Barry McGee at the ICA/Boston

Photo by Chase Elliott Clark
Photo by Chase Elliott Clark

Earlier this month, I visited the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston for the opening of Barry McGee, a retrospective of McGee’s work that had come to Boston after first being shown last summer in Berkley, California at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

falco 2
Photo by Pat Falco

Barry McGee is a mid-career retrospective and the most extensive museum exhibition of McGee’s career to date. This version of Barry McGee is somewhat smaller than the version in Berkley, and so a few large works are not included, but this version also included a few pieces that were not seen at Berkley, more specifically work by Boston artists and graffiti writers and a bit of new work by McGee. Since the exhibition is a retrospective, Barry McGee includes sculptures, paintings, drawings, zines, ephemera, etchings and video works by McGee from the early 1990’s all the way through to 2012, although even the old work is not quite the same as it once was because McGee likes to rearrange his old work into new configurations and shapes whenever possible. In addition to work by McGee, there were artworks and ephemera by about a dozen other artists whom McGee included in the show. It is not quite an official part of the show, ICA adjunct curator Pedro Alonzo also arranged for McGee to paint a mural on the back of Boston’s House of Blues theater. Despite the title, the show seems to be an effort by McGee to take advantage of his position as a “museum-ready artist” by bringing the work of his friends into the museum galleries too and to highlight the significance of the kind of graffiti that many people find ugly and undesirable.

Photo by Chase Elliot
Photo by Chase Elliot Clark

In Ben Valentine’s review on Hyperallergic of the Berkley version of Barry McGee, Valentine completely missed the mark and misunderstood McGee’s work and what was going on in the show. Valentine repeatedly refers to McGee as a “street artist” or his work as “street art”, a mistake that was made in some of the Boston press as well, perhaps because street artist is a more institutionally acceptable term than the much more accurate “graffiti artist” or “graffiti writer”. Valentine also claimed that there were sculptures all around the show of McGee tagging walls, and suggested that this might be some sort of mid-life crisis/street-cred proving move by McGee to show that he is still authentic. In fact, practically the opposite is true. Those sculptures actually depict McGee’s assistant Josh Lozcano and help to point out that McGee is older and that he is not longer as directly as involved in the culture he grew up in as he might like to be, whereas Lozcano is from a slightly younger generation and continued on as an active and accomplished writer long after McGee went into his current stage of semi-retirement.

Photo by Pat Falco
Photo by Pat Falco

Similarly, at the opening at the ICA I heard multiple people asking docents what the letters “THR,” “CBT,” or “DFW” stood for or meant (the letters appear throughout much of the work in the show). The docents were either unable to answer or radioed in to their superiors and then explained that the letters were acronyms for “The Human Race” and “Down For Whatever,” but the significance of the letters is much more important than the meaning. DFW, CBT, and THR are graffiti crews that McGee is affiliated with. McGee is repping his crews in his own way, now that he has the attention of museum-goes and does not have the freedom to go out writing graffiti as much as he once did. Of course volunteer docents cannot be expected to know everything about every exhibition, but if McGee’s show has meaning beyond “these are some cool drawings I did,” it has to do with graffiti’s relationship to the museum and the community spirit of graffiti versus the one-man genius model of the museum.

Photo by Pat Falco
Photo by Pat Falco

McGee is subversive to a point that he probably gets in his own way sometimes. He is clearly uncomfortable in galleries and museums, even though he has exhibited his work indoors for about two decades. This discomfort about and subversion of museum norms is the hidden theme of the show, which McGee successfully sneaks into the museum.

Paintings by Margaret Kilgallen inside a structure painted by McGee. Photo by Pat Falco
Paintings by Margaret Kilgallen inside a structure painted by Barry McGee. Photo by Pat Falco

The elements of Barry McGee that McGee himself made sure were included, and a few pieces that may have been added by curators but which it seems likely McGee had a good amount of say in including, point towards his attempts to subvert the museum and their model of a one-man retrospective even when it is about his own work. The show includes the work of at least a dozen other artists, and, in a video tour of the exhibition by curator Jenelle Porter, Porter points out that McGee’s video installation is made up of animations and video clips created and organized by McGee’s assistant Lozcano. Some of the other artists whose work can be found in the show include McGee’s late wife Margaret Kilgallen, his father Jon McGee, Craig “KR” Costello, more than half a dozen freight train moniker writers, and Rize (a prominent Boston-based graffiti writer in the early to mid 1990’s and the subject of a photograph which has appeared repeatedly in McGee’s work since the mid-1990’s). McGee even devoted an entire room of the exhibition to showing his work alongside the work his friends and legendary Boston graffiti writers who would otherwise not have had the opportunity to show inside the ICA. Lozcano’s chaotic tower videos and animations also include clips of other graffiti writers at work next to animations of McGee’s drawings, and at this point it becomes hard to say anymore exactly how many of McGee’s colleagues are represented in the show because there are dozens of video clips with fast cuts that all seem to melt together in the massive installation. Some would say that graffiti is about ego, and that can certainly be said of the upper-echelons of the art world, but McGee broke the stereotypes to subvert the museum and turn his supposed one-man retrospective into a celebration of many artists and mark-makers.

