Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Street Art in West Chelsea: alive and ungentrified

Street/fine artist Anthony Lister puts a creepy face on Billy Marks dive Bar  

ASK ANYONE who lives (as opposed to invests) in artsy West Chelsea and they'll tell you it's becoming "artless." 

All but the bluest of blue chip galleries are fleeing to (slightly) more affordable zip codes, no thanks to rampant condo-mania.  Three of my favorites - Lori Bookstein Fine Art, Alexander and Bonin and Andrew Edlin, which formed an artsy little men-art a trois on 10th Ave have been swept away by the winds of gentrification.

So it I was thrilled to discover that street artists are alive and doodling, pasting, spraying and "throwing up" (in a good way - I'll explain later) in the nabe, on a tour hosted by "recovering street artist," Patrick Waldo.

Recovering from what, Patrick? A fall from a ladder at 2am while tagging an Absolut billboard? 

"I got caught," said the impossibly tall, millennial-apparent Waldo. He's got all the right creds to be leading this tour:  a couple of police arrests for graffiti-ing (check), stints of community service as punishment (check), and impressively, his signature doodle (most probably) ripped off and t-shirted by the likes of fashion juggernaut Zara (a big fat check, though unfortunately, not the kind that pays the rent). 

In a bit of a one-eighty, Patrick is now studying historic preservation at Pratt as well as co-chairing Save Chelsea, a local advocacy group that fights to preserve historic neighborhood sites. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done:  Save Chelsea recently lost a spirited battle to save the oldest house in the neighborhood from "glassification" (ie turning into a mass of polished concrete, steel, glass, carrara marble, giant fiddle-leaf figs in urns and Barcelona chairs). 

A moment's silence for the oldest house in Chelsea, please. 

Now, let's get walking and gawking... 

Patrick uses his iPad to show us the extended oeuvre of street artists in Chelsea
Starting at 29th street (and working our way south)

First gawk was at the large, creepy face decorating the Billy Marks dive bar by Australian street artist Anthony Lister, who sells to serious collectors around the world. According to Patrick, far from seeing street art as a scourge, some business owners welcome of a bit of creative bling on their buildings to keep things interesting. Sometime the artist is commissioned, sometimes the commission is merely permission. 

"Selling art frees these artists to do what they really want," said Patrick, "like going back onto the street and improving their craft."

The next stop was the instantly recognizable, (to me) balloon-heads of Kenny Scharf painted on a warehouse roller door.  Another street artist done good, Scharf sells his canvases for tens of thousands right behind those roller doors.

Another street artist done good: Kenny Scharf adorns the roller door of a gallery 
"He hasn't quite reached the same recognition - or prices - as his former roomate Keith Haring - probably because he isn't dead yet," said Patrick, showing us a photo of a technicolor room in Brooklyn the pair created and partied hard in with other artists back in the day.

Throwing up in the street 

"Throwing up" or "filling in" is the street art term for painting over and otherwise obscuring another street artists's work.  In the example below, Kenny Scharf's balloon heads have been painted over by a big, fat silver "throw up" ... it does have a purple lining, though:
Kenny Scharf obscured by a "throw-up"or "fill in" - when an artist obscures the work of another 
Why do artists throw up on other artists? To grab the limelight (or rather, streetlight) of course. "And sometimes they don't even know who they are covering up," shrugged Patrick.

A Wing and a prayer (for the rest of us)

One truly delightful discovery was a delicate glass mosaic bird glued to walls and lamp posts by a female street artist called Wing, aka Whitney Bird. I can honestly say, if it weren't for our eagle-eyed guide, we would have walked right by them. On her website Wing writes, "anchoring delicate glass to various forms of urban deterioration is a manifestation of the tenuous state of relations between humans and the natural world."

Wing aka Whitney Bird makes delicate glass mosaics, mostly of birds
We spotted Wing in several spots, including this wrap-around 
More Wing (with mirrored pieces) fluttering outside the Comme de Garcon store on 22nd street
Next stop was a panoramic mural by Andy Golub who's apparently more associated with painting stark naked volunteers in the street. Ironically, as Patrick showed us on his iPad, it is often the volunteer who is arrested, not Golub:
A large mural on 25th St by Andy Golub, also known for using nude volunteers as a canvas
Look up and Read More 

Then Patrick told us to look up at a simple message, executed at a dizzying height, right at the top of a building. There was You Go Girl (often abbreviated to YGG) and Read More, a mysterious artist who promotes the idea of reading more.

"Both these are done with a roller while leaning over the top of the building," said Patrick.

Wait, how do they manage to get up there?

"You can often get to the top of the building by buzzing every floor and saying you're FedEx. Once on the roof, you can work pretty well uninterrupted because police tend to look everywhere but up!"

Look up: Street artists You Go Girl and Read More use rollers to write their messages along the top of buildings - where cops never look. 
Graffiti vs Street

Which brings us to the distinction between graffiti artists and street artists. According to Patrick, graffiti artists sneak out while everyone's asleep and do a hit and run with their spray can or brush.  In contrast, street artists often prep their piece in the comfort of their studio, and then venture out to paste it up.

"The graffiti artists consider themselves the read deal compared to street artists," says Patrick, which leads to some of the aforementioned throw ups - that is, painting or spraying over other people's work.


Under the radar

There are some sneaky ways to get your art on the street without attracting the attention of the "vandal squad," ie the police. 

"One way is to carry a shopping bag with your stencil cut in the bottom," said Patrick. You kneel down pretending to fish for something in your bag, then psssssht your spray can and off you go -  no one is the wiser." This Trump face was possibly executed in this manner: 

A lot of "dump Trump" themed art is appearing on the streets
Talking heads and biking butts

The famous David Bryne, a serious New York biking icon, and has cemented himself even further into the NYC street scene via these whimsical bike racks scattered around town. Byrne apparently scribbled his ideas on a napkin while at dinner with the former Dept of Transport Commissioner, Janet Sadik-Khan, who, just like she did with bike lanes, made it happen.

The famous David Byrne designed a series of sculptural bike racks - which have also been tagged and stickered. 
Above and below: Patrick shows us some of the other Byrne bike racks

The Stikman's shtick + friends

Stikman is a mysterious little skeletal figure that's often seen on crosswalks. He's been appearing all over the the world for around 20 years, and recently switched to other media, like wood.

Above and below: The Stikman has been putting his little reflective man all over the world for years

The Stikman executes his art in other mediums

Paul Richard is another artist done very well for himself. Collected by the likes of Elton John, Larry Ellison and Christina Aguilera, he still finds time to drip some artful paint on concrete canvases in Chelsea.

"Again, having success enables a street artist to fund some of their more more subversive works - like street art," said Patrick.
A drip paining by Paul Richard.

Possibly the most elaborate work of the tour was a giant mural by the masterful Pixel Pancho looming above the empty, languishing Empire Diner. A closer look at the top of mural reveals a nod to HG Contemporary - perhaps his gallery or sponsor.

"Quite often a paint company, or maybe even the owner of the building will sponsor an artist mural to get more eyeballs on it," said Patrick. "It's a great way to market a property."

How much would Pancho have been paid for this masterpiece? 

"Maybe $500... it's often a labor of love, or an investment in your reputation." 

Pixel Pancho painted this massive work near 21st St "which can bring eyeballs to a property that's for sale."



The signatures at the top suggest the mural was commissioned by local gallery HG Contemporary

Love Me,  love my wallet

Scribbled on a lamp post, a simple doodle proclaimed "Love Me." The aforementioned fashion juggernaut Urban Outfitters, known as the purveyor of "homeless chic" commissioned artist Curtis Kulig to bless a whole line of Love Me merchandise. Apparently, this didn't go down well with some street art aficionados, perhaps because the artist made a bit of coin. Which brings to mind Gore Vidal: "Every time a friend succeeds I die a little..."

 Love Me by Curtis King netted the artist a big deal with Urban Outfitters. 
Beuys the treehugger

The tour took an ecological turn with the late Joseph Beuys' installation, 7000 Oaks. In 1982, as a participant to the 5-yearly Documenta 7 art event held in Germany,  he proposed planting 7000  of oak trees accompanied by a large vertical basalt rock, each approximate 4 feet high. Wikipedia sheds light on Beuys' motivation:

“I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself is a concept of time. The oak is especially so because it is a slowly growing tree with a kind of really solid heart wood. It has always been a form of sculpture, a symbol for this planet ever since the Druids, who are called after the oak. Druid means oak. They used their oaks to define their holy places.... ” (Joseph Beuys in conversation with Richard Demarco, 1982)
Above and below: Joseph Beuys designed this street installation such that 7000 rocks were "planted" beside 7000 trees all over the world.  
Apparently, some people viewed Beuys' work  as "parking lot destroyers" and "a motorcyclist died" - presumably colliding into one of the rocks. But gradually they softened - unlike the hunk of basalt.

EKG: putting the pulse back into the city

In contrast to the elaborate murals of Pixel Pancho and Andy Golub,  EKG "somewhere between a street artist and graffiti artist" doodles a bright orange heartbeat symbol on doors, garbage bins, walls - generally below eye level.

"Each time you encounter one of his tags, you get a sense that we are all somehow connected through the city. EKG reminds us all that it is our collective energy — the people — that brings life to NYC"  says StreetMuseumofArt.org.

A simple EKG tag in which the 50 something artist aims to put the "heart" back into NYC
Invading West Chelsea

And so to one of the most famous street artists of all time, Space-Invader, aka simply Invader. No introduction needed, especially if you're of a certain age. Invader encourages you to make your own Invader-style mosaic. In fact, I'm fully expecting Home Depot to come out with ready-to-stick packs in time for Christmas:

Look up - you're about to be Invad-ed. This one is made from Rubik's cubes.
 People have tried to chop bits of it off as souvenirs.

As Patrick shows on his iPad, Invader even strapped a rocket to a piece and sent it into deep space wearing a Go Pro.
The photos shows it made it pretty far. 

Invader invades the NYC Dept of Sanitation
A few more finds follow:

Big brands are always ripe for streetartification...

City kitty, featuring cats and flowers with eyeballs

A striking blue pagoda by Shin Shin

And while we're at it, check out the Dan Flavin installation in that building (colored fluorescent tubes)

The recovering street artist revealed

Patrick saved the best for last - his own street art contribution. He led us down to 22nd street and 11th Ave in a chill wind that suddenly became arctic. There, to his dismay, he discovered that the poster he'd tagged the night before (just for our tour) had already been ripped half off the wall... 

One of Patrick's very own works, mounted the day before, were already vandalized by someone the next day
However, were were in luck: just a few paces back back down the street, he found the rest of his work blowing around on the sidewalk. His art? Scrawling the word "Moustache" above the upper lip of faces in advertising posters.
But just up the road we found it! 
He showed us articles where his escapades - and brushes with the "vandalism police" -  have been written up in the media circa 2012. Google "moustache man patrick waldo" to read several articles. Here's one and here's another.

Being arrested back in 2010 gives Patrick some serious street cred! 

Patrick's signature tag is  the word "Moustache" on advertising posters. 

There's that moustache
"I became obsessed," he said of his "moustache" phase, which was rapidly mimicked by others and shared on social media around the world. As I mentioned before, at one point it the word appeared on a t-shirt by fashion giant Zara. On calling them out, Patrick received a bunch of legalese absolving the company of any wrongdoing, but they pulled the t-shirt from the shelves anyway - and sent Patrick a few.

"I am now the owner of about a dozen Moustache t-shirts ... in women's sizes," he said.

Fashion juggernaut Zara appears to have stolen his idea and put Moustache on t-shirts. 
As the late fall darkness fell like an axe, we decided to simply google the nearby One World, One Voice mural by Brazilian twins Os Gemeos and head for a smashed avocado toast and chai latte at Underline coffee (this is Chelsea, remember).

One the way we spotted a hooded figure embedded in a box on a signpost - invoking a wave of nostalgia. It was reminiscent of the dioramas of our youth - the microworlds we created in shoeboxes at primary school. Peering into the box revealed contributions by other street artists - including Patrick! Would he get back his nerve and scribble "Moustache" on the upper lip of the hooded figure? Only if the vandal police aren't watching...

Patrick spots a traffic-lamp installation, with a number of contributors. 
A shot of this piece on a sunnier day

One World, One Voice mural by Brazilian twins Os Gemeos 


You can follow Patrick at: @MoustacheManNYC

Save Chelsea:  www.savechelseany.org - neighborhood preservation group led by co-presidents Laurence Frommer and Patrick Waldo

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Frieze Art Fair NYC 2014 - Just because you can doesn't mean you should.


A fast ride up to the bridge to Randall's Island, host to the giant Frieze tent
New York abounds with art fairs converging rather frustratingly on the same long weekend - Scope, Pulse, Frieze, NADA ... plus a bunch of outlier events you read about only after they're over. It's hard for the average art freak to get to them all even when equipped with press passes and a fast folding bike.

But this year I decided to gal-up and pay the pricey $46 to attend Frieze New York, a "first tier" art fair, according to my art dealer friend. Now there are plenty of scholarly rants written about this much vaunted art spectacle, dramatically (if somewhat inconveniently) sited "offshore" on Randall's Island, New York. So here are a few things I found iPhone-worthy - remembering they never built a monument to a critic ...

A tent fit for an octomom's wedding! 
I had my first flat tire in ages, stalling my grand entrance. You NEVER find glass on the road when biking in Tokyo.

It's an easy spin on the folding bike up 1st Ave with a very civilized bridge taking you to the land of luxe for a weekend: picture a giant air-conditioned tent with very fancy pop-up bathrooms - I'm talking ornate handles and turned wood and Hollywood-lit mirrors. Not to mention some decent eats, including a $15 all-you-can-eat salad bowl full of hipster salads from hot new LES vegan place, The Fat Radish.

Oh right, the art:  I have to be honest, nothing inside this spectacular setting blew the Gallerista away.  Nothing like wandering with mouth agape at the modern art wing of the Armory Show or anytime the auction houses (Christies, Sotheby's, Phillips) are open to the rubbernecking 99%.

Visual puns, mundane metaphors, riff-offs, irony with a cap I and many efforts I shall cynically bucket as "Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should" abounded. Like this ...

"Just because you can doesn't mean you should." An apt title for this "work." 

In case you can't be bothered zooming, this is a wall-mounted table pierced by forks gently swaying in the breeze of an electric fan. Was it a eulogy to the buffet line on the Titanic, or the packed Manhattan restaurants that people had to suddenly flee, mid-forkful, when Hurricane Sandy hit? Maybe its sole function was to raise the hackles of the "my 6-year old with my electric drill could do that" faction. Here's another, I mean, really ...

A Koons/Oscar Meyer mashup?

An artist friend offered this take on my take:

I don't think your comments on the forks or weiners are out of order at all....totally justified. Both are great examples of the opposite ends of the market......one artist who has a factory and machines and a few peeps who polish his mass produced very expensive sculptures (very little artistic input there other than a CAD operator)...and an unknown emerging conceptualist that a gallery took a chance on just for sheer neck. All a matter of taste in the end and if you are an aesthete then much of what Frieze has to offer will offend.

All right, enough of that bucket. In the "Cool idea, let me try that at home" was a set of four bicycle inner tubes pinned up in squares:

Gareth James, "1.2.3.4." Yes, there was a 4th but it wouldn't fit in my viewfinder.

I am sure one could pen a PhD art history thesis on this about "de-inventing the wheel" and someone probably has in order to get curated through the Frieze door. Having flatted on the way here, I was already 1/4 on my way to making this a reality on my own living room wall.  And how about this, which caught my eye from across the room as only ultramarine can ...

Hayley Thompson, Digital Light Pool LXXI 2014

"Digital Light Pool LXXI 2014" was fashioned from a plastic tray from somewhere like the Container Store, then slathered with ultramarine colored paint. I confess I was drawn to it by my current obsession with the Yves Klein's IKB stamps I spotted at the Metro Show this year:

Yves Klein Going Postal ... this will set you back $25K or more. Read about it here.

In the Riff-Off bucket (which others may kindly call "homage") was a shark that channels Damien Hirst if you haven't got room for the formaldehyde-filled tank:

Shark not in formaldehyde by ... who?
"The Physical Impossibility in the Mind of Someone Living" by you-know-who
This next riff-off is really quite cool: what would happen if you put colorfield artist Morris Lewis in  a flapper dress, threw him in a blender and hit "puree?"

A flapper take on pioneering colorfield artist Morris Lewis

The real McCoy: Morris Lewis Alpha-Phi at the Met
In addition to visual irony, a lot of the spectacle of contemporary art owes itself to craft and execution -- as a canny gallerist put it, "if the art's not good, make it big and paint it black."  Call me jaded, but I earn my daily crust as an advertising copywriter - a job where you come up with these "concepts" hourly but have discard them unless you can make 'em actually sell something - so I find it all a bit "easy." Like Word Irony:

This really isn't that clever

Now in the bucket of "make it big and a s***load of effort" (think Tara Donovon - but we all love her stuff), check out this impressive needlepoint with an equally big title entitled Of what is, that is is; of what is not, that it is not 2, 2012. Everyone had their noses up pressed up against it to peer at the threadcount:
Detail of the tapestry

Goshka Macuga: Of what is, that is is; of what is not, that it is not 2, 2012

I'm assuming a computer had a digital hand in producing this massive duvet cover. Imagine if they got Andres Serrano to come along and pee on it at 15 minute intervals until it turned as yellow as Warhol's celebrity pee canvases ... 

Nick Cave's Sound Suits were eerily totemic, ritualistic and other -ic words; you could almost hear jungle drums and wailing sounds of someone being garotted by bugle beads over a boiling cauldron:

Nick Cave's Sound Suits
Detail of Nick Cave's "Sound Suits"

In lieu of his usual crowd-pleasing butterflies, spots and spin-paintings (because this is a serious, "If you have to ask the price, turn the page young man" art fair), the world's richest living artist, Damien Hirst was represented by Fear, a surgeon's shop of horrors. Noooo, not the kidney shaped dish ....



Above: Damien Hirst "Fear." I own a couple of the round bowls.
I assure you it is not at all frightening to do salad surgery in them.

(Got a thirst for more Hirst? See my Damien Hirst Spot Challenge blog - yes, I'm still wondering how on earth I convinced myself to visit 8 countries in 12 days to snag one of his screenprints).

Back to the Make it Big and ... bucket: Since it was Mother's Day, it was not surprising to see a Yoko Ono message of peace, love and understanding executed in her often-crowdsourced way - with a zillion post-it notes presumeably written by passers by:

Yoko Ono's crowdsourced Mother's Day installation


In the same bucket, here's a way to recycle a mountain of Chinese novels - make the Manhattan (or is it the Hong Kong) skyline out of them ... now what if this was done with Bibles - would the Vatican and Gideon be up in arms?

Above and below: impressive recycling of Chinese phonebooks et al at Lahmann Maupin Gallery


In the Make it Big and Barely Touch It bucket: Everyone must envy street/graphic artist Kaws, who's has gotten such fame and fortune out of simply putting a "x" sign on existing icons for eyes - that's even easier than drilling a table with 54 holes to hold forks ...

Kaws is really onto something here ... 




In the Make it Big and Irresistably Decorative bucket I'd rather have this dominating the wall of my 236 sq ft apartment, a Bridget Riley-Hallmark-gift-bow mashup ... 

Philippe Decrauzet: Untitled, 2014. Bridget Riley-Hallmark-gift-bow mashup .

And now for the Good Old Fashioned Art bucket: midst all the art-robatics, I found myself strangely drawn to comparatively "ordinary" painting and sculpture, like this George Condo:

George Condo - Tan Orgy Composition 2005

and this restfully pleasing example of Thomas Kiesewetter channeling Picasso (don't they all) ...

Above and below: Thomas Kiesewetter channeling Picasso via at 360 Mal Vorn Gallery 


... and how about this comforting collage by Jens Fange (with an umlaut):

Jens Fange: The New Order, 2014

... or some pleasant abstracts even if they co-channel Frank Stella, Donald Judd and Kaz Malevich for your kitchen backsplash ...

Above and below: Alain Biltereyst, Untitled (come on Alain, sell it as feature tiles to IKEA and you'll be rrrrrich ...)


But I too am a sucker for certain visual art-robatics. One of my fave abstract artists Jeff Elrod has a knack for doing cool things with doodles and lately, putting 'em over bokeh backgrounds:

Jeff Elro: #InterZone 2013
Jeff Elrod: Twilight, 2000.
I've liked Elrod ever since spotting this ultramarine number at an auction ... and wishing it was mine!
I'm pretty sure if I hung that in my 236 sq ft studio it would make it look a whole lot bigger ... and maybe marginally cheaper than moving in 1%-or-you're homeless Manhattan ...

See you at the next art fair!

A few more shots (but not many) on Chelsea Gallerista's Facebook Page (go ahead and Like it of you want - it's a lot more up to date than this blog)