Art Theft: How Crime Uncovers the True Value of Art

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FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson inspects “Boy with Peacock Feather” by late Polish artist Hanna “Kali” Weynerowska
Photo: FBI

Art Theft: How Crime Uncovers the True Value of Art

Art Theft: How Crime Uncovers the True Value of Art

By: Madeline Walsh

September 8, 2014

FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson inspects “Boy with Peacock Feather” by late Polish artist Hanna “Kali” Weynerowska Photo: FBI

FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson inspects “Boy with Peacock Feather” by late Polish artist Hanna “Kali” Weynerowska
Photo: FBI

Art theft often takes a starring role in movies and television. The glamour and thrill of stealing fine art has endless allure. As of 2000, this underground industry has garnered an estimated worth of over 5 billion dollars a year. We’ve previously discussed the stolen street art epidemic, but now we’ll focus on more traditional thievery. Just a few months ago, the FBI recovered pieces by the Polish artist Hanna “Kali” Weynerowska in a Bay Area storage unit. Weynerowska’s works, while technically not stolen in a traditional sense, raise a greater question about the value of art.

Hanna Kali Weynerowska, "Bachelor's Honeymoon" Photo: LiveAuctioneers.com

Hanna Kali Weynerowska, “Bachelor’s Honeymoon”
Photo: LiveAuctioneers.com

Hanna Kali Weynerowska was relatively unknown throughout her career and even today. There is no wikipedia page dedicated to her achievements. Although she was a WWII survivor, revolutionary and painter, Weynerowska’s accomplishments faded into the background of popular media. In his SF Gate article on the find, writer Bob Egelko explains the Weynerowska artworks were initially promised to a Swiss-based Polish museum. However, the artist’s surviving relative clearly could not bear to let the works go. Weynerwoka’s pieces hold significance not only as Polish works created before Soviet Union’s collapse, but also as pieces of her life and legacy. Without these valuations, Weynerowska’s artworks may not have been stolen or even classified as stolen.

Hanna Kali Weynerowska, "Umbrellas," 1978 Found on Christmas Card Photo: SF Gate

Hanna Kali Weynerowska, “Umbrellas,” 1978
Found on Christmas Card
Photo: SF Gate

Weynerowska chose to send her work abroad permanently to support the re-growth of Poland’s national art collection. Poland has struggled to recover many of its works stolen by the Nazis during WWII. As an individual, Weynerowska’s contributions to society were important on a creative level and also a historical level. In her youth, Hanna Kali was a member of the Polish resistance squad and fought in the Warsaw uprising against German forces. This, among her many achievements, adds to the foundational value of her artworks.

Hanna Kali Weynerowska, "Golden Gate Madonna," 1975 Found on Christmas Card Photo: SF Gate

Hanna Kali Weynerowska, “Golden Gate Madonna,” 1975
Found on Christmas Card
Photo: SF Gate

 

Today, there are five recognized types of art theft: boon for theft, quick sale, overseas sale, ransom and fundraising and theft for personal enjoyment. Only an estimated 5-10% of stolen artworks are ever recovered. The elusive nature of art theft has left a wake of unsolved and ongoing cases. Art theft is motivated by money, triggered by emotion and illustrates the social influences that create artwork value. In some cases, such as that of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” the theft is what generates an artwork’s value. Up until her kidnapping, the Mona Lisa was relatively unknown. It was not until after the painting was recovered that critics began lauding the piece as a Da Vinici masterwork. The unique circumstances surrounding Weynerowska’s works has compounded their value in many different ways. Art value isn’t only determined by prestigious institutions, but by everyday people themselves.

For further reading, the famous art detective Robert K. Whitman’s book “Priceless” has garnered a good deal of press in recent years. The book chronicles Whitman’s work uncovering stolen art while undercover.

 

 


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William Mitchell, Mural in Bracknell, Berkshire, 1960s
Bracknell, Berkshire, UK
Photo: BBC News

William Mitchell: Mural Movement

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William Mitchell: Mural Movement

By: Madeline Walsh

August 11, 2014

William Mitchell, Mural in Bracknell, Berkshire, 1960s Bracknell, Berkshire, UK Photo: BBC News

William Mitchell, Mural in Bracknell, Berkshire, 1960s
Bracknell, Berkshire, UK
Photo: BBC News

What would San Francisco be without the Golden Gate Bridge? New York City without the Statue of Liberty? A small English town, Bracknell, Berkshire, is finding out for themselves. Since it’s initial installation in the 1960s, sculptor William Mitchell’s mural depicting the town’s history has been a cultural cornerstone of the community. Although the piece is awkwardly placed a story above street level, the people of Bracknell truly realize its importance in their town. Slated for a full-on facelift, Bracknell will be de-installing Mitchell’s mural before demolishing buildings in the area. The town plans to reinstall this historic frieze in a refurbished area.

William Mitchell, Harrods Egyptian Escalator, 1998 Harrods Department Store, London, England Photo: Traelswithshep

William Mitchell, Harrods Egyptian Escalator, 1998
Harrods Department Store, London, England
Photo: Traelswithshep

As an artist, William George Mitchell is best known for his innovations in concrete and folk-inspired sculpture. He began his career as an apprentice, and later attended both Southern College of Art in Portsmouth and the R.C.A. school of Woods, Metals and Plastics. Much of Mitchell’s career was spent with the London County Council Architects Department, where he was able to collaborate with other artisans and engage in urban planning and development. Some of Mitchell’s more famous works include the Egyptian Escalator in the London Department Store Harrods, parts of the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral and even the San Francisco Bay Area’s own rapid transport system BART.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Bell Tower, William Mitchell

William Mitchell, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Bell Tower, 1962
Liverpool, Merseyside, UK
Photo: William-Mitchell.com

 Detail from the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, William Mitchell,


William Mitchell, Detail from the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, 1962
Liverpool, Merseyside, UK
Photo: William-Mitchell.com

The commissioned frieze in Bracknell, Berkshire employs an aesthetic and style highly popular during its inception in the 1960s and 70s. The mural takes a literal approach to developing the town’s local narrative. Each scene references the town’s historical Roman roots and lists incursions by Danes, Jutes and Saxons. Mitchell intended to add value to the town and instill a sense of local pride through public art. However, the artist’s biggest regret regarding the piece is centered around its poor placement.

He said, “It was a great pity it was put on a height like that, maybe for the best intentions, but it would be much better in a school or play garden or somewhere on ground level.” Mitchell elaborated saying, “ People say ruffians might get around it [the mural] and paint on it, but that’s what happens and it would be better if one was familiar with it.”

This raises an important question still considered by urban planners and artists alike: How can public art actively engage people if it is out of reach? The unattainable nature of fine arts has become a defining characteristic of the genre. With many famous historical and contemporary paintings secluded to expensive galleries and prestigious museums, art is made physically and socially unattainable. This tradition has nurtured the misconception that art and culture should only be accessed by specific groups; that art and culture only belong to specific groups.

RichmondBART

William Mitchell, Bas Relief, 1972
Richmond, CA
Photo: City of Richmond California

Mitchell addresses this issue by explaining his personal views on the topic: “I think it [the Berkshire Mural] should go in an area – and not because I made it – where you do not have to use psychological thinking to interpret it.” These ‘ordinary’ spaces Mitchell brings to mind, are perfect for public art. Removing work from white walls and putting it on the street allows for organic inspiration and conversation that happen around art. As Mitchell understands, making art part of a city is crucial to its cultural development. For example, Mitchell’s sculptural murals found in San Francisco and Oakland’s BART stations perfectly integrate art into people’s’ everyday lives. These murals provide continued exposure to art that is free to be in the world, and experiences more opportunities to engage people’s minds.

Mission Bart

William Mitchell, 24th Street & Mission BART Station, 1970
San Francisco, CA
Photo: Frank Synopsis

The culture surrounding institutions like galleries and museums has systematically trained people to switch into a “critical thinking” mode. This space-based behavioral change starts young on field trips and group excursions. Children and Adults, are often encouraged to passively engage with art instead of tapping into its potential to sway their emotions and thoughts. Public Art  is highly important to counteracting this stagnant activity. Although city spaces contain their own contexts, they are prime for processing art. The city is devoid of the behavioral rules and pressure often found in prestigious institutions. Art in public spaces allow more people to look at art and be impacted by art as themselves with authenticity. When art is seamless integrated into everyday life, people are able to affect social change and make the most profound impact.


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Do Ho Suh, “The Perfect Home II” (detail), 2003
Translucent Nylon
Photo: Lehmann Maupin

No Place Like This Space: What Our Spaces Say About Us

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No Place Like This Space:

    What Our Spaces Say About Us

By: Madeline Walsh

June 16, 2014

Space has a way of defining not only our behavior but also the different sides of our personalities. One simple example would be how the context of a space causes people to adjust the way they present themselves. When you are at work, you are professional. When you are at home, you are relaxed. Specific sites have the power to mold more than just your work and home selves. Spaces connected to your youth have the power to shape your understanding of self. Special spaces are often steeped in fond memories, or can spark new ideas in many people. These feelings and phenomenons are a universal side-effect of being human. Artists like Swoon and Do Ho Suh explore how to preserve these feelings and replicate them in different locales.

Do Ho Suh, “The Perfect Home II” (detail), 2003 Translucent Nylon Photo: Lehmann Maupin

Do Ho Suh, “The Perfect Home II” (detail), 2003
Translucent Nylon
Photo: Lehmann Maupin

Contemporary artist Do Ho Suh, considers how constant relocation connects to modern ideas of “home” as a universal archetype. Do Ho Suh focuses on the nostalgia of home. The emotional connection we have with home is integral in defining personal identity. It is interesting to note that Soh’s pieces involve reinstalling a “site-specific” work within several different spaces over time. Travel enables many people like Suh to live a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Moving farther and farther away from home makes holding on to a kernel of your core identity all the more important. These pieces allow the artist to take his “home” and identity everywhere.

Do Ho Suh, “Seoul Home/L.A. Home/New York Home/Baltimore Home/London Home/Seattle Home/L.A. Home,” 1999 Translucent Nylon Photo: Lehmann Maupin

Do Ho Suh, “Seoul Home/L.A. Home/New York Home/Baltimore Home/London Home/Seattle Home/L.A. Home,” 1999
Translucent Nylon
Photo: Lehmann Maupin

Do-ho Suh’s “Perfect House” and “Seoul Home/L.A. Home/New York Home/Baltimore Home/London Home/Seattle Home/L.A. Home,” were inspired by the his move from Korea to the United States. Suh immigrated to further his Art education at the Rhode Island School of Design and at Yale University. The transition made Suh feel displaced and home sick. As a result, Suh developed these fabric recreations of his childhood home. A key feature of both pieces are their adaptability. In an interview with PBS’s Art21, Suh explains the piece allowed him to carry his home and identity with him much like a snail carries its shelter on its back. The “Perfect House,” like Suh’s physical self, is installed in different locations and temporarily becomes an extension of its surrounding architecture.

Swimming Cities of Serenissima, Swoon  Photo via animalnewyork

Swimming Cities of Serenissima, Swoon
Photo via animalnewyork

Suh’s installations and artistic process mirror the way people adapt to their environments as well. How we change according to our surroundings says much about the tenacity of human spirit, as well as our desire for connectivity. Street artist Swoon knows all too well about this phenomenon. Almost all of her works center on bringing communities together by directly affecting specific landscapes.

 

View of "Submerged Motherlands" by Swoon, 2014 Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY Photo via LaughingSquid

View of “Submerged Motherlands” by Swoon, 2014
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
Photo via LaughingSquid

Swoon got her start on the streets of New York City as an alterative graffiti tagger. Main themes that underscore her work today include, a focus on natural or found materials as well as community environments . Swoon began by tagging Brooklyn walls with her wheatpaste images and portraits of people. She credits this stage of her career for feeding her current artistic tract. Since her days of tagging, Swoon has built several alternative living spaces such as her “Swimming Cities of Serenissima,”,  installations like “Submerged Motherlands,” and even new community spaces like her Konbit Shelter project. All explore identity through space.

 

Konbit Shelter, Swoon, 2010 Cormiers, Haiti Photo via inhabitat.com

Konbit Shelter, Swoon, 2010
Cormiers, Haiti
Photo via inhabitat.com

Each of her projects touch upon the emotional, creative and intellectual value we attribute to space. With her Swimming Cities of Serenissmia, Swoon and her crew floated down the Mississippi River, the Hudson River and the Adriatic Sea. The journey attempted to understand how changes in environment due to changing climate would change the way we sustain communities. Swoon’s recent site-specific Brooklyn Museum installation, “Submerged Motherlands,” combines the rafts from her swimming cities with ideas of motherhood. The piece reflects on an emotional space we all share as people. While both these projects play with philosophical elements of human identity, Swoon’s space-based practice is best exemplified by her Konbit Shelter Project.

The Konbit Shelters aimed to provide a community meeting space for the members of the Haitian Cormiers village. The word konbit, literally means “together.” Such a name was quite fitting for this valuable village resource. The structure was built using sustainable resources and found objects in an attempt to support a community deeply affected by the region’s 2010 earthquake. What is most magical about the Konbit community space is its status as a physical manifestation of communal creativity and shared ideas. The project demonstrates how people can charge a space with creative energy or special significance through action.

While our interactions with space are often taken for granted, how we live, work and play in certain spaces can make a huge impact in changing our world.

 


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Barry McGee's Stolen N-Judah Muni Mural with Tagging, 2008
19th & Judah, San Francisco, CA 
Photo by: Bonnie Burton

Not For Sale: The Cause & Effect of Graffiti Theft

Not For Sale: The Cause & Effect of Graffiti Theft

By: Madeline Walsh

June 2, 2014

Barry McGee's Stolen N-Judah Muni Mural with Tagging, 2008 19th & Judah, San Francisco, CA  Photo by: Bonnie Burton

Barry McGee’s Stolen N-Judah Muni Mural with Tagging, 2008
19th & Judah, San Francisco, CA
Photo by: Bonnie Burton

Popular films frequently depict art theft as something only fated for paintings by fine artists like Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso or Edvard Munch. But, when street artists get big, public arts are stolen as well. Upon achieving great fame, many of SF-grown graffiti artist Barry McGee’s public works were stolen off the streets. One such work included a mural from San Francisco’s Judah & Sunset muni stop. The ceramic panel mural was ripped off  a wall with its frame cast out on a nearby street.

Sheer popularity can be compelling enough to bump up art values. British tagger Banksy was recently found flirting with the relationship between fame and value. The infamous street artist made waves in the media by anonymously selling his work in Central Park, and subsequently broadcasting the process online. The experiment uncovered the weight of fame on artwork value over content and context.

With greater potential for a rapid-fire rise to fame in today’s contemporary art world, value is an idea frequently contested by viewers, buyers and critics alike. Art value is often priced at the intersections of social and monetary values. For Banksy, art theft seems synonymous with his street cred. When you search “graffiti theft” online, nearly 80% of the resulting articles are about him. What is most interesting is that while this phenomenon of art theft is nothing new, the theft of Banksy’s work more clearly uncovers how value is attributed.

There isn’t a tradition of tracking graffiti theft, because street art is meant to be ephemeral. The increasing number of street artists gaining mass attention and appeal has sparked this unusual theft trend. Banksy’s “Umbrella Girl” of New Orleans’s North Rampart street has suffered several attempted kidnappings and acts of vandalism. In March of this year, yet another crook had been caught trying to pry the image free with the intent to sell at auction. After a value assessment conducted by the NOPD, the graffiti was estimated to be worth around $200,000 to $1.1 million. This case is not unique, and unfortunately many of Banksy’s works have been reported found again and again illegally for sale at art auctions.

Banksy's "Slave Labour" Mural, 2013 Poundland Store, North London, UK Photo via DailyMail

Banksy’s “Slave Labour” Mural, 2013
Poundland Store, North London, UK
Photo via DailyMail

“Slave Labour” (above) features a child toiling away at a sewing machine to produce a string of British flags. Uncoincidentaly, the work was painted on the side of a Poundland Store in North London. The store primarily sells items priced at around a one pound each. Clearly, Banksy’s piece attempts to call attention to the true cost of consumerism. In order for Poundland to successfully turn a profit, there may in fact be a small child producing its stock for meager wages. In 2013, “Slave Labour” was stolen and later found for sale at an art auction in Miami. Of course, a battle to bring the Banksy back to Poundland ensued.

How did Banksy’s work on city walls manage to incite more greed and excitement than the work he sold openly at Central Park? It is clear that context, plays a massive role in attributing value to artworks. Thieves and amateur art collectors have learned to recognize a Banksy work only in specific settings. Such settings include: city walls, gallery walls, and auction houses (to name a few). In these cases, value has everything to do with location. That being said, how valid are collectors’ passions for street art, and therefore the value of Banksy’s work? In the fight to reclaim ‘ownership’ of Banksy’s “Slave Labour” mural, the core message within the work is lost to the fight to claim a slice of street art fame.

The street value of a Banksy piece appears to be determined by detached, elite art circles. When moved to a gallery wall, a finite value is set, yet we could argue that on the street Banksy’s work is ‘worthless.’ We could easily paint over Banksy’s piece and zero out the value within a few quick swipes.

"No Ball Games," Banksy Tottenham, London, UK Photo via Press Association Images

“No Ball Games,” Banksy
Tottenham, London, UK
Photo via Press Association Images

With the issue of frequent street art theft on the rise, should we seek a solution to prevent stealing? If so, how? Street art thefts are the biggest contributors to the increase in graffiti value. Pushing “low brow” art from people for people to the upper echelons of society seems to represent yet another type of theft. The intended audience is robbed intellectually, creatively, ideologically and culturally. The process also robs Banksy of his artistic voice. His words are twisted by theft to speak to an unintended audience that doesn’t understand him, therefore killing the spirit and meaning of his work. Theft creates an opportunity for financial gain from a medium meant to be free. The value of street art acclaim has the potential to destroy cities instead of nurture them, a polar opposite of graffiti’s intended effect.


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Keely Hafter Found Compessions One and Two Covered in Trash Bags 
Photo By: Gord Waldner for The Starphoenix

Misunderstood Installations: The Importance of Education in Public Art

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Misunderstood Installations:

The Importance of Education in Public Art

By: Madeline Walsh

May 26, 2014

Public art is an important part of enriching neighborhoods and communities. These public projects allow an outside voice to interact with specific cities and present a new perspective or push the boundaries of public opinion. However, as with the process of art exhibition in general, there is only showmanship and not education. While Art aims to change perception or inspire new ideas, the effect is often muddled by a lack of information. More often than not, public art is not positively received. This is all thanks to the tradition of exclusivity in exhibitionism, leaving many people protesting public art for reason unrelated to the works’ messages.

Keely Hafter Found Compessions One and Two Covered in Trash Bags  Photo By: Gord Waldner for The Starphoenix

Keely Hafter’s “Found Compressions One and Two” Covered in Black Tarp
Photo By: Gord Waldner for The Starphoenix

Just last month in the Canadian neighborhood of Mayfair, Keeley Haftner’s work “Found Compressions One and Two” found itself bound up in black tarp. The culprit, Luke Coupal finished off his handiwork with a sign that said “Our tax dollars are for keeping garbage OFF the streets.” Perhaps a bit of background information may have helped lessen Coupal’s intolerance of the unusual public sculptures. Haftner’s piece is made of two shrink-wrapped cubes of compressed plastic. While the lack of pleasing aesthetic value is apparent, it is clearly part of the point of Haftner’s work. The compressions were intended to spark a conversation about levels of waste and consumption. Unfortunately, while the piece undoubtedly inspired people into action, it may not have been the direction Haftener had initially envisioned.

Damien Hirst, "The Virgin Mother," 2014 Photo: Monaco Project for the Arts Instagram (@mpamonaco)

Damien Hirst, “The Virgin Mother,” 2014
Photo: Monaco Project for the Arts Instagram (@mpamonaco)

This is not a new trend. Damien Hirst’s “Virgin Mother Sculpture” was covered with a tarp following complaints from neighbors. The sculpture shows a pregnant female figure in the style of a common medical anatomy teaching tool. Half of the female’s form is exposed to reveal her muscular structure, mammary gland, and her unborn child. Hirst’s piece makes profound references to his favorite theme of mortality as well as Edgar Degas’s famous “Little Dancer Girl of Fourteen Years.” Many of the nearby residents have expressed their dislike of the sculpture saying it is “unfit to be erected in a conservation area.” The installation site, may not have been a prime locale for the “Virgin Mother Sculpture,” yet a lack of background information has led to a few misguided inferences. This phenomenon is best captured by New York Magazine’s viewer survey “Pregnant With Meaning,” on the piece.

New York Magazine's Survey on Damien Hirst's "Venus

Pregnant With Meaning: New York Magazine’s Survey of Viewer Reactions to Damien Hirst’s “Virgin Mother Sculpture”

Why is there still an ongoing attack on art? We fear what we don’t understand. Pulitzer-prize winning Chicago reporter Pam Zekman seemed to make herself and the people of her city a prime example of this unfortunate trend of art ignorance. The report even begins by trivializing Chicago’s art celebrity “Cloud Gate,” popularly known as the bean. As shown in the video above, the reporter spends the majority of her airtime harping on the cost of a public piece she clearly does not understand. Art critic Manachem Wecker makes several excellent points on how such irresponsible Journalism only perpetuates the misunderstanding of and misinformation around Art. Wecker puts it best when he described Zeckman’s absurd story transition that reveals truly how little the reporter knows about art.

“To keep things fair and balanced, the story takes the turn: “Still some say you can’t put a price on art.” (Of course prices are always put on art, which makes that a pretty silly transition.)”

Are people of the art world just more tolerant because they have learned to expect and look for meaning in these confrontational details?How can creative pursuits help grow local culture and knowledge if public art projects are continually shot down by indiscriminate dislike? I searched for an hour and could find nothing except Zekman’s irresponsible and highly biased coverage on the piece. It’s title and creator shall be a mystery to us all. Unfortunately, if it was a worthwhile investment, we’ll never know.


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Shia LeBeouf Wearing "I Am Not Famous Anymore" Paper Bag at The Berlin International Film Festival, 2014
Photo: DailyMail

The Art of Celebrity: The Celebrated Genre of Bad Art

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The Art of Celebrity:

The Celebrated Genre of Bad Art

By: Madeline Walsh

May 19, 2014

Bad art is everywhere. Thanks to the Internet, it’s becoming far too easy for celebrities to promote their bad art. Unfortunately, the general consensus is it’s inescapable. Meanwhile, we are left to wonder: is this bad celebrity art the new pop art of now? Or is the public being played by the business of megagalleries?

James Franco, "New Film Still #20," 2013 Gelatin Silver Print  Pace Gallery, New York

James Franco, “New Film Still #20,” 2013
Gelatin Silver Print
Pace Gallery, New York

Egregious examples of fine art and performance pieces are the two main categories with which celebrity-made art can be classified. Few would disagree that the Internet has added a new dimension to the business of being a celebrity. Over the years there have been increasing numbers of celebrity social experiments. Each never ceases to amaze and captivate us, pointing to our undying devotion to and obsession with celebrity. The issue of celebrity in relation to art takes a few forms. Idolization leads to a forced-fed public diet of celebrity-generated bad art. And influence, has consumers constantly craving public meltdowns and performance pieces.

Anonymous, "Charlie and Sheba" Oil On Canvas Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) Poor Traits Collection, Boston

Anonymous, “Charlie and Sheba”
Oil On Canvas
Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) Poor Traits Collection, Boston

Fine art failures are not a figment of our imagination. They are real, and real bad. Bad Art has been and continues to be a genre of its own. There is even a Museum of Bad Art that shows an astounding collection of rare finds and great hits, bringing new meaning to the adage “so bad, it’s good.” The aspiring creative is unfortunately part of our world. Sadly, celebrities are not free of this affliction. James Franco is a prime example. The man maintains an impressive collection of degrees and awards for his creative accomplishments. Yet, why does his overhyped artwork make us so simultaneously embarrassed and intrigued?

Image of James Franco Painting Selfies Via: Instagram @jamesfrancotv

Image of James Franco Painting Selfies
Via: Instagram @jamesfrancotv

Hot items in the actor’s current repertoire include oil paints of his popular Instagram selfies and a shot-by-shot recreation of Cindy Sherman’s “Film Stills.” The latter was the centerpiece of Vulture writer Jerry Saltz’s stand on today’s big bucks gallery world. While I respect the celebrity’s earnest interest in creating art, why are we still stuck looking at such juvenile work?

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962 Acrylic Paint On Canvas Tate Collection

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962
Acrylic Paint On Canvas
Tate Collection

Pop art pioneer Andy Warhol’s quirky commentary on consumerism is an interesting foil for the phenomenon. His popular image of Marilyn Monroe has become an icon within the Pop Art movement. While easily written off as fluff, the repetitive image makes a strong and lasting statement about the isolation, enigma and eternity of celebrity status. Each colorful reproduction of Monroe’s image signals the world’s insatiable obsession with the sad starlet, which eventually contributed to her demise. Marilyn’s bright image flashes like a prophetic warning sign that echoes into eternity. This piece is apt analogy for the trajectory of current celebrity and megagallery collaborations.

 

 

With the power of a big name celebrity and a big name gallery backing the exhibition, it’s hard to fathom how such bad art could be endorsed with such great scale. It is safe to say Pace Gallery‘s previous star-studded shows, such as Jay-Z’s performance of “Picasso Baby” was not only a runaway success but a valid conversation about modern art and culture. Although celebrity can bring in crowds, it doesn’t always bring in great content. Therein lies the issue at the crux of business and art. These days the medium is heavily manipulated and monopolized by megagalleries. Showcased work is no longer chosen for the content but for the sale. As Saltz explains, the game is rigged and “artists in these galleries are trapped.” The megagallery business model focuses on financial gain and leaves little room for artists to grow. Artists are often forced to shift to mass-production mode to pay for gallery staff and amenities. Also, big name galleries are cashing in on the fame factor. Pace need do nothing more than sit back and rope off an orderly queue when showing Franco’s “New Film Stills.”  In other words, fame is a key ingredient in the free publicity formula.

Joaquin Phoenix During Performance Art Phase Photo: Collider.com

Joaquin Phoenix During Performance Art Phase
Photo: Collider.com

Moreover, this trend feeds an ugly and ravenous consumer group born out of the reality tv industry. Joaquin Phoenix’s failed performance piece set the current precedent for viewer skepticism. The actor publicly renounced his career and claimed to be forging a new path through rap music. Media outlets trailed the story for days to find the root of this bizarre behavior, only to find out it was part of a larger marketing ploy for Phoenix’s upcoming film. Now, American consumers expect to find a larger truth embedded within celebrity activity, and are obsessed with uncovering it. The problem is, these public displays may not be imbued with any significance outside of gallery greed.

Shia LeBeouf Wearing "I Am Not Famous Anymore" Paper Bag at The Berlin International Film Festival, 2014 Photo: DailyMail

Shia LeBeouf Wearing “I Am Not Famous Anymore” Paper Bag at The Berlin International Film Festival, 2014
Photo: DailyMail

Bad celebrity-made art pieces are showcased in famous galleries like relics of a larger pop culture religious experience. When celebrities are idolized as creative geniuses, people are robbed of time they could be spending looking at meaningful art. So many of us are obsessed with the shallow and superficial world of celebrity, but we still crave something deeper and more intellectual from it. This growing trend of chain galleries and celebrity art is important, no doubt. The bigger question is, what kind of attention do we pay it and how much?

 


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Latham Square during its urban pilot project, 2014
Photo: Oakland North

POPOS In the Heart of the City: How Public Spaces Pump Life into Metropolitan Living

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POPOS In the Heart of the City:

How Public Spaces Pump Life into Metropolitan Living

By: Madeline Walsh

May 12, 2014

While the bustle of a city may signify its vitality, the calm of its parks and public spaces represent its humanity. Much like the famous skyscraper, city parks have become an important element of a city’s identity. As New York City’s chief city planner Amanda Burden explains, public spaces make cities work. In her TEDxTALK on the subject, Burden cites New York City’s Paley Park as a prime example of thoughtful development. Burden recounts each element that contributed to the park’s success, through attention to detail and consideration for creature comforts. These elements included movable furniture, greenery and other people, all of which feed our needs for both social interaction and personal space.

Paley Park Manhattan, NY Photo: PPS Image Collection

Paley Park
Manhattan, NY
Photo: PPS Image Collection

 

Paley Park’s rearrangeable furniture, striking waterfall and cheap hot dogs attracted several New Yorkers. Nestled between a group of high-rises, Paley highlights the context of living in metropolitan areas. As the park’s page on Project for Public Spaces explains, these elements combined to create a space of serenity for many people in hectic Manhattan. The park’s instant popularity highlighted the space’s importance as a city sanctuary. The park brings out the natural instincts of those living in an unnatural environment. We can also find similar features in Bay Area parks and public spaces.

Central Park Manhattan, NY Photo by Keyur Khamar for Bloomberg

Central Park
Manhattan, NY
Photo by Keyur Khamar for Bloomberg

Golden Gate Park, 1997 San Francisco, CA Photo by Frederic Larson from Chronicle File

Golden Gate Park, 1997
San Francisco, CA
Photo by Frederic Larson from Chronicle File

Traditional parks such as New York City’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park bring greenery into the concrete jungle. Even in a super-fast high-tech world, these parks prove it is still important to stop and smell the roses. City landscaping, in some ways, is the ultimate interactive public art. The immersive experience of parks and gardens can positively impact people both physically and mentally. Golden Gate Park is an impressive 1,017 acres, beating out its eastern competitor, New York City’s Central Park. Developed in the 1870s, the three mile by half mile public space is home to many attractions, including the De Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences and San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden. Also, host to many concerts, festivals, and public gatherings, Golden Gate Park offers both personal and intellectual enrichment.

Image of POPOS Plaque San Francisco Photo: SPUR

Image of POPOS Plaque
San Francisco, CA
Photo: SPUR

However, while the Bay Area boasts a wonderful collection of enriching public parks, contemporary public spaces are hard to find. Enter: POPOS. Privately owned public open spaces (POPOS) can come in the form of plazas, parks, walkways or atriums found within San Francisco’s commercial center. The project began as an expansion of local art collective REBAR’s COMMONspace project. COMMONspace, actively sought to support San Francisco’s public park system through the mapping, exploration and evaluation of the city’s privately owned public spaces. To stimulate growth of POPOS, REBAR conducted research and established a web database for publishing field reports from each site. REBAR also focused their efforts on activating POPOS through performance art.

Crown Zellerbach Building  San Francisco Photo: DOCOMOMO/NOCA

Crown Zellerbach Building
San Francisco, CA
Photo: DOCOMOMO/NOCA

Since it’s early days, POPOS have come a long way. Crown Zellerbach’s headquarters, located at the intersection of Bush, Sansome and Market was one of the first corporate buildings to include a POPOS in its architectural plan. The post-WWII building featured a sunken plaza, bronze fountain, cobblestone features, but also had a high granite walls and no seating.

Transamerica Redwood Park San Francisco, CA Photo: LandscapeVoice

Transamerica Redwood Park
San Francisco, CA
Photo: LandscapeVoice

The Transamerica Building set the POPOs bar in late 1960s and early 1970s with its Redwood Park. The park was the first privately owned public accessible parks in San Francisco at the time. Still a favorite today, the park features a cluster of Redwood trees, a fountain, simple design elements and plenty of of places to park it and soak all the nature in. The Redwood Park is truly a natural oaisis for the working people of the city.

Broadway Boulevard during its traffic experiment in 2010 Photo by Michael M. Grynbaum for The New York Times

Broadway Boulevard during its traffic experiment in 2010
Photo by Michael M. Grynbaum for The New York Times

Latham Square during its urban pilot project, 2014 Photo: Oakland North

Latham Square during its urban pilot project, 2014
Photo: Oakland North

Public spaces, like public artworks can revitalize an area. Both use design and detail to engage city dwellers and add meaning to a specific location. A prime example of this phenomenon can be seen in the development of New York City’s Broadway Boulevard and Oakland’s Latham Square.Both projects demonstrated a reclamation of city space for city people through design and functional details. In recent years, Latham Square has been home to several concerts, community events and a BLOCK Gallery public art installation (on display until August, 2014).

Image of SF POPOS Map Via: San Francisco Planning Department

Image of SF POPOS Map
Via: San Francisco Planning Department

As the San Francisco Planning Department’s interactive map shows, there may be more POPOS out there than we know. A major issue facing people and public spaces is a sheer lack of accessibility. Not enough people are aware of these great city spaces and how they can be used. And, as SPUR discovered through their POPOs Survey, “not all [spaces] are created equal” either. Too many spaces lack what Burden stresses: good, thoughtful design.

Empire Park  San Francisco, CA Photo by Mark Costantini for SF Gate

Empire Park
San Francisco, CA
Photo by Mark Costantini for SF Gate

555 Mission Sculpture Garden San Francisco, CA Photo: LandscapeVoice

555 Mission Sculpture Garden
San Francisco, CA
Photo: LandscapeVoice

Even with our well kept traditional parks, city preservation and beautification needs to be on-going. City spaces are constantly destroyed to make way for developments that serve narrow, short-term economic interests. Like our cities’ growing histories we must strive to build upon existing foundations instead of just ignoring or replacing them. With the rapid growth of the Bay Area’s population, carving out space for new residents is a valid concern. Despite popularity, public spaces should not be taken for granted and need constant champions. At the core of city development lies human interest. As Burden asserts towards the end of her talk, we must take the long view in developing our cities. There is a power in public spaces to help how we live and feel in our cities.

For more on the subject of urban planning and development, check out these blogs:

StreetsBlog

The Dirt

Planetizen

AND Berkeley’s symposium “REIMAGINING THE URBAN.”


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Image of Joe H’s paraSITE Shelter, February 2000
New York City, NY
Photo: Michael Rakowitz

Necessity is the Mother of Invention: How have Modern Notions of Necessity Influenced the Way We Live?

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Necessity is the Mother of Invention:

How have Modern Notions of Necessity Influenced the Way We Live?

By: Madeline Walsh

May 5, 2014

Today, necessity has become a malleable concept. The idea of “home” is known as a universal human need. Yet, it has an array of associations depending income, status or circumstance. With the launch of iconic, cookie cutter suburbia, the notion of home is often dictated by a master “American Dream” template. Media depictions of ‘home life’ also inflate expectations and ignite a hunger for frivolous “necessities.” People with the money to live modern are living in excess, while people who are living sparsely do not have  money to cover basic needs. Artists such as Andrea Zittel, Greg Klohen and Michael Rakowtiz explore the true cost of freedom in the restricting world of necessary excess.

Andrea Zittel A-Z 1993 Living Units Photo: Andrea Zittel

Andrea Zittel
A-Z 1993 Living Units
Photo: Andrea Zittel

Andrea Zittel builds bare bones living structures. The contemporary artist’s company A-Z Administrative Services, produces living units, vehicles and furniture with streamlined designs for necessary functions. Zittel’s minimal yet multi-functional living units pick apart daily routines and react to their surrounding environments. The works are heavily inspired by 20th century modernist design and architecture, best exemplified by Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. Zittel’s living units comment on necessity’s link to the idea of “home,” and how excessive consumption can be confining. The floating island, is another of Zittel’s eye-opening pieces that discusses the trappings of modern necessity. Zittel designed and helped construct a concrete island off the coast of Denmark, that supported her one month isolated stay. Much of Zittel’s works uncover the social phenomenon that push people into consumerism as well as isolation through lifestyle. Although we consider ourselves a modern society, are we actually living according to modernist values? It is interesting to note the focus on resourcefulness, everyday rituals and minimalism in Zittel’s projects. These are often fundamental features of homeless communities.

Kloehn and his Dumpster House, 2013 New York City, NY Photo: Home Harmonizing

Kloehn and his Dumpster House, 2013
New York City, NY
Photo: Home Harmonizing

NBC Bay Area featured Oakland artist Greg Kloehn for his “public art” that turns trash into shelter. His fascination with makeshift street dwellings sparked the project. In the Summer of 2013, Kloehn converted a New York City dumpster into his first living space. As public art, the houses contextually build upon the landscape by repurposing its existing elements. Each house is just big enough to accommodate its owner and provide a safer place to sleep. As seen in the clip above, each home is mounted on wheels and constantly drifting alongside its owner through the city. This creates an active dialogue between the house and its surroundings. The physical conversation is an extended commentary on homelessness.

Gregory Kloehn, House Photo: Gregory Kloehn

Gregory Kloehn, House
Photo: Gregory Kloehn

The houses literally open the door to a new interpretation of “public” artwork. Unlike monuments or murals, these pieces do not stimulate the public in a traditional sense. The miniature houses develop discussion, contextualize issues and are relatable. Kloehn’s project calls attention to the frequently ignored homeless population and presents a call for action. Oakland residents can get involved and volunteer to build more houses. The homes show how art can contribute to, engage with and better a city or space.

Kevin Cyr, "Camper Kart," 2009 Photo: West Collection

Kevin Cyr, “Camper Kart,” 2009
Photo: West Collection

Kevin Cyr makes a similar observation about mobile habitats and autonomy. With his “Camper Kart,” Cyr conflates ideas of consumerism with poverty. The cart is stocked with camping essentials like a camping stove, lantern, cooler and cassette player to ensure comfort. Cyr borrows visual language straight from the street to make a firm statement about the trappings of excess. “Camper Kart” taps into the irony of the cart, symbolic of consumer culture, and its frequent use among homeless people. Like Zittel’s work, the cart focuses on the freedom that comes with frugality. The socially charged visual language also references the Arte Povera practice of using found objects to challenge institutions and culture. But why does “Camper Kart” have a stronger impact off the streets than on it? While both Kloehn and Cyr’s work highlight a larger issue, they are only temporary “fixes.” This was an obstacle Michael Rakowitz encountered with his paraSITE project.

Image of Bill S’s paraSITE Shelter Cambridge, MA Photo: Michael Rakowitz

Image of Bill S’s paraSITE Shelter
Cambridge, MA
Photo: Michael Rakowitz

Michael Rakowitz began paraSITE as a student in MIT’s Visual Arts department. While overseas in Jordan, Rakowitz studied Bedouin tribes and nomadic culture. This sparked his interest in developing transportable architecture. Back in Boston, Rakowitziz noticed a similar drift among Harvard Square’s homeless. These people often relocated in search of important resources, namely heat expelled from HVAC vents. Rakowtiz’s paraSITE prototype was given to Bill Stone, a homeless man living near MIT. After earning Stone’s trust, Rakowtiz gained invaluable feedback on his work. As the project grew, there were more customized orders that featured elements catering to each person’s lifestyle and needs. For example, a Jabba the Hutt shaped tent was created for a Star Wars fan. Later tents had more intricate and included windows at different heights for safety, and pockets for storage and display of personal possessions.

Mario Merz, "Uncreal City, Nineteen Hundred Eighty-Nine" 1989 Guggenheim Museum, New York City Photo: Guggenheim Museum

Mario Merz, “Unreal City, Nineteen Hundred Eighty-Nine” 1989
Guggenheim Museum, New York City
Photo: Guggenheim Museum

Structurally, and thematically, paraSITE is similar to Arte Povera’s Mario Merz. Arte Povera began in 1960s Italy and focused on using nature and everyday life as art to question institutions. Merz was a pioneer of Arte Povera and his works remain highly relevant today. Among Merz’s best known works is his igloo series. From a literal standpoint, the igloo is a “transitory dwelling.” But, instead of melting away, the igloo remains constant with relocation. So, Merz customizes and explores the possibilities within the igloo by working in different locations. Each igloo is typically made of materials native to the artwork’s site. For example, Merz used eucalyptus leaves on an igloo for his 1979 Australian show. Other igloo details include historical quotes, stacks of newspaper or physical changes in size. Merz’s 1989 work at the Guggenheim in New York is aptly named “Unreal City.” The title reflects on the surreality of the contemporary art world, the unconventional museum architecture and the construct of metropolitan life.

Image of Joe H’s paraSITE Shelter, February 2000 New York City, NY Photo: Michael Rakowitz

Image of Joe H’s paraSITE Shelter, February 2000
New York City, NY
Photo: Michael Rakowitz

Sketch for Artie & Myra’s paraSITE Shelter, April 2000 New York City, NY Photo: Michael Rakowitz

Sketch for Artie & Myra’s paraSITE Shelter, April 2000
New York City, NY
Photo: Michael Rakowitz

While Rakowitz’s tents offered a small comfort to those with a life of few, his work was hardly a solution to the larger issue of homelessness. Many of the inflatable homes were seen as emblems of socio political resistance and of human resilience. Although the tents were considered to be an act of whistle blowing, they did little to improve homeless peoples’ lives. If we evaluate our chosen lifestyles and actual needs independently, we may find that home cannot be prescribed as something that is one size fits all. This is also true in finding solutions for homelessness. It is crucial to reassess actual necessity. Too often we are pushed into choosing from a preordained model of excessive living. As these artists discovered, simplicity is key.


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Barry McGee, “One More Thing,” 2005
Deitch Projects, New York, NY
Photo: Ratio3

The Price of Fame: Is There a Happy Medium Between Popularity and Artistic Truth?

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The Price of Fame:

Is There a Happy Medium Between Popularity and Artistic Truth?

By: Madeline Walsh

April 28, 2014

Barry McGee/Twist, “Corporate Pigs,” Early 1990s San Francisco, CA Photo: Babylon Falling

Barry McGee/Twist, “Corporate Pigs,” Early 1990s
San Francisco, CA
Photo: Babylon Falling

They say fame changes you.

The task of catering to a newfound popularity with a steady moral compass has split many artists in two. For street artists who call the gallery their second home, reconciling the opposing spheres of their career is something they constantly consider. How do you combine your past with your present when you move your work in from outdoors? San Francisco-grown Barry McGee exemplifies this struggle in his current creative process.

 

 

A graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, Barry McGee began his career as a graffiti artist in the 1980s and member of the Mission School art movement in the early 1990s. Named after it’s home base, San Francisco’s Mission District, the movement focused primarily on folk and urban themes. These aesthetic features correlated with both the Mission’s street culture and the popular art world’s larger “lowbrow” movement.

 

 

Early in his career, McGee went by many monikers including: Twist, Fong, R. Pimple and Bernon Vernon (to name a few). But nowadays, he seems to be juggling entirely different aesthetics rather than just tags. In Vanity Fair and Cadillac’s joint production, “Art in the Streets,” Adam Sheffer of Cheim & Read Gallery says McGee is “an artist for everybody.” But with McGee’s transition to curated spaces, how has that idea of “everybody” changed? Is his art really for everybody or every body that is welcome into galleries and can afford museum admission?

 

 

McGee’s Street persona is a gritty, rugged, reflection of San Francisco’s equally rough streets. His images, frequently found on empty bottles or coupled with scrap heaps, depict modern people’s inherent suffering. Many of McGee’s droopy-eyed characters represent a downtrodden, urban population cast out by mainstream society. McGee’s Gallery self, on the other hand, shifts the focus to mash-ups of geometric shapes, words, and wall clusters. While these collages bring in elements of McGee’s former street career, it is certainly more uplifting and refined.

Barry McGee, “The stars were aligned…,” 2004 Metropolitan Meat Market in Melbourne Photo by Garry Sommerfeld via Kaldor Public Art Projects

Barry McGee, “The stars were aligned…,” 2004
Metropolitan Meat Market in Melbourne
Photo by Garry Sommerfeld via Kaldor Public Art Projects

 

Barry McGee, “One More Thing,” 2005 Deitch Projects, New York, NY Photo: Ratio3

Barry McGee, “One More Thing,” 2005
Deitch Projects, New York, NY
Photo: Ratio3

Yet, McGee’s work has not lost all of its urban fire. The artist frequently introduces ideas of the “outside” or “outside materials” to gallery spaces in multiple ways. A lot of his recent work demonstrates this idea by defying canvas boundaries, with paintings that literally spill out out of their frames. Other times, his exhibits include found-object sculptures and dismantled cars from city streets. In a 2004 exhibition for Australia’s Kaldor Public Art Projects, McGee physically recreates an outside space indoors. As seen in “The Stars Were Aligned…,” McGee has constructed a sidewalk and an entryway shaped like an outdoor garage. Bringing the “outside” in, may be McGee’s way of methodically reconciling the two sides of his creative legacy. This fracture and reassemblage of cultural boundaries may eventually eliminate the idea of these two separate worlds.

 

 

McGee’s different flavors of art may not necessarily be of unequal value. In fact, the real art may lie in McGee’s balancing act of work in and outside the gallery. Although McGee continues to make notable creative contributions, are his indoor works helping end the graffiti world that got him started? Is McGee’s visual switch in identity just an indicator of how environment impacts expression? Or does his evolution point to the fact that people grow and change? How much of this change has been spurred by fame? This type of conflict is an ordinary human struggle that informs our history, literature and art. In our everyday lives we juggle identities, such as our private and work selves. While we adhere to cultural constructs, how much of our integrity is compromised by our “inside” and “outside” manners?

 

For more graffiti and contemporary art check out:

Boston Graffiti Ghosts

GRAFFART.EU

SFMOMA Blog

 


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Andrew Hem, 2014
Mural
Oakland Museum of California
Photo: Mazzarello Media & Arts

Blurred Lines: What happens when you take the “street” out of street art?

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Blurred Lines:

What happens when you take the “street” out of street art?

By: Madeline Walsh

April 21, 2014

Andrew Hem, 2014 Mural Oakland Museum of California Photo: Mazzarello Media & Arts

Andrew Hem, 2014
Mural
Oakland Museum of California
Photo: Mazzarello Media & Arts

The artist/benefactor relationship is nearly as old as art history itself. Commissioning street art and graffiti is important. It brings otherwise unknown artists to the forefront of public consciousness. Yet, graffiti purists may argue commissioning street art renders a normally defiant medium submissive. Does removing graffiti from the context of the street and into well lit museums empty out its meaning? This is something to ponder at the Oakland Museum of California’s newest exhibit “SuperAwesome: Art and Giant Robot.”

Diego Velázquez, “Las Meninas,” 1656 Oil on Canvas Museo del Prado, Madrid

Diego Velázquez, “Las Meninas,” 1656
Oil on Canvas
Museo del Prado, Madrid

There is often an indistinguishable link between self-expression and self-promotion. For an artist these are interdependent ingredients within the recipe for success. The commercial realm of art has existed for centuries. For example, Diego Velázquez’s royal portrait “Las Meninas” has been lauded as a masterpiece. Despite being a commissioned work, Velázquez keeps much of his personal creative prowess in tact. Following in a similar tradition, many up-and-coming graffiti artists commonly offer to paint businesses and vehicles in high tag traffic areas for free. However, customization does come at a cost.

Andrew Hem at Solo exhibition “One Leads to Another,” 2009 LeBasse Projects, Culver City, CA  Photo: DailyDuJour

Andrew Hem at Solo exhibition “One Leads to Another,” 2009
LeBasse Projects, Culver City, CA
Photo: DailyDuJour

Artist Andrew Hem’s giant mural at OMCA has received a lot of buzz, and rightly so. The piece is part of an exhibit that celebrates the cultural driving force behind the alt-zine Giant Robot. Hem’s walled dreamscape is fantastically emotive. Yet, whether the museum setting has quieted the work is still up for debate. Murals could be considered a grandparent of the graffiti we know today. Diego Rivera created several commissioned murals. Despite restraints from benefactors, he still managed to maintain much of his artistic and political voice. Upon its initial unveiling, Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals famously caused an uproar amongst Americans with its Marxist undertones.

Diego Rivera, Detroit Industry Mural, 1932-33 Fresco Detroit Institute of Arts, gift of Edsel B. Ford, 33.10.N

Diego Rivera, Detroit Industry Mural, 1932-33
Fresco
Detroit Institute of Arts, gift of Edsel B. Ford, 33.10.N

There is much criticism surrounding artists like Shepard Fairey who grew from being a small-time graffiti artist to big-time t-shirt salesman. Do we view this as a transition to a new artistic phase or a relinquishment of social values? Going mainstream or getting museum support may not mean selling out. Os Gêmeos are a prime example. The somewhat “reformed” street artists have now transitioned to less gritty canvases.

Os Gêmeos, “Don’t Believe The Hype,” 2012 Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Photo: Unurth Street Art

Os Gêmeos, “Don’t Believe The Hype,” 2012
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
Photo: Unurth Street Art

Os Gêmeos mural on side of Luggage Store Gallery, 2013 San Francisco, CA Photo: StreetArtNews

Os Gêmeos mural on side of Luggage Store Gallery, 2013
San Francisco, CA
Photo: StreetArtNews

The Brazilian artist duo Os Gêmos have been featured internationally, yet still maintain their allegiance to street art and graffiti culture. The twins clearly celebrated these things on their blog devoted to the craft. Finding mainstream success hasn’t done much to diminish their work’s glaring outcries for social justice. Yet, Os Gêmeos’ corporate collaboration with brands like Hennessy leave many to wonder if big partnerships erode credibility. Over time, Os Gêmeos has shifted a majority of their focus from walls on the street to the walled canvases in the fine art arena. At what point do the murals merely become decoration instead of artistic declaration?

Eesuu Orundide, Githinji Wa Mbire and Keba Konte, “Bottoms Up!,” 2014 10th and Pine Street, Oakland, CA Photo: Oakland Wiki

Eesuu Orundide, Githinji Wa Mbire and Keba Konte, “Bottoms Up!,” 2014
10th and Pine Street, Oakland, CA
Photo: Oakland Wiki

Let us know what you think. SuperAwesome: Art and Giant Robot opens April 19th and runs until July 27th. For a comparative study, check out the murals in your own backyard. Oakland Wiki has an extensive list of local murals like the one above.

For more online exploration click the links below:

Brooklyn Street Art

1:AM SF

Oakland Murals


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Smokey’s Tangle Group Photo, 2014 
via Smokey’s Tangle Facebook

Tangled Up in Groups: Smokey’s Tangle Celebrates 5th anniversary with semi-virtual group photo

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Tangled Up in Groups:

Smokey’s Tangle Celebrates 5th Anniversary with Semi-virtual Group Photo

By: Madeline Walsh

April 16, 2014

Image from Play Booth, 2013 via Smokey’s Tangle Facebook

Image from Play Booth, 2013
via Smokey’s Tangle Facebook

As their facebook page will tell you, Smokey’s Tangle is home to a number of creative pursuits. The “artist-owned community-minded studio” is also part gallery, part photo booth, and part t-shirt shop. This mish-mash of functions is great community asset and shows how art carves out spaces for creative expression. Smokey’s Tangle zooms in on art’s power to bring people together through their conceptual photo booths.

Image from “A Night in the Life of You” Photo Booth, 2014 via Smokey’s Tangle Facebook

Image from “A Night in the Life of You” Photo Booth, 2014
via Smokey’s Tangle Facebook

The interactive play booth is not only fun, but also shows how creative expression helps develop interpersonal and inter-spatial relationships. One of art’s most fundamental functions is to explore human nature and relationships. Smokey’s Tangle asks visitors to bring forth their inner artist through active participation. By engaging with the space, visitors develop a context for their surrounding space.

Today’s technology has helped push this phenomenon through social media and location-based applications. Take for example, the newest Internet oddity, Google Naps. The virtual map lists prime spots to snooze within your city limits. By presenting a city within this new context,  the map asks people to rethink technology’s influence on their human functions and daily lives. Like art, these tech functions allow us to define space and develop communities with more speed and intricacy than ever before.

Image from Photo Booth: Paulette’s Sh#t Show, 2012 via Smokey’s Tangle Facebook

Image from Photo Booth: Paulette’s Sh#t Show, 2012
via Smokey’s Tangle Facebook

So it is fitting that community-centric Smokey’s Tangle would celebrate its 5th anniversary with a semi-virtual project it describes as a “month-long group photo.” The collage features around 300 people, and was able to “capture approximately .07% of the Oakland population.” Interestingly enough, this diorama of artists, musicians, pets, children, friends of the gallery and newcomers was posted to Facebook. People of the internet were invited to tag themselves silly.

