox on November 12th, so it’s very possible that Nick Lattner wrote at least the majority of his article before Banksy finished Better Out Than In, which is just the unfortunate reality of print journalism from time to time I suppose. If that was the case, I understand why Lattner went for writing about Banksy’s use of social media during Better Out Than In than the works in the show. Or maybe it was an attempt to stand out among the hundreds of blogs and magazines doing round ups of the top X pieces in the show. Whatever his reasoning, Lattner tries to argue that the real brilliance of Better Out Than In is how Banksy showed “a mastery of [his] command” of social media and the internet for getting his work out there. Lattner praises Banksy’s use of an Instagram account, a website and a hotline for audio-descriptions-by-phone.
None of that was innovative. It might have been cool, but it was not new. Cost and Revs listed a working phone number on their wheatpastes in the 1990’s. Banksy has had a website for years, as have most serious street artists, and Banksy was late to the game joining Instagram. Was it a surprise to see Banksy on “social media” networks? Sure. But only because he’s anti-social. And once on Instagram, he used it to push out content, not to engage. What Banksy did by putting his work on his website and posting it to Instagram was not innovative. It was simply not being stupid, assuming he wanted as many people as possible to see his work. Why is Lattner applauding a lack of stupidity like it’s a stroke of genius?
Similarly, Leigh Silver over at Complex.com wrote an article with the headline Banksy’s “Better Out Than In” Took Place on the Internet, Not the Streets. I’m very pleased to see Silver writing something of such substance on Complex and she connects the show to a larger narrative about street art and graffiti online that I think is important to understand, but I disagree with her somewhat. Basically, she argues the same thing as Lattner with regard to Banksy: That the noteworthy aspect of Better Out Than In was that Banksy was posting this photos online. That’s where most people saw the Better Out Than In, and it helped to “preserve” the show in a sense by allowing it to be seen in photos even after the work was tagged over or otherwise destroyed. That’s all true, but I wouldn’t say that’s what was noteworthy about Better Out Than In.
On the one hand, with a book on basically the topic of street art and the internet coming out soon, I’m excited that other people have picked up on this shift. That said…
Even Silver admits that this has been the modus operandi of other street artists for years. It isn’t like Banksy just suddenly invented the idea of people seeing street art online.
Banksy himself has done work that’s made to be seen on the internet before (for example).
Seeing the work online was an option, but it’s not what Better Out Than In was about. Banksy is more interesting than that.
We need more people like Silver, people who suggest that “maybe ‘getting up’ is not on the streets anymore; it’s on social media,” but it seems odd to cite Better Out Than In as a prime example of that mindset. While there were a handful of pieces in the show that were meant to be seen online or really only existed online, there were many more pieces that were intended to be seen in person. Many of the best pieces in Better Out Than In begged for, or even required, crowd interaction to be activated and seen as complete. Here are the ones I’m thinking of:
Banksy beaver – Maybe crowds weren’t intended as essential to this piece, but Lattner cites this video as evidence that the show had a focus on digital experiences, which is ridiculous since the video only exists due to the actions of people at the site of the piece.
Sirens of the lambs – Yes, the video of this piece is great, but it’s one of those pieces where the experience is 10x better in person.
Confessional – Again, this is about the crowd staging photographs. Yes, those photos are shared online, but a crowd needs to be there away from keyboard as the first step.
Central Park stencil sale – Even this piece, which it seems no hardcore Banksy fans saw in person, required some crowd interaction or lack thereof. Without that, what’s the story?
Twin Towers tribute – Many people have suggested this was Banksy essentially daring people to tag over the work. Who would dare tag over a 9/11 tribute piece?
Better Out Than In was not about the internet. It was not about Banksy “broadcasting” his work to an Instagram audience as Lattner suggests in Juxtapoz and it did not primarily take place on the internet as Silver suggests, at least not any more so than 99% of mainstream street art today. Yes, Banksy utilized the internet, but for the most part only to the extent that any reasonable street artist utilizes the internet. In fact, Banksy probably had more of a focus during this show than most contemporary mainstream street artists have in their work on away from keyboard crowd interaction and response. What Silver and Lattner are noticing is street art in general, not Banksy.
If you want examples of street art that exists on the internet and was actually designed to exist there, check out the other examples in Silver’s article, or thesepostsI’vewritten, or wait for my ebook Viral Art, which will be out in a few weeks.
Banksy finished Better Out Than In today with the above piece in Queens. The balloons didn’t last long when people tried to steal them and then the NYPD came to take the balloons and arrest the would-be thieves (more on that on Hyperallergic). And Jerry Saltz be damned, this is one of my favorite pieces of the show. Jerry Saltz may say he has no problem with graffiti, but I’m not sure he quite understands it either.
The location of this piece is perfect, with a NEKST tag (and remember what Banksy did on his website when NEKST died), an ADEK tag, two ADEK throwups and two LEWY throwups all visible in the above photo, which is the lead image for the piece on the Better Out Than In website. And of course, Banksy went higher up on the wall than all of those writers, but in a cheeky manner. I’m not saying that Banksy is still a hardcore train bomber, although he did pull of quite a few stunts this month, but he certainly has respect for traditional graffiti. Banksy could have installed those balloons anywhere, but he chose that particular spot and was able to highlight serious graffiti by some of the best writers in the city.