Photographs by. Photo by Pat Falco
Photographs by Craig “KR” Costello. Photo by Pat Falco.
Photo by Pat Falco
Photo by Pat Falco

Outdoors, the trend of subversion of norms and inclusion/celebration of graffiti culture and community continues. Rather than putting his name (TWIST) on the wall on behind Boston’s House of Blues, we get Lozcano’s name (AMAZE) in huge letters next to an almost equally massive OKER tribute piece (OKER is currently serving time in prison in the UK for graffiti, and has painted with Lozcano and McGee before). McGee put up the names of people who would better fit the wall, since the wall can be seen from the highway coming into Boston, and there is plenty of illegal graffiti to see nearby along the highway. And the names were put up so that they resembled graffiti except on a massive scale and with permission, subverting the traditional expectation that a mural should look nothing like graffiti, or even cover it up. Murals like this are nothing new for McGee, but I am still explaining it in detail because it was one more subversive move to highlight more authentic graffiti and shine a light on a couple of the deserving artists whom the ICA would otherwise ignore or not be aware of at all.

Photo by SRIMA
Photo by SRIMA

So is McGee successful in his efforts? Yes and no. He is successful in bringing those close to him into the museum along with him, but what is less clear is whether or not anyone has noticed. Given Valentine’s review of Barry McGee in Berkley and questions by visitors that went unanswered or poorly answered, it seems that McGee has only succeeded half way. Has anyone who was not already in on it has noticed his subversion? If you do not already know what DFW and THR mean, you probably are not going to discover their meaning by staring at one of McGee’s paintings. On the other hand, those who have been included seem happy, and the irony of OKER’s name being included in such a respectful way on a legal wall while he sits in prison for illegal graffiti is likely to be appreciated by the graffiti community. So maybe McGee’s subversion is a sort of secret subversion. For those who know, the show is bit of a coup. For those who do not know, things are business as usual, and that’s fine.

Photo by Pat Falco
Photo by Pat Falco

Barry McGee is the ICA/Boston’s fourth time bringing someone from the street art or graffiti world into their museum, and of the other attempts I have seen (with the work of Os Gemeos and Swoon) it is the most successful. Barry McGee is full of strong work, it provides a good introduction to McGee without being repetitive, and McGee still manages to let his true self shine through by subverting the museum’s goals somewhat and turning the show into a show about real graffiti and community, if you are in the know. At the same time, I fear that the ICA has missed the point of their own show and failed to see McGee’s true brilliance, so the success seems somewhat accidental.

For more photographs of the show, check out Brooklyn Street Art (who seem to agree that this show is really about community) and Arrested Motion.

Photo by RJ Rushmore
Margaret Kilgallen and Barry McGee. Photo by RJ Rushmore

Photos by Pat Falco, Chase Elliot Clark, SRIMA, and RJ Rushmore

Barry McGee at the Boston ICA next month


Remember the retrospective of the fantastic Barry McGee last year in California? Exciting news: That show is headed to the ICA Boston next month. The show, simply titled Barry McGee, runs April 6th-September 2nd. Last year’s Os Gemeos show at the ICA was great, but it was small if you don’t include their outdoor work. This McGee show won’t be small, and it covers his work from the early 90’s through to today. Not much else to say yet except that you should see this one if it’s at all possible.

Photo by PunkToad

Web hosting craziness link-o-rama

Photo by Luna Park

For the last week or so until today, we’ve been in the process changing Vandalog’s web hosts. No need to get into the technical details, but now the site should run more smoothly and with less downtime. Unfortunately it means that we haven’t been able to write anything new on the site since that process began (everything that’s gone online was pre-scheduled). So this is a mega-link-o-rama combining the usual weekend link-o-rama content with stuff that I could have written about last week even if I’d had the time.

Photo by Luna Park

Os Gemeos at the ICA Boston and around the city

The Giant of Boston. Photo by Weeklydig. Click to view large.

Last week, a small show by everyone’s favorite set of identical twin graffiti artists opened at the ICA Boston. The show is not the massive, playful and immersive installation you might expect from Os Gemeos, rather it is a much more traditional show in a white-walled room. I went to Boston hoping for an installation to rival their museum shows in Brazil or at least comparable to their 2008 show at Deitch Projects. But, in its own way, a white-walled show makes sense.

Curator Pedro Alonzo described the show as an attempt to show that Os Gemeos’ work could hold up in a traditional museum setting with just a few paintings being hung on walls and plenty of space between each picture. Another person suggested to me that hanging a white-walled show is a way to prove that Os Gemeos’ work will continue to be interesting long after the twins are dead and no longer make new installations. I think they are right, but I just wished that Os Gemeos picked another time to prove themselves, perhaps a time when I wasn’t taking six hours of buses to see their show.

