Chelsea: Signs of the Times

Handwriting on the Wall

By: - Dec 28, 2008

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Starting with Henri de Toulouse Lautrec in Paris collectors began to tear down the billboards that were posted around the city. In the usual practice one billboard is pasted over another. Eventually these get torn and tattered into relief sculptures.

Or grafitti artists spraying their tags and staking out turf often with embedded signs and gang related logos. Rather like the medieval maps which at the edge of the known world in the ocean was written "Hic Transit Dracones." Or Here Reside the Dragons. In the heart of Africa the legend "Terra Incognita." Or unknown land.

This mania for marking is both a form of public advertising of some product, political candidate, or film. Also the expression of the individual to make visible a persona and identity. In the opressive metropolis to be somobody is to revel in the notion of stating a private opinion in a radical manner. To make visible our point of view to the passing crowd in the hope of making somone, anyone, complicit with our angst or point of view.

We include in this portfoilo an altered state of a documentary image from the Depression of a man with a hand made sign looking for work. The text is all too vividly like what is now going on in America as millions have lost jobs and life savings. The image becomes less historic and nostalgic and all too real and contemporary.

One of the games invented by the Surrealists was called "Exquisite Corpse." A piece of paper was folded in such a manner that several artists drew an image of a figure, the top representing the head and the bottom the feet. After making a drawing in that section it was folded over and passed to the next participant. The individuals did not know of the other contributions until the last segment was finished. The paper was then unfolded to reveal the sum total of disparate elements.

We encounter a vertsion of the Exquisite Corpse in street art and grafitti as the next anomymous person adds to or alters the prior text or image. There is a sense of sport and play. In another sense it is blight and vandalism. An orderly society prefers to remove and delete this blot on the urban landscape.

But we also encounter this notion of the Exquiste Corpse on the internet in the e mails and posting that make the rounds. There is the impulse to add our own point of view to a chain letter of commentary. Through the internet and texting there is a rampage of communication where social and political commentary is not confined to experts and journalists for the print and broadcast media.

Today everyone is an artist and writer. The teenager madly texting is a devloved creator of an ersatz literature. The street artist putting marks or posters on the wall is as much an artist as the ones on dsiplay in the galleries. Because these images are mostly taken in and about Chelsea they are about a guerilla gallery experience. In essence their creators aspire to the same audience.

So it is entirely appropriate that we present this indigenous spontaneous material as art along with a selection of reviews of the recent gallery exhibitions. Perhaps this will evolve into a periodic feature, It may on its own become a series of images to be seen in a gallery exhibition. Of course this is not very new or original. Aaron Siskind photographed signs and grafitti as did Walker Evans and before them the French artist Atget. Street artists like Basquiat and Haring made their way into galleries. And gallery art finds itself back on the street. The Richard Prince show at Gagosian Gallery  captured the look and flavor of street art. This is the ebb and flow.

While casual and anonymous perhaps we should pay more attention to this handrwiting on the wall. It may indeed offer clues to changes of Biblical proportion. The warnings are being posted and it would be wise for us to pay attention to them.