Pantheon Projects and Drago at the NY Art Book Fair

Photo courtesy of The NY Art Book Fair

This week, the annual NY Art Book Fair is taking place at PS1. Pantheon Projects, a group being launched out of the Pantheon exhibition that took place earlier this year in NYC, has a booth at the fair, as does the Italian publisher Drago. The fair is open, with free admission, this Wednesday the 30th through this Sunday the 2nd.

Pantheon Projects has a couple interesting projects going on at the fair as part of the zine tent. They will be launching a graff zine called Signal as well as selling Adam VOID & DROID’s graff zine, Learning to Die, Live the Dream II. They’ll also be selling Daniel Feral’s history of graffiti and street art poster and the exhibition catalog for the Pantheon show. On Saturday from 3:00-3:45, there will be a signing of the exhibition catalog featuring Charlie Ahearn, Chris Pape aka Freedom, KET1 RIS and Toofly.

Drago will be showing off their latest titles, including launching a new book by Chris Stain: Long Story Short. Chris will be around presenting and signing the new book on Saturday from 1-4pm. More on Drago’s plans can be found here.

Images courtesy of NY Book Fair, Pantheon Projects and Drago

Pantheon catalog launch reception

Earlier this year, the Pantheon show, curated by Daniel Feral and Joyce Manalo, took place across the street from MoMA in New York. The massive 426-page catalog is finally ready and will be launched this weekend. They are describing it as “a hybrid of scholarly journal, popular magazine, and graff zine” and it features over 400 images, nearly 20 essays and 20 interviews, covering 33 artists. The launch is taking place this Saturday at Do or Dine in Brooklyn from 6-8pm. RSVP by emailing

Photo by Luna Park

Pantheon now open in NYC

Pantheon: A history of art in the streets of NYC, opened recently across the street from MoCA in NYC and runs through the end of this week. It looks like a fantastic underground alternative to MOCA’s Art in the Streets show opening this week in LA. I’ve got a lot of respect for show who puts a group like John Fekner, Richard Hambleton, Don Leicht, Freedom, Stikman, UFO and John Ahearn all together. Check it out at 20 West 53rd Street, b/w 5th & 6th Avenue in NYC this week.

Photos by Luna Park

Installation Underway for PANTHEON: A history of art from the streets of NYC

As I passed by the former Donnell Library at 20 W. 53rd Street earlier today, the installation for tomorrow’s 5pm opening of PANTHEON: A history of art from the streets of NYC was underway. Huge pieces by Royce Bannon and Celso were beginning to capture the attention of the crowds across the street lined up for MoMA’s free Fridays. Joyce Manalo who curated the exhibit with Daniel Feral shared images of other featured artwork. Among these are the following pieces by Faro and Cake, photographed by Kat Amchentseva. This 24/7 windows exhibition of New York City street art — past and present — will continue through April 17.

Photo by Lois Stavsky
Faro, close up, photo by Kat Amchentseva
Cake, close-up, photo by Kat Amchentseva

Interview with John Fekner

In the 70’s, only a few artists were using the streets as way to reach out to people, communicate and ultimately make art. Accompanied by Don Leicht, his long time collaborator, John Fekner brought art and help to areas in New York that were in need at the time. “Decay/Abandoned” , “Wheels Over Indian Trails”,”Post no bills, Post no dreams”, etc were only some of the hundreds of messages John spray painted all over New York. What some might have called vandalism, some others saw as a welcoming statement, and some others saw as a sign that things needed to get fixed in the city.

I have to say, having the chance to interview John Fekner was truly an honor. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did. This interview an excerpt from the exhibition catalog of the upcoming exhibition, PANTHEON: A history of art from the streets from New York City. Please support their Kickstarter, they only have a few days left to reach their goal.

To find out more about John Fekner, please visit his website (lots of cool stuff in there).

Fekner 1979-1990

I know you have lived in New York your whole life, and started to do public art back in 1968. What drove you to make art in public areas?

I was a city kid, as soon as I stepped outside it was hard: concrete, asphalt, jackhammers, traffic lights. Long Island City factories were a few blocks away. Summer was handball, winter was roller hockey, and so on. Always in the street-Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights. The first outdoor text was in the Heights, where I hung out as a teenager in 60s. At seventeen, with few friends I hung over the roof of the park house and on the front we painted the phrase Itchycoo Park in two-foot letters.

What about living in New York influenced your work?

The soot belching out of apartment rooftops, chimneys, diesel engines and the smell of jet fuel near La Guardia—a love/hate with industry and technology.

You and Don Leicht have been collaborating for years. How and When did you and Don meet?

We met in graduate school in the Bronx in 1973. The first crit class we had we both showed up with invisible work-mine were portraits and his were abstract narratives. Everyone in the class was stunned- they couldn’t see anything…so we really hit it off…fellow Libras-born in October.

When did you both decide to start collaborating in art?

When we shared a studio at P.S. 1. In 76. We were both placing hidden artwork and drawing on the walls in and around the building.

What is it about collaborative work that you enjoy the most?

Collaboration is the closest I get to working in a band setting. With Don, ideas are exchanged, the visual journey take twists and turns and ultimately you make a combined image that works. Sometimes he plays lead, sometimes I take over at some point. The finish painting is a blend of both of us…it isn’t about he painted this and I said that. Sometimes it completely opposite from what it appears to be. It’s like a lyricist and a piano player. Sometimes the words comes first, sometimes the music or vice-versa. You play off each other’s input.

