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

KR in Miami


I’m not always a fan of KR (I don’t care how good the ink is, a marker should not cost $10, and it should be designed to be refillable) or his murals (I’d much rather see pieces by Just or Katsu using similar techniques), but Olive47 got some great photos of a piece by KR in Miami.






Photos by Olive47

Abstract Graffiti (and some intangible street art)

Abstract Graffiti by Cedar Lewisohn. Photo by KR, Berlin, 2010.

Often I find myself asking why certain artists have not been included in a book, but when it comes to Abstract Graffiti by Cedar Lewisohn, the spotlight is not on who should have been showcased but who has been and what they offer.

This insightful, thought provoking, and perhaps most importantly, interesting book, focuses on the increasing abstract nature of both graffiti and street art. Covering topics as diverse as knit graffiti and street training, alongside more conventional sprayology and pop influenced chapters, Abstract Graffiti immerses the reader in a world of vibrant colours, political statements and folk inspired characters.

Beginning with a fantastic introduction and conversation with Patricia Ellis, the book’s main basis is a series of interviews with both established graffiti artists and new practitioners of art based avant-garde practises. Each interview covers a different topic, my personal favourites being with Barbara Kruger, Futura, and the interviews on law with the Honourable Judge Hardy, Sweet Toof and Tek33. Juxtaposed alongside some great photos, the book not only provides an extensive review of graffiti and street art, but raises questions about how you yourself view the highly controversial art forms and their impacts on public space.

Sweet Toof's studio, London, 2008. Photo by Cedar Lewisohn (page 11).

For me, the only negative is that despite Cedar stating that he does not aim to outline a new form of art, at times I feel it does portray it as exactly that. However, I do say that with reservation, it’s more of a slight downside rather than any issue or problem. And this negative is completely forgotten when you start reading the final chapter – a conversation with Les Back, a professor of sociology at Goldsmiths in London. Not defined directly as a conclusion, the conversation provides a perfect ending to the book and rightly so. Les’s clear passion for graffiti and street art comes to the fore whilst you read questions and answers on society, race, and London’s over jealous planning authorities.  Often these topics are not usually raised, or in fact covered, in the usual run of the mill street art book, but this book is not run of the mill, it’s a fantastically written and completely absorbing.

In short, I think everyone interested in art should pick up a copy and get reading. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and I highly recommend it.

Escif - Insiders, Valencia 2010. Photo by Escif (page 158).

More information can be found here on the Merrell Publishers website.

Photos courtesy of Merrell Publishers. By KR, Cedar Lewisohn, and Escif.

Art Monument 2010

In case you hadn’t already heard, one of this years most spectacular urban art events is already under way this month in Berlin. The event entitled Art Monument will see four famous street artists repaint a 46 meters high tower called Bierpinsel which stands tall in the center of Berlin. It promises to be one of the most spectacular open-air galleries in all of Europe. The aim is to create the ultimate piece of contemporary art and judging from what has already gone down over there these guys are not far off . The artists involved are Honet, Flying Förtress, Craig KR Costello and Sozyone – who can all be heard in the video below talking about their concepts and plans to combine their different styles. Other street art names such as Nils Kasiske, Form 76, Keramik, Mr. Nonski, Dave Decat, Dave the Chimp, Poch and Stak will also be presenting their artworks inside the prominent buildings.

For more info and photos please visit Urban Artcore

Photos from Urban Art Core

The Barnstormers come to NYC in March

According to The World’s Best Ever, The Barnstormers, David Ellis’ art collective, has a show at Joshua Liner opening March 18th. Should be really great.

Here are just some of the artists in the show:
Alex Lebedev, Alice Mazorra, Bluster One, Che Jen, Chris Mendoza, Chuck Webster, David Ellis, Dennis McNett, Doze Green, GION, Guillermo Carrion, James Lynch, Joey Garfield, Jose Parla, Kenji Hirata, Kiku Yamaguchi, KR, MADSAKI, Manny Pangilinan (WELLO), Martin Mazorra, Maya Hayuk, Mikal Hameed, Mike Houston, Mike Ming, Miyuki Pai Hirai, Naomi Kazama, Pema Brush, Romon Kimin Yang (Rostarr), Shie Moreno, Swoon, West One, Yuri Shimojo and more.

KR/Krink on

KR, creator of the KRINK line of inks, is a controversial figure in the graffiti world, but I still generally like what he does (even if the idea of selling paint-filled fire extinguishers is a bit much). Here’s a bio about KR from

Art Monument 2010 with KR and more

What to do with an abandoned old tower built in the middle of Berlin… I know! Paint it! Flying Fortress, Craig “KR” Costello, Honet and Sozyone are doing just that in a few months. From April 1st to May 15th, those four artists will be painting The Bierpinsel tower in Berlin, which stands 46 meters (151 feet) high. I don’t know much about the project, but I’ve got a feeling that it could be something really special. This could become an iconic part of Berlin, or at least, something really cool for the locals. And Just will be there to take photos, so you know that the entire process will be well documented. Check out more on the event’s website.

Here’s a video about the event:

Turmkunst 2010 from webaffairs on Vimeo.

Via Urban Artcore

KR Mini

Everybody’s been talking about KR’s Mini Cooper and this video:

I don’t get it. What’s so cool here? How many times is KR allowed to just drip ink on a surface and get away with it? If I’m not mistaken, KR used to be a respectable graffiti writer.

Aw who I am I kidding? It might not be logical, it might be nothing more than advertising, but that car looks awesome. Too bad they painted all the windows too, it would have looked great driving around.

New KRINK Fire Extinguishers


KRINK, probably best known for their markers designed for tagging, have a new product which may hit the market soon: Fire extinguishers. Writers like Katsu have used fire extinguishers to write huge, and soon any writer or random kid with some money to spare will be able to do the same.

As HYB points out though, these are already pretty easy for anybody to make.

Also, if you’re a fan of KRINK and KR (the artist behind KRINK), he’s got a show at Don’t Come Gallery in Australia.