As regular readers probablyknow, I recently curated an exhibition about the tools and strategies of graffiti for the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College. ALL BIG LETTERS closed on Friday. The exhibition featured work 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, MOMO, NTEL, Smart Crew, Steve Weinik, stikman, and more. Before ALL BIG LETTERS fades into our rear view, I wanted to highlight two more bits of press about the show.
First, I spoke with Brooklyn Street Art’s Jaime Rojo and Steven Harrington for an interview on The Huffington Post. We spoke about curating an exhibition about graffiti for a general audience (and a gallery with an educational mission), the graffiti community’s skill at hacking tools and cityscapes, graffiti as a performance, and more.
If you’re in the Philadelphia area, head out on to the burbs for ALL BIG LETTERS at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, probably my most ambitious curatorial project to date. The exhibition features specially-commissioned work from CURVE, FAUST, EKG, Egg Shell Stickers, and Evan Roth, plus contributions from dozens more artists and photographers.
ALL BIG LETTERS investigates the tools and strategies of graffiti writers. My hope is that visitors can walk into the show with next to zero knowledge of graffiti, and leave with the ability to see a tag on the street and roughly understand how it came be there and why it looks the way it does. Was it made with spray or a marker or something else? Is the style something city-specific, like a wicked? Why did the writer choose that spot? How did they get there? How long did it take to paint? Curve’s installation in particular functions as both an artwork and a teaching tool. A similar thread runs throughout the exhibit, like in Evan Roth’s Graffiti Taxonomy series, which highlights 140 S’s from each many different tags, all written with a variety of different styles and tools.
For people already immersed in the culture of writing, ALL BIG LETTERS is a different take than your typical graffiti group show. This is not tags or throw-ups on canvas. Rather, it’s a show for the graffiti nerds who understand that style is an important part of writing, but it is just one element, and it serves a particular purpose. A collection of homemade tools from MOMO, stikman, Fumakaka Crew, Biancoshock (yes, I know that a handful of the artists in the show fall more towards the street art spectrum, but I swear they fit in), plus commercial graffiti products, is paired with a series of photos by Martha Cooper of writers and street artists that highlight their tools.
From a new diagram by EKG to photos by Luna Park and Steve Weinik (among others) to an investigation into the development of BLADE’s style over time to never-before-scene work by Adam VOID, ALL BIG LETTERS covers a lot of ground that is all-too-often ignored in more commercial settings, and I would like to think that it’s a pretty unique exhibition. On opening night, a handful of Philly writers all told me a similar story: I came out to support a friend in another group exhibition, but this is unlike any graffiti show I’ve ever seen.
So, if you want to see an exhibition about graffiti that’s truly different, an exhibition where the whole of graffiti is acknowledged (the repetition, the drive for fame, the performance, the risk, the competition, the hacking…), I hope you’ll stop by ALL BIG LETTERS. It’s open through March 3rd.
ALL BIG LETTERS is open at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery through March 3rd. Contributors include 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, MOMO, NTEL, Smart Crew, Steve Weinik, stikman, and more. Learn more, and read essays related to the exhibition by RJ Rushmore and Carlo McCormick, here.
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.
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.
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.
Over at my office job at Creative Time, we just launched Doomocracy, an immersive artwork by Pedro Reyes. Basically, it’s a haunted house in Brooklyn, themed around the state of American politics. I’llet the folks at artnet News explain. I’ll just add that I am consistently amazed by the epic projects that the production team at Creative Time is able to pull off. Tickets to Doomocracy are free, but right now they’ve all booked up. You can sign up here to get an email if we release more tickets.
Simultaneously, we’ve also got the Creative Time Summit coming up in DC next week. Dozens of amazing speakers coming together to talk about art, social justice, and the state of democracy. And tickets to that are still available. See you there?
In January, I’ll be returning to Haverford College in suburban Philadelphia to curate ALL BIG LETTERS, an exhibition about the tools, strategies, motivations, and innovations of graffiti writers. It’s an honor to be curating a show at Haverford’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, where I worked for almost four years while I was in school there. More info on ALL BIG LETTERS as that approaches.