Smokey’s Tangle Group Photo, 2014  via Smokey’s Tangle Facebook

Smokey’s Tangle Group Photo, 2014
via Smokey’s Tangle Facebook

This project is a fun twist on how we understand connection today with the prevalence of technology and social media. Smokey’s Tangle visitors were encouraged to engage in person and online, extending the creative community into the virtual world. The group photo is an interesting observation of how both art and technology connect us and constantly redefine our relationships.

One of two photo booths at Musée Méchanique Photo by: David Gallagher Photo From: Musse Mechanique

One of two photo booths at Musée Méchanique
Photo by: David Gallagher
Photo From: Musse Mechanique

The Smokey’s Tangle project shows the positive impact of creative city spaces, and highlights the importance of celebrating and nurturing community. How have art and technology changed your relationships and sense of community? Feel like we’re living in a never-ending maze of virtual locations and relationship venn diagrams? Let us know what you think below.

A young couple editing their photos at “Pikapika” in San Francisco’s Japantown in 2008. Photo by: Michael Macor Photo from: SF Gate

A young couple editing their photos at “Pikapika” in San Francisco’s Japantown in 2008.
Photo by: Michael Macor
Photo from: SF Gate

For more photo booth fun in and around the Bay Area check out Musée Méchanique’s vintage booths offering strips of old school nostalgia or Japantown’s Pika Pika stall for more blinged out memories. Be sure to check out the Smokey’s Tangle space located at 4709 Telegraph Ave in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland.


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Gats & IMP, “Tunnel Vision,” 2013
Bay Area, CA
Photo from: http://endlesscanvas.com/?p=10155

Writing on the Wall: Is Criminalizing Graffiti Criminalizing Free Expression?

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Writing on the Wall:

Is criminalizing graffiti criminalizing free expression?

By Madeline Walsh

April 11, 2014

Keith Haring, Untitled, 1982  Acrylic and ink on wood  Museum of the City of New York, gift of Martin Wong, 94.114.102  © Keith Haring Foundation

Keith Haring, Untitled, 1982
Acrylic and ink on wood
Museum of the City of New York, gift of Martin Wong, 94.114.102
© Keith Haring Foundation

The Museum of the City of New York’s (MCNY) exhibition “City as Canvas” proves that criminal or not, graffiti continues to raise important questions about the significance of public art. The exhibition features pieces from the late Martin Wong’s private collection, which have been part of MCNY’s archives since 1994. Wong was not only a collector, but also a close friend to many of the featured artists. Although it is now a worldwide phenomenon, graffiti is a prime example of how art pushes us to reconsider our relationships with public space and popular culture.

Beginning as a creative expression for many thrill-seeking, young artists of the 1970s and 80s, graffiti and street art is now mainstream. The increasing popularity of street art helped drive now familiar artists like Shepard Fairey, Keith Haring, and Banksy into the cultural spotlight.  Many of today’s mainstream street artists have received criticism for their methods of self-promotion and of achieving mass appeal. These issues raise larger questions about money’s role in compromising the integrity and value of art.

While many uninformed critics may be quick to dismiss graffiti as the work of miscreant youth, there is a method behind the madness. Street art success depends on an artist’s creativity not just on the wall, but getting to the wall.  The painting process requires stealth, organization, and dedication. Accessing prohibited spaces and challenging authority add another layer of style and artistic value beyond pure aesthetics.

Gats & IMP, “Tunnel Vision,” 2013 Bay Area, CA Photo from: http://endlesscanvas.com/?p=10155

Gats & IMP, “Tunnel Vision,” 2013
Bay Area, CA
Photo: Endless Canvas

As the infamous GATS and many other Oakland artists discuss in  i am other’s YouTube docu-series, “Voice of Art,” graffiti’s meaning and value is multifaceted. Street art’s visual appeal is immediate and apparent. Beyond this, the underlying themes of questioning authority and the physical reclamation of city space develop a direct conversation with the city and its people. Graffiti, in this sense is the most contextual and contemporary art.

GATS 2012 work Hemlock Alley @Polk Street in San Francisco. Photo by the street art sf team http://www.streetartsf.com/gats-in-polk-gulch-gats/

GATS
2012 work Hemlock Alley @Polk Street in San Francisco.
Photo by the street art sf team
Street Art SF 

For all its cultural contributions and sociological significance, graffiti still raises the perennial question “is street art, art?” While graffiti is considered a felony in Oakland, the consequence may be part of the motivation for artists to spread their message. In her interview with CBS Sunday Morning, graffiti pioneer Lady Pink asserts graffiti “is art when you get away with it.” Ultimately, graffiti remains a consistent and crucial part of pushing the envelope culturally and spatially through art.

Nina Wright, “Girl Mobb,” 2014 Oakland, CA Photographed by Madeleine Tonzi for Endless Canvas

Nina Wright, “Girl Mobb,” 2014
Oakland, CA
Photo by: Madeleine Tonzi for Endless Canvas

Still not sure where you stand on street art? Nina Wright’s (Aka Mobb Pink, Pink Mobb) “Gritty In Pink” will be opening tomorrow, April 12th at the downtown Oakland Gallery LeQuiVive. Drawing heavily upon California iconography, Wright’s neon figures and masked females can be found around East Oakland. Take a look and tell us what you think.

Nina Wright, Mural for LeQuiVive Gallery, 2014 Oakland, CA Photo by: Rachel Escoto

Nina Wright, Mural for LeQuiVive Gallery, 2014
Oakland, CA
Photo by: Rachel Escoto

For more material on graffiti as it happens check the blogs below:

StreetArt SF

Endless Canvas

Hella Graff


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In the Studio: Mel Davis

Untitled

There is movement in the silence and warmth in the unknowing.

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MEL DAVIS  WWW.PEACHPITPIE.COM

Mel Davis is a visual artist based is Berkeley, California. She grew up in Montréal, graduated from Concordia University in 1998, then moved to the Bay Area to complete her Masters in Fine Art at the San Francisco Art Institute, (2005). She is part of numerous private and public collections and is the recipient of The Canada Council For The Arts Grant and the Irene Pijoan Memorial Award for Painting.

Untitled_Davis

Mel Davis
Untitled, 2013
Oil on canvas
20″x24″


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Seb Hamamjian: In Memoriam of a True Guide

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Left: Artist, Gustavo Ramos Rivera     Right: Seb Hamamjian

 

It is with a heavy heart to announce the passing of Seb Hamamjian on April 3rd, 2013.

Those who knew him would agree that Seb Hamamjian embodied strength, wisdom, integrity and elegance. After acquiring his first gallery and frame shop in Cupertino in 1978, Seb spent the last 35 years exploring the intersection of art, craft and design.

In 1989, Seb purchased his second gallery in Menlo Park where his sister JoAnn Edwards join in partnership.  Shortly there after, Seb opened the first of three Tercera Gallery locations in Los Gatos, which they sold in 1994 and moved the gallery to Palo Alto. In 1999 they opened Tercera Gallery, San Francisco.  JoAnn and Seb co-founded the Museum of Craft and Design in 2004.  With a need to focus on the museum they closed Tercera Gallery in Palo Alto in 2009. In the same year and with a strong desire to continue the relationships he cultivated, Seb launched Hamamjian Modern an art, design and consulting company.

Seb approached life and business with dignity, an open heart and a creative mind.  With Hamamjian Modern, Seb hosted a number of private art exhibitions at his Santa Cruz home and San Francisco flat. Offering a more intimate art experience, these exhibitions included works by artists such as Garry Knox Bennett, Paul Gibson, Kara MariaClive McCarthyGustavo Ramos Rivera and Harry Siter to name a few. In conjunction with the private shows, Seb worked closely with the Hampton’s Expo Group in 2011 to organize the installations at the San Francisco Fine Art Fair (SFFAF). After SFFAF, he took Hamamjian Modern on the road and exhibited local artists on the national level.

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Linda Deppmeier and Seb at SFFAF

A creative in his own right, Seb’s interest in art and design began at State University of New York Oswego where he graduated with an Industrial Arts degree in 1974. Believing all elements of a space should integrate seamlessly, Seb designed custom furniture pieces that blended with the architecture of the space.  From the start, Seb carried a reputation for having a high standard for quality which was exemplified in his vision and impeccable skills as a craftsman.

Between coordinating exhibitions and consulting, his time was spent in his wood shop; with open doors (of which he made) in the warm Santa Cruz air, working with his father’s tools to build custom furniture pieces for his homes and the homes of friends and clients. Guided by color and texture, Seb sought out everyday materials that could be re-appropriated, pushing material and aesthetic boundaries.  He created exquisite pieces which include a white leather couch (image above), three bed frames with headboards, a bench, a desk, kitchen and dining room tables (image above), numerous coffee tables, stunning sliding closet doors, the garage doors of both his homes, bookshelves, and an entertainment system table to name a few.  He will be remembered for his sharp wit and keen eye.

