The gates are open to the new public/private art project called "Coney Art Walls," and today, you can have a look at all 30 or so of the new pieces by a respectable range of artists spanning four decades and a helluva lot of New York street culture history. We've been lucky to see a lot of the action as it happened over the last five weeks and the range is impressive. These are not casual, incidental choices of players lacking serious resumes or street/gallery cred, but the average observer or unknowing critic may not recognize it.
By way of defining terms, none of this is street art. These are murals completed by artists who are street artists, graffiti writers, fine artists and contemporary artists. In the middle of an amusement park, these are commissioned works that respond in some way to their environment by 30 or so local and international heavy hitters, and a few new kids on the block, comprising a 40+ year span of expertise.
Open to many strata of the public and fun-seekers who dig Brooklyn's rich cultural landscape, this outdoor show will surely end up as backgrounds for selfies -- while perhaps simultaneously elevating a discourse about the rightful place of graffiti/street art/urban art within the context of contemporary art. Okay, maybe not such loftiness will result, but let's not rule it out entirely.
It should come as no surprise that it is the dealer, curator, perennially risk-taking showman Jeffrey Deitch who is the ringmaster of this circus, or that the genesis of this cultural adventure is perplexing to some who have greeted his newest vision with perplexity and derision. His Deitch Projects and related activities in the 2000s regularly presented and promoted the street-inspired DIY cultural landscape, having done his due diligence and recognizing that new life springs from the various youth movements always afoot.
The Jeffrey-conceived "Art Parade" itself was a street-based all-inclusive annual panoply of eye candy and absurdity; inflicting humor, sex, gore, fire, glitter and possibility into the minds of Manhattan sidewalk observers.
As MOCA Los Angeles director Deitch also flipped the script with his "Art In The Streets," organizing a vast survey of a half-century of the modern grassroots genres including graffiti/street art/urban art/tattoo/punk/hip-hop/skater culture that far surpassed anyone's predictions for audience attendance and public engagement. Aside from tripping wires and a public misstep here and there, the show earned critical praise, pinched art-school noses, and pushed skeptical institutions and patrons to question their prejudices. It also gave voice to a lot of people.
Notably, that MOCA exhibit drew a little over 200,000 attendees in four months. Coney Island beach and boardwalk gets about 14 million annually. Even if the Smorgasbord pop-up village food trucks feed a fraction of that number, there will be more folks viewing art and interacting with it here than, say, the Four Seasons dining rooms, which also display street artists and contemporary artists in the restaurants' artistic programming. Side by side comparisons of Smorgasbord/Four Seasons diners ethnic diversity, income, age, education level, museum board membership or real estate investments were not available at press time. But neither can be fairly described as exploitative to artists or audience without sounding patronizing.
These multicolored and monochromatic murals illustrate a wide and balanced smorgasborg of their own; examples of myriad styles are at play with some engaging in activism and local politics and Coney Island history. From original train writer Lady Pink to aerosol drone sprayer Katsu, from eL Seed's lyrical Arabic calligraffiti to Retna's secret text language to graffitist-now-collagist Greg Lamarche, from Shepard Fairey's elegant Brooklyn salute to polluters and blasé consumerism to Tatyana Fazlalizadeh's spotlight on current Coney Island neighbors, from urban naturalist ROA's monochrome marginalized city animals to How & Nosm's eye-punching and precise graphic metaphors, you are getting a dizzying example of the deep command Deitch has of this multi-headed contemporary category that is yet to settle on a moniker to call itself.
Coney Art Walls assembles world travelers from NYC and LA and Miami and internationally; Belgium, Barcelona, Brazil, Paris, Tunisia, London. Some are 80s Downtown NYC alumni, others were train writers in the '70s, or big crew graf heads and taggers from the decades after. Some are considered historical originators of a form and cross-genre risk takers pushing beyond their comfort zone. Take a close look and you'll find names that are in major collections (private, institutional, corporate) and that go to auction.
Some are regularly showing in galleries and are invited to street art festivals, exhibited in museums and discussed in academia and print. Others have studio practices spanning three decades, are lecturers, panelists, authors, teachers, community advocates, art stars, reality TV personalities, film actors, product endorsers and art product makers working with global brands. One or two may be considered global brands themselves. A handful have been painting on the streets for 40 years. Monolithic, they are not.
One more notable aspect occurred to us as we watched this parade making its peregrination to these summer walls -- either because of Deitch or the romance or history of Coney or both; When you are looking at the range of ages and ethnicities and family configurations and listening to the variety of accents and opinions expressed and seeing the friendly but tough-stuff attitudes on display -- you might guess you were in Brooklyn. You are.
Our previous weekly updates track the installation period of Coney Art Walls: Coney Art Walls: First 3 Completed and Summer Begins
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