South Bronx- Fekner 1980

The Warning Signs project brought attention to areas and communities in need of help at the time. Could you tell me a little about this project and how it helped you develop into the artist that you are now?

I was paying a lot of attention to my immediate environment and questioning why something was broken and not being repaired. I tried to emphasis the problem that other people blocked out of their vision-I made it more visible. Issues pertaining to the human condition and the environmental are still as important to address and are in newer works, whether it’s a video or a series of paintings.

South Bronx-Fekner 1980

When researching about your work I found out that you studied poetry as a teenager. How does poetry influence your work?

Poetry is like life- you are in moment and then it’s gone. A brief reflection on life-one instantaneous boom-and you move on..a few seconds of a lifetime captured in a few words.

What inspires John Fekner?

Discovering or unearthing something that strikes an immediate chord and compels me enough to immediately react and create something new in the appropriate media.

Your favorite place in NYC?

Listening for that eternal echo under the Sunnyside viaduct: And any street in NY that still has cobblestones; reminds me of family and friends who are no longer here. And walk those streets on a holiday morning very early when no one is around…it feels like Edward Hopper will walk right by you..

You usually work with stencils and metal, why stencils? And why metal?

Stencils have that official proclamation thing going on… Don’t Touch – Don’t Enter built into it. Metal has an industrial aura and is a reflection of our environmental destruction filled with the other culprits: plastic and rubber. It’s so unnatural but is natural to us city dwellers.

“ Our children are fighting a terrible war. Whole families are being sent to the battlescreen” -Fekner/Leicht 1982

And then there is music and multimedia.How did you ended up working with computer generated work and video?

The idea of using new tools such as audio and video began in the mid-70s with the advent of the Sony portapac camera which was not that portable! DIY was a big thing so having audio/film camera equipment to document the stencils was natural. In 1981, NYU invited Crash, Keith Haring, Warhol and myself to experiment with a new computer and that’s where I created Toxic Wastes From A to Z (coming after you and me).

Hip Hop seemed to be a big influence in your life and art. Would you tell me the role music plays in your life? any last recordings, and your feelings about music back then and now?

Artists like Laurie Anderson, Alan Suicide were all doing art/music at the same time in the 70s. I began recording in my friend’s basement in the late 70s and had audio components as part of my indoor installations. By the winter of 1979 I was spending a lot of time up at Fashion Moda and just picked up on the beats/raps and then made a few records with Bear 167 from the South Bronx. Still like to add musical components on the video pieces. Recently I’ve been listening to some different things like Lower Dens, Animal Collective, Panda Bear, Woodsman, anything that sounds incomplete, like a backing track-I dig that!

How do you feel about the street art scene in New York nowadays?

Street art is the fastest visual conductor out there beating out advertising, guerilla marketing and social media. There is always something different to see somewhere around the world. It’s always the young that bring sometime new to the street, but unfortunately, they don’t stay young for very long. Careerism, branding, promotion-driven projects get in the way of who you really are. Then the next trap, like striving to become part of a gallery’s stable of artists; what am I…a horse? But that’s how the gallery system treats and controls you.

Welling Court mural project – Fekner/Leicht 2010

Favorite street artists?

There’s a young kid around the block who works with colored chalk. She absolutely never does the same thing twice. I don’t dare talk to her. I can’t wait for warmer weather to see what she’s up to next. That is the essence of a great street artist. There’s consistency, she will be at the same spot. I’m not a wall-trippin’ round the world guy. Offhand, Stephen Powers Love Letters was very cool. Great connection to the community.

Any new projects coming up?

New paintings with Don Leicht in the studio and there’s my STREAMDROPSTRASSE text work in photo streams and the ongoing Stanley Cup project plus some hidden projects around as well.

All photos courtesy of John Fekner Research Archive @1979, 1980, 2011
Presidential Candidate Ronald Reagan in South Bronx @AP/Wide World Photos 1980
Your Space Has Been Invaded ©Peter Bellamy 1982
Mother Earth Will Survive Welling Court Mural Photo: Lukwam 2010

Pantheon: A history of art from the streets of New York City

Matt Siren 

UPDATE: There are just a few days left for the Pantheon fundraiser on Kickstarter. There are some cool rewards for supporting this show, so check it out.

Abe Lincoln, Jr., John Ahearn, Adam VOID, Cahil Muraghu, Cake, Darkclouds, Droid, El Celso, Ellis Gallagher, Faro, John Fekner, Freedom, Gen2, Goya, Groser, Richard Hambleton, infinity, Ket, LSD Om, Matt Siren, Nohj Coley, OverUnder, Oze 108, Quel Beast, Royce Bannon, Sadue, Skewville, Stikman, Toofly, UFO, and even more artists are all part of a group show opening in New York on April 2nd. Pantheon: A history of art from the streets of New York City aims to bring together multiple generations of street art (and, to a lesser degree, graffiti) from New York City and tie them together into a cohesive history. There are some real under-appreciated gems in that line up like Richard Hambleton, Skewville, John Fekner, Don Leicht and Faro.

Pantheon will take place in New York City at chashama/Donnell Library Building, right across from MoMA and run through April 17th. I’m really disappointed that I won’t be able to see this show in person. It should make a nice counter-point to MOCA’s Art In The Streets show opening in LA around the same time. If you do make it to Pantheon, be sure to check out the catalog, which Vandalog’s Monica Campana has contributed to.

Here’s a little preview of some of the street work from artists in Pantheon:

UFO and Gen2
Royce Bannon
Abe Lincoln Jr. and infinity

Photos by Luna Park