Brad Downey’s controversial work at ARTotale

There has been a lot of cool work going up for the ARTotale event at Leuphana University, but this is one particularly interesting piece by Brad Downey.


And no, McDonald’s did not pay for that.

Here’s a bit of an explanation from Daniela Kummle, one of the university students:

With the change of university board in 2006 arrived an era of radical reformations at the Lüneburg university. This reformations did not only include the mandatory realization of the Bologna process but also a massive restructuring of the university. Especially the re-naming and the aligned marketing- and image campaign caused public stir. The new image of the university is clearly influenced by marketing considerations such as in private economies. A well-known German advertising agency invented the new name “Leuphana” and developed a “brand” logo which – in some peoples view – rather evokes associations of a car brand than of a university.

Along with these changes comes another big project – the building of a giant lecture hall (Audimax) by the world wide famous architect Daniel Libeskind. The costs are said to add up to a 62 billion euro. In order to avoid a public bid invitation for the building contract, Libeskind was made part-time professor at the Leuphana – not for the benefit of the students though – as he is rarely giving lectures at all.

Overall, the reformation of the university has aroused remarkable suspicion and critique both amongst students and lecturers. In the light of marketing campaigns and a giant construction project, many expressed intelligible suspicion about the use of tuition fees. In 2007, a website appeared which caused further confusion. ‘’ is a mock university homepage which resembles the business-like tone of the new university president. As the page copies the official university pages visual style they look at first sight almost identical. The page also contains an “advertisement” video for the university. This video portraits the university’s campus as a high security area where access is only possible after showing one’s ID. It furthermore shows the university as being sponsored by Coca Cola.

Brad Downey’s contribution to the Art Totale, which goes in line with the welcome week for the first semester students, has lead to further discussions about Leuphana’s politics. An artwork that could in other context be read as a plain provocation acquires a deeper social and political meaning within in the recent history of this specific university. It imbibes the earlier articulated fears of critics, that forsee Leuphana becoming somewhat of a private university serving primarily economic interests. By raising disturbance and maybe even irritation, it functions well as a means of re-initiating the current discourse amongst the students. It will now take time to see, whether the Leuphana will incorporate its own institutional critique by allowing the work to be a permanent installation.

And there is a short interview with Brad about the piece over on Ekosystem.

Just has plenty of other photos from the event.

The Adventures of Darius and Downey

There are a lot of street art books in stores today. And most of them follow a simple formula: Take photos (or more often than not, acquire them for nothing from other photographers), lay them out on a page, mislabel all the photos so that work by Mister MN is said to be by Adam Neate, think up a title, print the book. Some books in this format are great, some are not, but this is what you expect from a street art book. Well The Adventures of Darius and Downey is absolutely nothing like that. Not one bit. For one thing, Adventures is a non-fiction/creative non-fiction book 200-odd pages in length, and instead of just throwing a bunch of photographs together, this book tells a story.

Naturally, Adventures is about the street art duo Darius and Downey (aka Leon Reid IV and Brad Downey), but it’s also about the street art and graffiti scene in the early 2000’s. Nobody else has really had his or her street art career described in this way before. Sure, you can read interviews or watch documentaries and get the gist of how Barry McGee or Faile got to where they are today, but D&D are the only ones so far to have set out the whole story in print, and as pioneers of sculptural street art and non-typographical graffiti, they deserve that privilege.

And while reading Adventures definitely provides insight into D&D’s work, what I found even more interesting was the lifestyle and culture that they were a part of. Swoon wrote the intro to Adventures and is mentioned in the book, D&D ask permission from ESPO to paint over one of his spots, they confront Swatch, graffiti writer and “cataloger” of street art (aka, guy who steals pieces off of walls) and more.

The Adventures of Darius and Downey tells a story of a friendship and collaboration that changed the face of street art and this book should be essential reading for anybody who wants to learn about the history of street art, but it’s also just a great read. Readers won’t want to put this book down. It is a quick, fun read with much to say.

But why am I posting this review now, more than a year after the book was published and months after I read it? Well Brad Downey and Leon Reid IV are at Nuart2009 in Stavanger right now, which is where I am too. More on Nuart2009 on Monday.