Wooster Collective is releasing a book to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their historic 11 Spring Street exhibition. Although I missed the original 11 Spring Street, I’m looking forward to celebrating the project with this book.
Luna Park, one of the most important photographers of contemporary street art and graffiti, is releasing her first book. (Un)Sanctioned: The Art on New York Streets will launch next month as part of the 10 Years of Ad Hoc Art show at Brooklyn’s 17 Frost Gallery, and you can pre-order the book on Amazon. This is LONG overdue. We all know that there’s a glut of generic street art and graffiti photography books already on the market, but (Un)Sanctioned seems likely to be an essential purchase on par with Trespass, Subway Art, and Stuck Up Piece of Crap.
Speaking of the Mural Arts Program, I am really pleased to say that we now have a major Shepard Fairey mural in Philadelphia. Find me some day and ask me the whole story of this mural, but let’s just say it’s complicated and thank goodness for Roland at Domani Developers for getting us a wall at the last minute.
We also have a new much more politically-charged mural from Shepard Fairey through The L.I.S.A. Project NYC, and while I’m sure the process for that was also quite complicated, my friend Wayne took care of that and all I had to do was pitch Shepard on the idea of a big wall in NYC and the property owner on the idea of a Shepard Fairey mural on his building (neither of which were too difficult). I’m absolutely honored to have played even my small role in each of these murals. It was my first time working with Shepard, and it was a pleasure.
Two real kings of NYC graffiti, Blade and Freedom, have shows open now at the Seventh Letter flagship store in LA. Blade is an undisputed subway king who also pushed graffiti forward as an art-form, a rare combination. Freedom is a personal favorite of mine (his piece in my black book is a real prized possession) for combining pop art, an ability to paint very well, comics, and graffiti in an intelligent way without too much of an ego. I’m sad to be missing both of these shows, but I hope LA will give them the love they deserve.
Hi-Fructose posted some interesting GIFs by Zolloc, but the best part of the post is the first sentence: “While GIFs have yet to find an established place in the art world, they’re fascinating because they have the potential to go beyond the frozen image in two dimensions.” Of course, Hi-Fructose is part of the art world, so just having them post Zolloc’s GIFs counts for something. Hi-Fructose seems to be saying (albeit hesitantly) that GIFs being in their corner of the art world, which is great. That’s not a bad corner to be in, and it’s a hell of a lot better than nowhere. So, why be hesitant? If the work is fascinating, embrace it.
Oh Olek, always the best of intentions, but the results are not so great…
Smart Crew have teamed up with Beriah Wall on a series of cool collaborations. Does anyone else see this as further evidence of Smart Crew growing up, aka transitioning from a crew producing illegal graffiti into a brand or collective that does legal (and sometimes commercial) work referencing illegal graffiti? Nothing wrong with that. I’m just noting the transition.
Hyperallergic has been covering artist reactions to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Public performances in Philadelphia (by Keith Wallace) and New York City (by Whitney V. Hunter) exemplify to the unsurprising obliviousness to the situation or at least lack of caring that so many people openly display (for more, see Kara Walker at Domino). It’s amazing to see these two striking performances go widely ignored while it’s mostly prettybutemptymurals that go viral. Is that the state of street art and muralism today? I hope not. And of course, maybe what makes those performances so jarring online is that they were ignored on the street.
I have tried to resit the allure of Pejac’s work for a while, but no more. Yes, some of the jokes are cheap and feel twice-told, exactly the sort of easy made-to-go-viral work that I am complaining about in the previous paragraph, but Pejac is painting them really well, and they consistently catch my attention. As much as I would like to write him off as a Banksy-ripoff who even came to that idea a few years too late, I can’t do so any longer. The work is actually quite good. Have a look for yourself.
Last week I was in Atlanta for the Living Walls Conference. A great time was had by all. I was there to speak with Living Walls co-founder Monica Campana and Juxtapoz editor Austin McManus about the evolution of street art and graffiti over the past five or so year, and Vandalog contributing writer Caroline Caldwell was there to paint a mural. Atlanta got some real gems this year, including new work by Moneyless, Troy Lovegates and Xuan Alyfe in collaboration with Trek Matthews. Juxtapoz hasextensivecoverage. Congratulations to Living Walls on a truly impressive 5th anniversary event.
This coming week I’ll be in Norway for Nuart and Nuart Plus. The artist lineup features some of my personal favorites, including John Fekner, SpY and Fra.Biancoshock. I love Nuart because it’s a festival that always strikes a balance between the best of the best artists painting epic murals on the “street art festival circuit,” and the oft-under-publicized but highly-political activist artists intervening in public space. Putting these artists in the same festival strengthens the work of everyone there, and reminds us that murals can serve many different purposes. I’ll be speaking at Nuart Plus on behalf of the Mural Arts Program in a few capacities. I’ll be moderating a panel about activism in art, presenting couple of short films during Brooklyn Street Art’s film night, sitting on a panel about contemporary muralism and giving a talk about how government-sanctioned art and muralism can be used to promote positive social change. There will be a lot of great speakers at Nuart Plus this year though. Brooklyn Street Art has the whole line up for the festival and the conference.
Sorry for all the downtime on Vandalog this week. I dunno what’s up with Vandalog’s web host. If you have suggestions of a good web host that I could move to (even though I just switched to Gandi), let me know. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading:
Of course, that wouldn’t do. Os Gêmeos had been scheduled to paint a mural on that wall, but they decided that they did not want to go over Katsu, which is how they ended up painting the MOCA ticket booth. A replacement had to be found.
Similar to the wall that Lee Quinones, Futura, Cern, Push, Risky and OG Abel collaborated on just on the other side of the building which had originally been the site of Blu’s buffed mural, repainting over Katsu’s spot would have to be a collaborative effort. Freedom sketched a tribute piece to Blade, using some of his most iconic images. A few people painted the outline of the Blade tribute, and Rime came in to add the color. For more detail on the story and images of the entire process, check out Martha Cooper’s blog.
I don’t want to say that Blade does not deserve a tribute mural (he is one of my favorite early writers, particularly for the very piece that makes up the core of this tribute mural), but I think it is telling that no one writer would go over Katsu alone. MOCA has every right to do what they want with their own walls, which is why I don’t think the covering of Blu or Katsu’s pieces should be considered censorship, but I definitely wish that Katsu piece had stayed. The man is at the top of his game and a trailblazer in 21st century graffiti, so he deserved mention in the show as part of the next generation of great writers, and it just would have given the show a gritter feel. On the other hand, I don’t want to begin to imagine the problems that keeping that piece would have caused… At least Blade got some added props in the show and Os Gêmeos still painted something.
The American Folk Museum (AFAM) is one of my favorite places to visit when I’m in New York. I’ve always found something a bit strange though: this NYC based museum dedicated to self-taught artists has never done anything related to graffiti. Until now. This summer, AFAM is putting 4 old-school graffiti writers in an exhibition in Venice during the Venice Biennale. Vision and Vernacular: Eight African-American Artists in Venice includes four self-taught graffiti writers selected by Carlo McCormick: Blade, Quik, Daze and Sharp. Each artist will make an installation at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. The show runs from June 1st-15th. This show should be really interesting, especially in contrast to the rest of the Biennale, and is definitely a giant leap forward for AFAM by acknowledging graffiti.
In a seemingly odd match, the exhibition is sponsored by Benetton, as in United Colors of Benetton, but hey, whatever gets the job done done!
Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper took the photos for the legendary graffiti book Subway Art, and Blade is one of the writers featured in the book. I think these interviews with them were filmed at a show that the three of them were involved with earlier this year in Paris. It’s a cool video if you love classic graffiti (and Wu-Tang Clan’s music).