From the Street Up is a show coming up soon at NYC’s Woodward Gallery. The gallery invited artists Royce Bannon and Cassius Fouler to co-curate the show, which focuses on sculptural work by street artists and public artists. The line up includes John Ahearn, Richard Hambleton, NohJColey, Leon Reid IV, Skewville, Gabriel Specter, Stikman, UFO and more. That’s one of the most interesting and impressive lists for a group show that I’ve seen in a while. Some of my favorite artists will be in this show, including a few like Hambleton, UFO and Stikman who don’t show their work indoors very often.
It simultaneously amuses and saddens to me to no end how Richard Hambleton can be promoted and his works purportedly sold for astronomical sums by Valmorbida while at the same time fantastic paintings of his have difficulty reaching 5 figures at auctions when Valmorbida isn’t involved. Hambleton is one of the original street artists from the 1970’s, but his story has never really been told since the 1985 book Street Art by Allan Schwartzman. The short version is that Hambleton’s street art in the 70’s and 80’s, particularly his shadowmen, are easily up there with work by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, or Jenny Holzer, but he has never really received due credit.
It’s difficult to say if Standing Lady Shadow #R1-R9 is worth the tens of thousands that a gallery might ask for it, the hundreds of thousands Valmorbida might ask for it, or something else, but I’m pretty confident that anything this solid by Hambleton should go for more than the $6,000 opening bid that artnet has it at right now.
I just hope there’s someone out there with $6,000 and a good home who agrees with me… The auction ends of December 20th just after noon Eastern Standard Time.
This is an essay I wrote a couple of years ago for a book that was to be a collection of essays by a number of different people in the street art world, but the final product has not yet materialized, so I’m posting the piece here instead.
I don’t want to see the plan succeed/There won’t be room for people like me/My life is their disease/It feels good/And I’m gonna go wild/Spray paint the walls – Black Flag
Good subcultures get co-opted by the mainstream. That’s what happens. Punks and preps, hippies and hipsters, gangsters and geeks have all had parts of their cultures brought into the mainstream, and that attention usually harms the actual subculture.
Sometimes it can feel like street art is getting taken over the mainstream more and more every day. Plenty of people have told me that Vandalog contributes to that co-opting of the culture. The most obvious examples naturally also tend to be the most popular names in street art: Banksy and Shepard Fairey. These guys used to be the torchbearers of street art, but their newfound fame as household names has come at a price: they certainly aren’t the revolutionary artists they once were, and I would go so far as to say that in their outdoor work they are as much guerrilla marketers as they are artists. There’s plenty to say on that topic alone, but I won’t get into too much detail about the negative aspects of street art. I still have faith in the general movement of street art: Even as some artists “sell out,” it’s inevitable that street art as a whole will remain authentic, powerful and revolutionary for a long time to come.
Anyone who has read Norman Mailer’s 1973 essay The Faith of Graffiti has probably had a good laugh at Mailer’s suggestion that graffiti was already dying out. Street Art, a book by Allan Schwartzman and published in 1985, makes a similar suggestion about street art. Looking through Street Art, you’ll see the work of early street artists like Jenny Holzer, John Fekner and Richard Hambleton as well as many other names that have mostly faded from the history of street art. Most of those artists no longer make street art. Of course, street art didn’t die out, and Schwartzman was far from the last person to write a book about it, but something special is definitely captured in Street Art: The first generation of modern street art.
While most of that first generation has now moved on from street art into other mediums, they inspired future artists to start working outdoors. In the early to mid-90’s, artists like Phil Frost and Reminisce were members of a new generation doing work on the street. Frost doesn’t work outdoors anymore, and Reminisce only very rarely does. They and many (but of course not all) of their contemporaries have more or less moved on from their roots.Then in the 2000’s, new artists like Swoon and Leon Reid IV became involved in the movement with as much passion as previous generations. While both Swoon and Leon Reid IV are both still actively making work outdoors, they have somewhat moved away from street art’s anti-establishment roots: a good portion of their outdoor work is being done with permission and in cooperation with galleries, museums or arts organizations. Over the last few years, the internet has allowed street art to grow even further, and talented new artists from around the world are coming to light all the time. Artists like Roa and Escif were already well known among street art fans before they first painted outside of their home countries because people had seen their artwork online.That’s an oversimplified history, but hopefully it shows in a very general way that street art is always evolving.
Since the 1970’s, the media has lost and gained interest in street art numerous times. Naysayers often suggest that the interest of media and the injection of money can only serve to destroy street art culture, but each time this cycle repeats, street art is reborn and brought back to its core values by a new generation of revolutionary artists. Even as the most world-famous street artists stop making street art, there’s always a talented and idealistic artist just starting out with a can of spray paint or a bucket of wheatpaste, working their way up from the bottom.
Artists and even people who don’t consider themselves artists are interested in the opportunities that only street art can provide. Once the idea that street art exists is in somebody’s head, it can’t be taken away. Now that the idea of street art has become part of the collective mainstream public consciousness, it can’t be taken away from there either. Even as its general popularity may fluctuate, the idea of street art is always going to be resonating with somebody around the world, and that’s all it takes. People want to express themselves and communicate with the public, and there are few better ways to reach the public than street art.
