Walking along lower Crown Street, something shifts and the drab walls suddenly get a little bit brighter … and cleaner.
The Artspace gallery on the corner of Orange street has a new installation in the Project Room entitled “The New English,” a series of graffiti-inspired works created by Demo, Mister Never, Dooley O and Nick Z on the walls that face the street. Although they seem designed to blend into the brush of street graffiti, these works are a marked departure from what you might find in a Woolsey Hall bathroom.
A stark white surface serves as the background for clearly delineated letters and stripes of color. This removal and heightening of the graffiti idiom from its humble, raw origin highlights the spontaneity and polish found in that genre. The less abstract work almost seems to glisten, especially in the simplified cartoonish shape of a man on one of the inner walls.
Although this cleaned-up style takes some of the power away from “found” graffiti works on the street, it serves to symbolize the problems that come coupled with a sort of gentrification and success. One of the works is a series of pastel pink and blue lines interspersed with quotations written very neatly in black. “Stay Humble” is followed quickly by “Drama Everywhere I Go.” The boundary between polishing and retaining the natural rawness of the original idiom is demonstrated by the line “Somethin ain’t right” that turns into “Something ain’t right” when the corner is turned and the “g” suddenly becomes visible.
The neat elementary script and the interplay of pastels also make the display seem oddly childlike in comparison to most brash displays of egoism found in graffiti. In contrast to the childish colors, an assortment of liquor bottles covered in their own personal bit of graffiti adds a bit of dorm room chic to one of the rooms. Covering them in paint is at least more original than just letting your forties pile up on your common room shelf. You know who you are (see this week’s “fashion faux pas”).
The installation by Dooley O. on the back wall of the gallery is one of the more hidden gems of this series of works. He’s installed three small mirrors framed in graffiti-like writing and highlighted by drips of paint on the wall behind them. The power of the understatement in this piece serves as a nice contrast to the brash, freewheeling form of the other works in the exhibit.
The perennial Artspace exhibition worth keeping an eye on is the John/Jane Project, currently featuring “Fixture” by Liz Nofziger. The project seeks to explore the odd balance between public and private found in public bathrooms with installations in the gallery’s own functioning bathrooms. This incarnation is particularly disturbing, but definitely worth experiencing. Hint: It doesn’t look like much, but there is definitely a peephole in that old-fashioned condom dispensing machine. And to all of you who think you might get lucky this weekend: the machine itself still works.
After all of the graffiti on the walls of the gallery, you might find yourself inclined to leave your own mark on the bathroom wall. Please resist the temptation.