Last week I had the chance to attend an opening at Pomegranate Gallery in SoHo for the new show “Oil on Landscape: Art From Wartime Contemporaries of Baghdad,” curated by a former military officer who served in Iraq until 2007, Christopher J. Brownfield.
I reported on the story with my classmates from the CUNY J-School: Shuka Kalantari, who put together this great webpage for our story, and Tyler Mitter, who shot video.
As a collection from Baghdad, the art covers a wide range: from renderings of eye-witnessed violence to scenes of everyday life for Iraqis. The show evoked in me a sense of loss. The artists and many guests who know Baghdad miss a place that cultivated Middle Eastern culture. What they have in its place is a devastated home many can’t even return to until conditions improve and their lives are no longer at risk.
Naturally, the conversation around this art is political. What everyone seemed to agree on was the idea that art can help an individual transcend fear and anger and develop a better understanding through the feelings and experiences expressed. Visitors and artists seem to almost reach for each other with a desire to connect and make the war go away.
[above: bombing with bucks, Madison Ave. style]
Reading Randy Kennedy’s article documenting the end of an era in the history of graffiti art as the Spring St. haven makes way for bajillion-dollar condos, struck me with great irony after my daily ride in the shuttle at Times Square. There, today, I was confronted with a new kind of graffiti–the bought and paid for, revenue generating kind sanctioned by the MTA as advertising.
City officials call graffiti art–created without permission and without generating ad dollars–vandalism or defacement and spend tax money to remove it from subway cars or non-designated walls. Now advertisers can enjoy a new double standard when it comes to deciding what is good for the public . Ads running in the shuttle transform the car into an encapsulating advertisement and make it part of the barrage of advertising hitting New Yorkers inside taxis, on the sides of buildings, in the grocery store isle, before viewing videos….it never ends.
Almost a year ago, when David Dunlap began lamenting the great 10-year deal Viacom scored with the MTA to place their wrap-ads in the shuttle area, officials planning the ad-bombs actually told him they didn’t want to overwhelm anyone.
Huh? I can think of a few focus group members who might not appreciate a huge alcoholic beverage pouring over their heads. So the dilemma is really whether or not we throw out the “might overwhelm someone” argument altogether and allow ads and graffiti to claim the pristine public space of sidewalks, air space, elevator doors, park walls, intersections….. Just like we tolerate audio noise, New Yorkers may have to up their tolerance to visual noise.
If graffiti is the city’s “broken window” then what is a subway car full of spilling scotch or station pillars covered in luxury chocolate? The city’s “overspending debt crisis?”
[bombing old school: the artists' way]
Filed under art, graffiti