The audio description for this piece includes a serious note:
Banksy asserts that outside is where art should live, amongst us. And rather than street art being a fad, maybe it’s the last thousand years of art history is a blip, when art came inside in service of the church and institutions. But art’s rightful place is on the cave walls of our communities where it can act as a public service, provoke debate, voice concerns, forge identities. The world we live in today is run – visually at least – by traffic signs, billboards and planning committees. Is that it? Don’t we want to live in a world made of art, not just decorated by it?
I can’t think of a better way to close out the show.
When Banksy announced today’s Better Out Than In piece this afternoon, people began running to a little thrift store on 23rd Street in the hope of scoring the deal of a lifetime. I would have run with them if I were in town. But luckily the thrift store was tipped off to what was about to happen. Banksy had just donated a “crude oil” painting. His crude oil series involves him taking old paintings, in this case one that he bought from this thrift store, and adding his own touches. Two early street artists, John Fekner and Peter Kennard, experimented with similarpieces long before Banksy, but Banksy has really pushed the idea and made it his own thanks to his habit of inserting his modified paintings in places where the unmodified paintings might normally hang.
This crude oil painting, titled The Banality of the Banality of Evil, features the addition of a nazi officer to the idyllic landscape. It’s in a thrift store that benefits Housing Works, a charity fighting “to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS.” Housing Works have put the painting for sale in an online auction ending in the evening on October 31st. As of this posting, the bidding has reached $157,200. If you’ve looking for a new Banksy and have $200,000 or so to drop, you can bid here.
Better Out Than In is nearing it’s end, but we still have a few days left of daily Banksy goodness. Today’s piece is in Coney Island. As pointed out by Animal, the numbers on the barcode seem to be a reference to a portion of the human genome (if I understand that site). If robots with spraypaint looks familiar, Lush thought so too, writing “Did #banksy just politely rip me off today? You decide, I rip people off everyday anyways.” Funny stuff.
I really like today’s Banksy piece, even though it’s a bit more targeted towards an audience already familiar with street art and graffiti that most of the Better Out Than In. I was shocked these last few days. I was at a big family wedding, and it seemed like everyone I spoke with brought up Banksy. I know he’s got mainstream popularity, but sometimes I forget how much. But hey, if my grandmother doesn’t get this piece, I’m okay with that, because I think it’s a good joke for those who will get it. Plus, with my upcoming ebook Viral Art all about the internet, street art and graffiti, I’m always fascinated by street art that makes a joke about how it will be distributed online. Overall, one of my preferred pieces from the show for sure. The one I’d make a trip out to see in person.
Today Banksy also posted an ostensible “blocked message” to the Better Out Than In site along with this piece: The draft of an op-ed he submitted to The New York Times mocked up to appear as it would if it were published in the paper. But the NYTimes editors rejected Banksy’s article (which argued that Freedom Tower is a terrible building to put up in place of the Twin Towers). That’s not a blocked message. That’s an editor doing his or her job and deciding what to publish. Read the article and see for yourself. Do you really think it meets the standard of quality that people expect (whether or not it’s always reached) from the New York Times? I didn’t have an opinion one way or the other about Freedom Tower before today, and I still don’t have an opinion on it. Shouldn’t that op-ed have convinced me or at least got me thinking about the issue? I’ve definitely offered up some poorly thought out and poorly written criticism here on Vandalog from time to time, but I never expected it to appear in the New York Times or implied censorship when it wasn’t.
So today we have 2 elements to the + 5. First, I want to point out five articles that where I think the writers have done a nice job voicing an opinion about the work of street artists or graffiti writers or the cultures of street art and graffiti:
Yesterday Banksy announced his Better Out Than In piece quite late in the day. That, combined with some WordPress issues that we’ve been facing, and today’s Banksy + 5 is a day late. Sorry. Anyway, the piece was announced in the evening because it’s another performance and this one starts at dusk. As you can see in the video below (originally posted to Banksy’s site), the grim reaper in a bumper-car character drives all this little stage Banksy has set up at Houston and Elizabeth streets (right next to where Swoon and Groundswell are working on a piece at the Bowery and Houston mural location). The piece will be active from dusk to midnight today and Sunday if you want to go check it out. Me, I’m not too bothered. Also, there’s an audio description for the piece on Banksy’s site. Interesting side note: Banksy previously used the grim-reaper-riding-a-bumper-car image in this painting that he gave to the band Brace Yourself for changing their name from Exit Through the Gift Shop.
If Banksy did today’s Better Out Than In piece illegally, he’s really outdone himself. The stencil of this lonely man is outside of the Hustler strip club, so I’ve got to assume that the spot is busy and guarded at pretty much all hours. It’s also a nice site-specific piece. So much of the best street art is about placement and responding to what’s nearby, and Banksy is a master of that.
For our +5 today, I’ve got work by FKDL, Deeker and three unknown artists: