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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Abandoned Buildings & Street Art

I personally don't contribute to the street art scene, but the architecture I'm interested in and the photographs I enjoy taking are intertwined with it, as most of the photos on this blog have shown over the years.

There are plenty of people who sneak around abandoned buildings, subways, tunnels, etc. but the largest (and most vocal) two groups are those who are there to take photos, and those who are there for graffiti. For whatever reason, almost everyone who falls into one of those two categories thinks very poorly of anyone who's in opposite category. Personally, I don't care. Abandoned buildings are supposed to have graffiti, just as they're supposed to be slowly decaying. Sure, some of the graffiti stinks, but some of it is good, and all of it together is beautiful:

Crosley Roof
Graffiti adorns the roof of the Crosley Building in Cincinnati.

This leads us, though, to another development that's taken shape over the last few years: mainstream street art. More commonly known as sellouts, mainstream street artists are those who you've probably heard of. Shepard Fairey is the first name that comes to mind. Fortunately I never got to see his work pop up around Cincy a few months ago (because I've been living in New York since then), but our friends at Queen City Disco had an excellent review of it. More recently, people have been in tears over the mysterious (or not so mysterious) disappearance of a few of his "murals."

What strikes me most about this is the extreme double standard shown by not only the public and the media (which I've come to terms with), but by the world of artists, critics, etc. Fairey's work is met with acclaim for its "street art roots," and "social commentary," meanwhile actual street art is met with the exact opposite. The public and the media are up in arms if it isn't painted over.

Crosley Roof
I find this to be attractive, not blighted.

While it's strictly a matter of opinion, there's more art on any given wall of the Crosley Building than there is on any Cincinnati wall Fairey has touched. Sure, some of it is bad and simply a product of punk kids, but some is intriguing and attractive. In comparison, Fairey's work is mass produced, often times by crews of employees, rather than himself. It's the McDonald's of street art. People only like it because they know what they're going to get. Sure, it can be a little bit risqué here and there, but for the most part the Adobe Illustrator graphics pasted up are repetitive, lack originality, and have absolutely nothing to do with their surroundings. A city full of Fairey murals is like any suburban cul-de-sac in America.

To rationalize this post (because it's unlike anything else I've posted before), what originally got me thinking about this topic was something I heard from a few friends here in NYC, and have since read about online. Essentially, a wall that had been the product of decade's worth of street art was covered up and replaced with a typical Fairey mural. The New York Times has written a reaction about the event. The article is wrong on a few accounts, however. There is some type of unwritten code to leave other peoples work alone, but the Times fails to note that it is based upon respect; a respect that is most often mutual. There is no respect in covering up decade's worth of work, hiring a security guard to watch over your hours worth of work, and then arrogantly whining about it afterward (Shephard Fairey's reaction to the ordeal: "I think I’m a target for a lot of narrow-minded people who just aren’t comfortable with my multiplatform approach.") I'm sure he (with his very open mind) considered and dismissed the multitude of other reasons his work could have been covered up, only to arrive at the one that held himself in the highest regard.

Shephard Fairey, Canal Street
A touched-up Fairey mural on Canal St. in New York, courtesy 12 oz. Prophet.

To conclude, I take photos of places I find to be appealing. I'll stop short of calling them beautiful, but they attract the gaze of myself, and plenty of others. The street art found in these places is one of the aspects that contributes to the ambiguous aura they possess. I'll finish with a few photos, and hope someone can explain to me the double standard the world has regarding street art.

Mill Creek Rooftop
The faded Gilley's Gin sign complemented by a touch of graffiti.

Michigan Central Station
Michigan Central Station has long functioned as a canvas for street art.

White Man Inc.
A subtle, but nice touch. I appreciate that the style matches the column grid numbering.

Detroit Mushrooms.
If it said "Obey" somewhere on it, it would have a security guard.

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4 comments:

5chw4r7z said...

I'm one of the odd people who like graffiti and Fairey. But I think some people confuse tags, which piss me off if they're on building store fronts currently in use, with graffiti in which the artists are very talented.
I can see the logic (or lack of) in both camps. Fairey is more fine art than outsider, but they both have their place.

Aaron said...

Have you ever considered respecting the architect who put their time and effort into design of the building, the choice of materials, how the sun hits it, or whatver else may have inspired them to construct their building a certain way. I would say its a bit one sided to say that you should respect the street srtists work when they aren't showing very much respect to the original artist that designed their canvas. Also, I love graffiti, good graffiti that is. Tags are lame, and poor graffiti is just disappointing. I know art is always subjective, and "good" is only my opinion, but I bet I could find a lot of people who respect graffiti artists, but agree that a lot of what we see sprayed on to walls is shit.

2xTrouble said...

I love the Michigan Avenue Station photo. Is there any chance it might be available for use as cover art for a conference publication from the SSRC?

Venkman said...

2xTrouble, it sure can. Send me an email using the link at the bottom of the page to talk details and get a full resolution version.

 

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