The structure of street art

About a month ago, I was in Baltimore and had a fascinating conversation with Gaia. We were debating which form or forms of government can best be used as an analogy to structure of the street art and graffiti worlds. The primary systems of government that we mentioned were democracy, autocracy/dictatorship, and anarchy.

Gaia’s post on the conversation went online a while ago and can be read on his blog. As Gaia notes, he believes that both street art and graffiti are inherently democratic. Artists and writers can put up their message and everybody has just as much right as anybody else to do so. I would add that this democracy also creates a general respect and understanding between those working on the street. For example, Barry McGee’s work is not going to be painted over because, as a group, artists and writers have given him a lot of respect. Similarly, it is generally understood within graffiti that there is a hierarchy of work, and that work of a higher complexity (pieces) can go over simpler work (tags, throw-ups…), and that hierarchy is upheld by consensus among writers. Gaia’s view seems to be the prevailing opinion among street artists, and many specifically talk about how the democracy of the street is what draws them to working in such a unique environment.

I held this view for a while as well. Then Brad Downey told me that he believes street art is the opposite of democracy. Essentially, his argument is that street art allows him or anybody else to do whatever they want, which isn’t democracy at all. And I’ve started to think he has a point. Maybe street art is more like anarchy.

In a democracy, everybody can voice their opinions, but their actions must ultimately be judged as acceptable or not by the masses. That means an artist could be reprimanded for his or her actions if they are against the general will of the other artists. While there are some unwritten rules of street art and artists might be frowned upon for breaking them, that’s about all the punishment they will get. As long as an artist is not afraid of people hating him, he could potentially claim that ripping up every Swoon wheatpaste in New York is his form of street art, and nobody could stop him no matter how upset they might be. On the street, artists can do pretty much anything they want.

Somebody’s going to point out that Gaia uses a different definition of democracy than I do. Well, we can still look at his definition (“a realm in which agonistic polemics and discourses can occur without suppression”) and see why it doesn’t fit with street art. Take a look at that last bit where it notes “without suppression.” Work gets painted over all the time, and that certainly seems to me like a form of suppression. While all fans of graffiti and street art must accept the ephemeral nature of the work, that generally implies that the work decays over time. On the contrary, work can be buffed or removed seconds after it is put up, and even within the community, many artists have no qualms about painting over other people’s work (and some even develop personal vendettas which play out as writing over/supressing brand new work – see 10 Foot). If that’s not suppression (particularly when it is done by fellow artists/writers), I don’t know what is.

Another potential system of government comparable to the street art and graffiti world might be a dictatorship. Particularly in the graffiti world, artists can get extremely hierarchical (can you believe I spelled that right on the first try?), and the kings have a good deal of power. Admittedly, I am not anywhere near as knowledgeable about graffiti as I am about street art, but as I understand it, not only is there the hierarchy I mentioned earlier with different types of pieces taking precedence over others, but the work of certain writers is left alone by all but the most bold up and coming writers. And unlike street art, when writers do break the rules, they get into actual fights about it (and no, street art’s flickr comment wars do not count).

This even crosses into street art a bit. The way that the street art community currently works, its existence is entirely dependent on passive acceptance by the graffiti community. All too often, street artists get their work intentionally written over with tags and graffiti, and the artists act as though they are honored that some writer is familiar enough with their work to write over it. If graffiti writers wanted to really put in the effort, they could virtually destroy a city’s street art scene.

10 Foot has shown this very well. Even though most artists are still trying to get up, it’s extremely rare to see certain artists whose work has not been tagged over by 10 Foot.

That’s not a dialog, it’s suppression.

The reality is though, no one of these systems can fully encapsulate what street art and graffiti are. I think it is more accurate to say that the correct analogy is whichever one the last person to get up was thinking of when they did their work. Some artists do work with the intent of creating a democratic dialog and respecting the work of others. Other artists just get up for themselves or to spread their message, disregarding the will of others. And many just paint to maintain a balance of power.