So I went into the show with expectations that could never be met, but I did find something else there. Alonzo’s bet has been proven right: As hundreds or perhaps thousands of collectors around the world already knew, now the world too knows that an Os Gemeos painting may look great when put into one of their installations, but it can be absolutely brilliant just hung on a wall by itself too.

The piece originally made for Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape. Photo by Lois Stavsky

The two weakest pieces in the show are actually both pieces that are just the sort that might shine as components in an installation. One was made for Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape, a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego also curated by Pedro Alonzo. The story that Alonzo told about the piece turned out to be a lot more interesting than the work itself. The twins were in San Diego prepping for the show when they saw a bunch of tablesaws and similar tools that aren’t as widely available in Brazil, and they were inspired to use material that would have otherwise been discarded (including bits leftover from Swoon’s installation) to make something. Only problem is, the result of their recycling just doesn’t look like much alone on a white wall and without the story.

Upside Down Sunrise. Photo courtesy of the ICA Boston.

Thankfully, most of the paintings work well in a traditional gallery, and a few are absolutely brilliant. In particular, I practically couldn’t look away from Upside Down Sunrise and an untitled painting of vandals on the New York subway tracks (which happens to be owned by Lance Armstrong). For any graffiti nerds out there, it is probably worth seeing the show just to see how many names you can recognized painted into the subway piece.

Photo by Lois Stavsky

Of course, there’s also the sound installation, a corner of the gallery filled with brown and yellow faces shouting and singing, if the right buttons are pressed on the accompanying piano. I just hope there’s someone there during the show’s run to play it, since I doubt that visitors will be allowed to.

Photo courtesy of Arrested Motion (more of their photos here)

And for those of us who wanted a little more, the twins did not disappoint outside. They painted two murals (and a van) in Boston.

The smaller of the two murals is on the Revere Hotel, and features two writers tagging the wall. It’s a great little piece to be surprised by. I think I overheard one man trying to contact the police about just what the hell was going on, but most of the people whom I saw come across the mural were loving it.

Os Gemeos at the Revere Hotel. Photo by RJ Rushmore. Click to view large.

Both in scale and awesomeness, the piece on the Revere is nothing compared to The Giant of Boston, Os Gemeos’ largest mural in the United States by painted surface area, but it’s been causing a bit of controversy. The Giant of Boston is located at Dewey Square, and you really can’t miss it. But just what it is has proven to be not very evident to people who are not already familiar with Os Gemeos. The masked is most likely a protestor or a vandal, as the twins have painted in the past, but at least hundreds of Boston residents have looked at The Giant and seen a “terrorist” or a “towel head.” A photo of the mural was posted on the Facebook page of a local Fox station, and literally hundreds of people have posted similar ignorant/racist responses. Bostinno has more on this controversy.

Photo by Lois Stavsky

I do not think that this show is what most Os Gemeos fans were hoping for, and it certainly wasn’t what I was hoping for, but damn it I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time I was in the gallery or looking at either of their murals. There’s some good work, and Alonzo isn’t wrong to want to show that the work can hold its own in a white-walled space or brighten up the streets of Boston. Now, I’m just hoping that both murals stay up for the full 18-months that they could potentially be around for. Os Gemeos’ show is open at the ICA Boston through November 25th.

Photos courtesy of Arrested Motion and the ICA Boston and by Lois Stavsky, Weeklydig and RJ Rushmore

Weekend link-o-rama

FIGHT by Rub Kandy

I’m off for a few days of traveling. Expect lots of pictures. Here’s what we missed on Vandalog this week:

Photo by Rub Kandy

Weekend link-o-rama

A freight train in Atlanta

This week has been a lot of trying to get ahead on my work, because on Saturday evening I’m headed to New York City for the night. I’ll be checking out Flash at the Wooster Street Social Club. Here’s some stuff I missed covering over the last few days:

Photo by RJ Rushmore

Swoon at the ICA Boston

Swoon in NYC

Next month, Swoon has an installation opening at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Anthropocene Extinction, the name of the show which is the phrase coined to denote the extinction of a species due to humans, opens on September 3rd and runs through December 30th. It will consist of a 40-foot tall papercut piece and sculptural elements (including a 200-pound bamboo sculpture). This comes on the heels of Swoon’s recent installation at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Photo by Jake Dobkin

Shepard Fairey in Boston

Looks like Shepard Fairey is getting ready for his big show at ICA Boston February 6th. Arrested Motion has images of Fairey’s new street work in Boston, as well as preview images for the exhibition.

Shepard Fairey at ICA Boston. Photo by Arrested Motion
Shepard Fairey at ICA Boston. Photo courtesy of the ICA Boston.
Photo from Arrested Motion
Photo by Hargo

Also, USA Network has given Shepard Fairey some sort of award for being a cool guy. Along with that, they’ve done a great video interview with him. Check it out below:

Via Arrested Motion (twice) and Towleroad

Photos originally posted at Arrested Motion, by Hargo, and courtesy of the ICA Boston