Seb Hamamjian installing Spare+Austere at Diego Rivera Gallery, 2009

Seb Hamamjian installing Spare+Austere at Diego Rivera Gallery, 2009

In my experience, it is rare to connect with someone with the same depth as family or long shared history.  Seb and I crossed paths in 2008 when I began working at his gallery in Palo Alto.  From the first day of my first gallery job, Seb was there as my teacher and my guide. It was early on that I realized I never worked for Seb rather, I worked with him. This respect was the basis for our relationship.

Among many things, Seb taught me to never burn my bridges, that business is personal,  how to have and uphold high standards, how to speak up, to ‘align-full’ all writings, never eat brownies after 3 PM and always wear nice shoes (an ongoing process). He stood with me during my most pivotal moments and was integral in conceptualizing BLOCK Gallery.  It is with this gallery that I will continue what we started. Before he passed, I was able to tell him he taught me well and as an insight into some of our adventures, here are a few moments (captured by a camera) that I am eternally thankful for.

Install of Spare + Austere at Diego Rivera Gallery, 2010

Install of Spare + Austere at Diego Rivera Gallery, 2010

Seb pouring wine at the start of Clive McCarthy's opening.

Seb pouring wine at the start of Clive McCarthy’s opening

Spare + Austere at SF City Hall  Artist: Jon Kuzmich Photo credit: Alan Bamberger

Spare + Austere at SF City Hall, 2010 Artist: Jon Kuzmich Photo credit: Alan Bamberger

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Sidnea D’Amico’s artist reception in Seb’s San Francisco flat.

Seb at recent private party.

Seb at recent private party, 2012

This post not only serves as a tribute to Seb but also as a reminder that we all learn from someone.  Give thanks to those who have contributed to your successes and stood with you through the fumbles and failures.  Who would you say ‘thanks’ to?

 


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The Collective Operation with Maciej Makalowski

HeLookedAtMeAsIfHeWereAboutToEatABigPeiceOfSteak

Maciej Makalowski        He Looked At Me As If He Were About To Eat A Big Piece Of Steak, 2010       Oil on panel

The stereotypical artist has been depicted as a loner, an outcast, staving in his/her studio, creating paintings from the dark depths of his/her soul.  While in some cases this is true, artists generally thrive off the collective experience of community and Maciej Makalowski is no exception. With his art practice exemplifying his collective lifestyle, or maybe it is the other way around, Makalowski draws on his surroundings as inspiration   for his visual narratives.

If you want to find Maciej Makalowski, your best bet is to begin at The Basement, a creative collective in the Mission that also gives roots to six artists in residence. He may be there, sifting through old photographs, working with some paint and/or clipping scenes from early 90’s flicks.  If he isn’t at The Basement, try him at home, in his communal San Francisco flat.  Not there? Then head over to one of three community non-profits.  Maybe even swing by SFAI, he may be in a classroom teaching photography. Don’t want to run all over San Francisco to find Maciej? Hop on Facebook and search for Jaciej Odelowski. Here you will find a hilarious amalgamation of Maciej and artist Jenny Odell. While the combination of these spheres  point to a dedicated niche lifestyle, there is much to be said about Makalowski’s ability to seamlessly integrate a variety of San Francisco institutions to propel his art practice.

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Nearly two years ago, Maciej Makalowski received his MFA from SFAI where he formulated the following statement: “Life is dismal. I find comfort in fraudulent nostalgia, made-up memories, and sarcastic spirituality.” This mantra speaks to the humor and awkwardness often found in his choice of subjects and is confirmed by the sarcastic whit of his titles.

Maciej Makalowski  Revenge of a Mediocre Society, 2011  Oil on panel - sold

Maciej Makalowski Revenge of a Mediocre Society, 2011 Oil on panel – sold

Maciej Makalowski  Two, 2010    Oil on canvas

Maciej Makalowski         Two, 2010      Oil on canvas

Maciej Makalowski, installation view of Vernissage, 2011

Maciej Makalowski, Installation view of SFAI Vernissage, 2011

While Makalowski’s practice begins with photography his work takes final form as paintings, books, films, and collages. When looking at the work as a whole, Makalowski’s concepts emerge individually yet somehow all lead to the discussions of how the images becomes reactivated by contemporary culture.

New paintings begin as acetone photo-transfers of obscure scenarios. In contrast to the full-framed format of Makalowski’s earlier works, this new body is unusual with its elongated size.

Maciej Makalowski    Untitled, 2013        Mixed media on canvas

Maciej Makalowski          A Real Past to the State of Happiness Series, 2013
Photo copy, colored pencil, and oil paint on canvas

Maciej Makalowski    Untitled, 2013        Mixed media on canvas

Maciej Makalowski             A Real Past to the State of Happiness Series, 2013
Photo copy, colored pencil, and oil paint on canvas

It seems the white space surrounding the image is not only a technique for engagement, but visually enlarges the postcard size photo-transfer beyond its true dimensions. The raw markings from the colored pencil initially read as a haphazard gesture however, after sitting with the image the marks become overtly intentional. Well-executed use of color against the softness of the dulling pencil, the marks begin to favor the overall mood of the work.

Maciej

Maciej Makalowski     A Real Past to the State of Happiness Series, 2013
Photo copy, colored pencil, and oil paint on canvas

In contrast to his paintings, Makalowski‘s candid photographs reveal an intense honesty about his subjects. These snapshots explore feminine grit, coupled by confrontation of a fearless liberated culture. While these Polaroid’s reiterate the instantaneous pleasure of the moment, they will fade with time. While part of the nature of the Polaroid, we are glad these photos have been preserved in book form.

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Tightly sequenced, Makalowski’s books condense his photo collections into hand held compilations of voyeuristic intimacy. The photographs as a group create a visual narrative that reveals a timeless seduction. These editioned books can be purchased through Colpa Press.

Occult Beauty, 2011 Book of Polaroids Hard cover, edition of 10 signed

Occult Beauty, 2011
Book of Polaroids
Hard cover, edition of 10 signed

Occult Beauty, 2011 Soft cover, edition of 100 signed

Occult Beauty, 2011
Soft cover, edition of 100 signed

Without getting to far ahead, Makalowski’s newest works-in-progress is a collage series of movie scenes from 80’s and 90’ films. Currently, the splicing of these clips is an exploration and has yet to solidify.

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Makalowski’s work has been featured in New American Paintings ed. 93, included in New Wave at the Kadist, SF CA and seen in numerous group and solow exhibitions in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Pop over to Edicola newsstand, on the corner of Market and 6th in SF, to purchase one of his books.  In addition, we  will be including a series of Makalowski’s collages in our September exhibition. More announcements to come.

And we leave you with this…

Nothing Compares to You

Maciej Makalowski,   Nothing Compares to You, 2013   Oil on panel

Maciej Makalowski        Nothing Compares to You, 2013         Oil on panel


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Channeling Tradition, Robert Minervini Style

What can be said about Robert Minervini that hasn’t already been said? His CV reflects representation at Marine Contemporary in Los Angeles, a solo show at Gallery Hijinks, inclusion in the 2011 BAN6 at YBCA and New American Paintings ed. #91. Recently, Minervini has been the focus of a studio visit by FecalFace.com and participated in a two person show at Johansson Projects. Beyond his studio practice he has committed his time to teaching at SFAI, Root Division, Southern Exposure and Oxbow School in Napa. This guy is kind of a machine when it comes to art.  He has been involved with almost every key venue San Francisco has to offer. And with solo show at Electric Works on the horizon, Minervini is channeling traditional, Flemish still-life paintings to produce imagery wrought with contemporary concepts and  techniques.

While cut flowers have previously made an appearance in Minervini’s work, the inclusion of California’s endangered plant and wildlife is a new element. The arrangements focus on various states of decay and alludes to the deterioration that occurs when nature collides with the urban landscape.  These concepts, in addition to others, create an ominous undercurrent for the otherwise idyllic imagery.

Rob

Speaking to a familiarity associated with the traditional still-life, the question of how these works have been received by the general viewing public came up.  Looking at one of the paintings, Rob laughed and described an amusing conversation he had with his mother about how she has always wanted him to paint flowers.  Sound familiar to anyone?

Detail

Using dried paint skins like stencils to create dimension within the compositions, Minervini toys with multiple viewing distances and the physicality of the canvas.  His process is slow, thoughtful and discriminating.  He works his layers to create visual surprises in each piece. With the works still in progress, it is encouraging to see an artist expand upon their originating body of work and re-instating a level of flexibility back into their visual language.

Keep an eye out for Robert Minervini’s work as it is bound to pop up when you least expect it.  We will be sure to post the dates of his next exhibition when available and in the mean time, check out his website and follow him on facebook for up to date information.