Street art doesn’t discriminate. A trained artist in a studio with dozens of brilliant assistants can make street art, but so can a teenager with nothing more than a permanent marker and an idea. Practically any wall is an equally valid place for a piece of work for drunken men to piss on or for kids to be inspired by.
The combination of almost no barrier to entry and the fantastic power wielded by street artists, a combination unrivaled by any other art form, is why the underground nature of street art will always triumph over any push to make the genre truly mainstream. It just takes one person with a crazy idea to shift the culture in a new direction, and there are thousands of those people out there trying out crazy ideas every day. You can’t make a culture mainstream if the thing is constantly changing, you can only make out-of-date segments of the culture mainstream.
And does it really matter if one segment of street art becomes mainstream? The fact that you can buy an OBEY shirt in a department store doesn’t diminish the power that street art has in giving a voice to any person who has something to say, and it doesn’t make it any harder to pick up a can of spray paint for the first time. Street art is a great way to buck the system, especially if that system is the street art establishment itself.
For the last three decades in particular, working outdoors without permission has fascinated artists, and they keep finding ways to do it differently. During that time, stars have been born and many have faded away. Media and art-world interest has waxed and waned. In the end though, the mainstream popularity of street art doesn’t make much of a difference. Artists will always have the drive make street art and the public will always notice street art. That’s not going away. Even if it’s just one artist reaching one other person, street art can change the world. Of course, it’s never going to be just one artist. From here on out, it won’t be less than an ever-evolving army.
I discovered the East Village’s Dorian Grey Gallery last spring when it exhibited a wonderfully diverse selection of LA 11’s artwork. LA 11 is just one of many artists in Dorian Grey’s current exhibit, GroupeGRAFF, featuring work by an eclectic array of artists who have impacted — or certainly reflect — much of what has been happening on the streets during the past 30 years. Here are a few images from the exhibit:
Included too are works by: Aiko, ERO, Keith Haring, Jeff Henriquez, Mau Mau and others. Distinct pieces by Banksy and Swoon are also featured. A particular favorite — as it’s literally a piece of graffiti history — is a segment of a door from the legendary Mudd Club tagged by the likes of Keith Haring & Fab 5 Freddy:
An opening reception will be held tomorrow evening, April 28th, 5-8 pm. The exhibit continues through May 16th at 437 East 9th Street near Avenue A in Manhattan’s East Village.
The SCOPE art fair’s Miami iteration should, as always, have a few booths of interest to Vandalog readers to year. SCOPE opens on the 29th and runs through December 4th. Make sure to stop by these booths: Mallick Williams for Skullphone and Love Me/Curtis Kulig; Jonathan LeVine Gallery for Olek, WK Interact and Aakash Nihilani; Dorian Grey Gallery for Richard Hambleton (and maybe LAII); and New Image Art Gallery for Maya Hayuk and Retna. Of course, all those galleries will be exhibiting other artists as well, those are just some highlights. And there should be plenty of else of interesting. For the last two years, SCOPE has been where I’ve seen some of the most interesting indoor art in Miami.
On Every Street is a show opening this Thursday at Samuel Owen Gallery in Greenwich, CT. Curated by Michael de Feo, it features the work of dozens of street artists. On Every Street includes a diverse of street artists both in style and (from Hargo to Tony Curanaj) and when they were active outdoors (from Richard Hambleton to Gaia).
Here’s the full line up: Above, Aiko, Michael Anderson, Banksy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, C215, Tony Curanaj, Michael De Feo, D*Face, Ellis Gallagher, Keith Haring, Ron English, Blek le rat, Faile, Shepard Fairey, John Fekner, JMR, Gaia, Richard Hambleton, Hargo, Maya Hayuk, Don Leicht, Tom Otterness, Lady Pink, Lister, Ripo, Mike Sajnoski, Jeff Soto, Chris Stain, Swoon, Thundercut, Dan Witz.
Opening tonight at the East Village’s Dorian Grey Gallery is CLUB 57 & Friends featuring some of the early pioneers of the 1980’s East Village art scene and the CLUB 57 performance space. Both original works and legendary photographs are on display. Here is a small sampling:
Dress designed by LA II aka LA Roc, photo by Lois Stavsky
The opening reception is from 6 – 9pm this evening at 437 East 9th Street between 1st Ave and Ave A. The exhibit continues through October 9th. Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 12 – 7pm.
So what’s going on here? Why no bids? Do people not want to buy expensive art online? Do people not want to sell good art through an online auction? And what about things like that Richard Hambleton piece going for super cheap, compared to what galleries are trying to sell his work for? I guess that’s that bubble burst, yet again (his auction results are usually much lower than his gallery prices). Maybe one big plus about auctions like this is that they cut through all that hype. Unlike an auction at Christie’s or Sotheby’s, artnet auctions don’t have auctioneers and specialists goading buyers to spend big. And at a quick glance, some of the opening bids look high. Anyway, I’m not going to look through every single listing, but I suspect there might be a few deals hidden in this flop of an auction, if you can wade through everything else.
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.
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: