August 21, 2007

Street art and mural news

Note to emerging artists, upstart galleries and other publicity seekers: street art and mural projects always generate more media coverage than gallery shows, although not necessarily from the art critics. Because of their public visibility, these projects are treated as "news," and as we all know, news stories receive far more space than arts coverage. Here are some recent articles.

In the Philadelphia Inqurier, Joseph A. Slobodzian reports: "A city appeals board this afternoon unanimously rejected an Historical Commission order to remove a mural painted on the wall of a building at 410 S. 15th St. The Board of Licenses and Inspection Review took just eight minutes to decide that Dee Chhin's The Death of Venus could remain on the wall where she painted it more than six years ago." Read more.
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In the NYTimes, Christopher Hall reports: "Behind the 150-year-old granite walls of San Quentin State Prison lies a brutal world of physical confinement and mind-numbing monotony, a place where violence constantly threatens. It is not a place where you expect to find beauty, and perhaps this best explains the dumbfounded reaction of a first-time visitor to the prison’s cavernous dining hall, where six epic murals — each measuring roughly 12 feet high by 100 feet long — depict a populist vision of California history. Remarkably powerful and almost unknown to the outside world, the sepia-tone murals were created more than 50 years ago by a young Mexican-American prisoner who, after serving four years for possession of heroin, went on to a successful career as an artist. Painted mostly in a style that recalls Diego Rivera or Works Progress Administration murals from the 1930s, they almost certainly would have been protected long ago with a landmark designation if they were in a building to which the public had access. But hidden away in an overcrowded and decaying prison whose own fate is up in the air, the murals face an uncertain future. The murals’ creator, Alfredo Santos, was 24 when he arrived at San Quentin in 1951 in the back of an ambulance." Read more.
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Sonia Moghe, Associated Press writer, reports: "The idea behind 5 Pointz [in Queens, New York] was to give people a legal outlet to spray-paint as much graffiti as they like on the five-story building — without ever having to worry about getting busted. 'The purpose of this building isn't to eliminate graffiti and to be a cure for the graffiti problem,' said Jonathan Cohen, 34, who runs 5 Pointz. 'It's a place where you can take what you do and push the boundaries to a point where you're doing something that there's no way you can do illegally because you have plenty of time.'" Read more.
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Blake Gopnik ruminates in the Washington Post: "The painting also shares Picasso's love of printed symbols and lettering, both in Roman and in foreign scripts. It has a big red arrow, boldly outlined in white then again in black, pointing left along its bottom edge. There's a pile of distorted Chinese characters adrift in the picture's middle. Disjointed English texts scattered across the picture's surface read 'A.Y.T. AUTO SERVICE A.Y.T.' and 'www.auto-ayt.com' and, down at the bottom, '202-797-8800.' Call that number and the phone might very well be answered by Gary Zhu, owner of this and three other A.Y.T. auto-repair shops. Two years ago, he says, he paid $4,000 to have the picture painted on the blank outside wall of his 14th Street garage. He says the eye-catching mural has been very successful in promoting his business and raising its visibility. But he also insists the painting's not a work of art. It's only advertising, painted by a Hispanic customer named Frank whose further particulars he's now mislaid." Read more.

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