Thursday, May 6, 2010

Commodification of the "Criminal" Genius: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Banksy, the internationally celebrated Bristol U.K. street artist, made a name for himself dismissing crass commercialism and the shallowness of Western corporate culture. Symbolically using the rat for his nemeses, Banksy teased his targets as self interested vermin. Even peacefully sipping his coffee, a business man on the Chiltern Lines riding his way into London with the Guardian in hand is just a rodent in a nice suit.

The street art movement proved fertile ground for artists and social commentators to voice and display their visions. Rooted in the urban ghetto graffiti scene of the 70's and 80's, street artists seem to embrace that their creations share in the alienated, criminal ethos. Men who were powerless in society plastered tags along bus lines and subway lines to mark territory and immortalize themselves. The appeal of alienation and the seething anger spoke to suburban white boys who took on graffiti art, tagging in old styles and new. It is in this atmosphere that the street artist, a graffiti artist par extrodinaire, works. Using the same techniques as his predecessors, but with the creativity of the artist, graffiti goes beyond vandalism to social commentary, to beautification or uglification, to medium-as-message advertising. What all versions share is a sense of being immortalized, not so much by being everywhere (though that is part of it), but by doing something so monumental that it is spoken of ever after. But while the suburban white boy and the street artist can enjoy the vigilante nature of their vanadalism, the graffiti roots are in lawlessness or arbitrary law that allowed taggers to post indiscriminately, guided only by the law of the street.

Exit through the Giftshop is seen by many as yet another act of street art, in this case presented on the screens of the nation. No one cares all that much if that was its intent. The charming story of a French camcorderist who shoots thousands of hours of graffiti artists before jumping feet first into his own commercial success as one of them plays well without irony. He begins by selling low value T-shirts that become valued only as their price tag is set to ludicrous levels, so too with his art. Derivative pieces fill a warehouse and sell to a public starved to own art work they can relate to and value, without an ability to assess its quality.

Banksy is hardly the first artist to comment on the presumed emptiness of the wealthier classes and by no means the first man to use public space as his venue. He is not the first artist to be celebrated by those he seems to satirize and chastize, nor is he the first to be commodified in spite of his anti-commerical stance. Whether his intent is genuine or his protagonist a fiction, it matters not. HIs points are valid and the street art movement deserves no less than a feature length work of art to celebrate its birth and florit. Banksy can no more escape the contradictions of fame than any other person of visible talent. Even if all he is is his own "brand" without a face or identity.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sebastian Bolesch at the Goethe Institut. Afghani Lives

Photojournalist Sebastian Bolesch elevates photojournalism to higher levels with his pictures of everyday people in extreme environments. Whether capturing children or adults, Bolesch captures the humanity and personal concerns of his subject matter. The viewer's ability to identify with the subject's simple gestures of friendship, intimacy, pain, joy, or passion give each photo photo a transcendent sense of man's ultimate concerns.

The exhibit at the Goethe institute of Bolesch's work, running until June 30, is a moving study of a country that is largely known for its lawlessness and troubles. It reminds us how easy it is to forget the ordinariness of the individuals who live there.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Motor Sport?: Clint Neufeld and Jason Gringler at the Parisian Laundry

Kissing Sisyphus by Jason Gringler, 2009, 72 by 84 inches, acrylic, collage, broken mirror, spray enamel, plexiglass

The Parisian Laundry continues to provide Montreal with avant garde installation exhibitions. Clint Neufeld and Jason Gringler's joint show celebrates the beauty of the mechanical and re-examine the concept of what is traditionally conceived of as masculine.

Neufeld's ceramic pieces are porcelain depictions of motors and car transmissions, decorated with dainty floral motifs commonly found on dish ware. Organized around the room on hip level cabinets, each engine component is turned into an artwork demanding contemplating. Initially, the viewer is amused by the juxtaposition of the traditionally masculine car part presented in such a feminine medium as porcelain. However, the cool white porcelain also beckons the viewer to appreciate the beauty of the motor, its unintended beauty and disguised symmetries. It is not so much as a jarring blend of masculine and feminine elements, but rather, a celebration of an ordinary object, elevated to the status of the Beautiful.

In the Bunker, four large paintings by Grigler also celebrate every day existence and mundanity as well. Constructed out of everyday architectural components -- enamel, glass, plexiglass, mirror, metal pieces, and spray paint -- these abstract pieces ask the viewer to consider their materials as objects of contemplation. The pieces resemble angular puzzles, with their components cut into long sharp triangles and rectangles, fitted together in an organic composition. Although rather masculine in their media and size, the paintings also utilize arrangement in a less aggressive and more familiar style. The blend of the two leaves the viewer rather satisfied with a tension brought to balance.