Brad Downey: An Honest Thief @ StolenSpace

On Sunday Graffoto posted their review of Brad Downey‘s current solo show at StolenSpace Gallery entitled “An Honest Thief”. Although I usually love and agree with NoLionsInEngland’s reviews, I have to go a slightly different direction this time.

Here’s an excerpt from thier review:

Ever been jealous of someone’s lateral vision, been envious of the gift of conceiving and executing simple, subverted variations to the street scenery around us? If you’re an ordinary guy and have come across Brad Downey’s street art – then the answer is probably yes and yes again.

However, have you ever been let down by your heroes or disappointed by the mediocre achievement of a show hyped up by your own expectation that the street work is somehow going to transpose to a white box gallery space? If you go to Brad Downey’s first solo UK show in Stolen Space, London, then again you may find yourself ticking yes several times.

I went into the show with absolutely no expectations. I had no idea what I was going to see. Of course Downey’s street work would be very hard to move into a gallery space, but I had seen him speak this summer at the Tate Modern, and he had shown some videos there which I’d liked.

Brad Downey The B in the Brad

When I arrived, the first thing that struck me was the large sculpture “The B in the Brad” which looks like a giant jack made of street signs. This piece is the centerpiece of the show, and although I could never imagine it in a house, it is an interesting project and a bit of a twist on Downey’s usual street sign work.

There were a few photographic prints of Downey’s outdoor work which show the before and after scenes. Most of these can also be found on his website, but it was nice to provide a context for the work. After all, Downey is best on the street, so why not show some of that.

Night Dicks

There were a few pieces of more gallery-suitable work as well.

The “Night Dick in Love” and “Night Dick on Limp” pieces are well crafted and made it smile. These sculptures also come with a dvd of a police violence.

Animals that Crossed

“Animals That Crossed” were probably my favorite physical works in the show. Normally I’m not a fan of fur, but I’ll make an exception here.

The real reason to visit “An Honest Thief” though are the videos. There are 4 videos of Downey’s work playing in the gallery, and these are what, in Vandalog’s Great in ’08 series, Asbestos said were so fantastic. My personal favorite has to be the video of Downey cutting out a giant heart shape from a red screen covering a building under construction. Brad ended up getting arrested and fined for that, but I suppose that’s part of street art.

Go down to StolenSpace Gallery before this show closes on the 8th, because while much of Brad’s work is online, who knows when you’ll be able to see his videos again. Plus, it’s always better to see work in person.

Keep an eye out on Vandalog later this week for my profile/interview with Brad Downey (right now I’ve got a physics exam to study for).

Random Street Art News

So I’ve got a couple things to catch up posting on, so here’s my street art news post about all the cool stuff going on in street art and some of the awesome postings in the street art blogosphere.

1. Shepard Fairey was on The Colbert Report! Watch the video over at Hustler of Culture

2. Beautiful Crime and FarkFK are dropping canvases today througout London

3. Luna Park has written a nice piece on the recent “From The Streets of Brooklyn” show for Shift

4. StolenSpace Gallery has a show opening January 29th with the king of dissruptive realism: Brad Downey

Brad Downey Show

5. Wooster Collective has suggestions for 6 people for art lover to follow on twitter (but don’t forget to follow Vandalog too)

Great In ’08: Asbestos Says…

As part of Vandalog’s “Great in ’08” series, which will be running every day for the rest of the month. Check out previous posts here. Street artists from across the world have been given one post to give away to one artist who they feel has been doing great work recently. Today it’s Asbestos‘ turn.

Who is one artist doing really great work right now?

Asbestos: If you’re asking who I think is doing great work right now, it’s gotta be Brad Downey. He’s been doing some amazing street installations in Berlin and around Europe this year. His street magic series of films is well worth a look if you get a chance to see them (they’re not online, so you might have to find one of his screenings). There’s a playful, thoughtful and provocative intensity to his work that few other artists are achieving right now.

Traffic Jam for Berlin
Traffic Jam for Berlin

See more photos of Brad Downey‘s work after the jump… Continue reading “Great In ’08: Asbestos Says…”