February 4, 2009

"If there is a law that is outdated, impractical, and/or immoral, people should have the right to challenge it."

"Socially, I'd like people to understand that there is a difference between what is right and what is just... Remember, slavery was considered legal at one point. I consider the world’s current modus operandi a modern slave system. I intend to challenge it in any way I can."

Legal philosophy from Henry Matyjewicz, an artist who — it may seem — operates by cutting up and rearranging the posters in the New York City subway stations, an illicit activity for which he was recently arrested.

You can see him in action here and here:



There's some question as to whether Matyjewicz is the real Poster Boy or perhaps only an artist who is using the Poster Boy method and reputation in the gallery setting. In any case, by going public, he got the police to arrest him, which, I note, is a damned effective publicity move. And now, there can be a "Free Henry" movement and complicated arty cogitations about identity and authenticity:
“Henry is one of many individuals who believe in the Poster Boy ‘movement,’ ” [somebody emailed the NYT.] “Henry’s part is to do legal artwork while propagating the ideas behind Poster Boy. That’s why it was O.K. for him to take the fall the other night.”

He added, “Henry Matyjewicz is innocent.”
And there can be the usual protestations about police abuse:
“The police came into a private event,” [said Moni Pineda, who was involved in staging the gallery event.] “They didn’t show a warrant to me or anybody. And the next thing we know, our friend is walking out with a bunch of guys we didn’t know.”
How private was this event? Did the cops ask to come in and get consent? The NYT doesn't say. That would be key if you're going to try to say they misbehaved.

Anyway, here's Poster Boy's photo stream. Basically, it's collage with other people's property. Obviously, it's criminal to destroy the advertisements businesses have paid for — paid the city, by the way, so the citizens who are entertained should see that they are in fact being forced to pay for the entertainment.



That is one of the more juvenile efforts. Here's a pretty good effort at mocking pop culture:



I love the broken compact fluorescent bulb. Yes, much as I hate crime, my sympathy is tweaked when you hit an issue I am passionate about. There's some slightly political stuff in there, but not much, really, unless you count vaguely anti-consumerist material as political.

I lived in NYC and rode the subway a lot in the early 80s when the artist Keith Haring was drawing in the subway stations. He was much less destructive, confining his work to the plain black panels that filled the poster spaces when the city had no ad to display. He wasn't wrecking an ad somebody gave money to the city for. He used chalk — white chalk — so his markings were impermanent. And he was also much more original, creating a distinctive style of drawing and inventing a whole catalogue of symbols. I remember seeing these drawings and feeling slightly nauseated by his appropriation of public property for self-promotion — though the fact that he was completely anonymous at the time made it more acceptable. Who was he to decide that his images were more important than the nothingness of the black panels? Is there never to be any visual quiet? But there was a simplicity and charm to his gift to the city. A sweet, elegant vibe — a light touch — that is missing from Poster Boy.

45 comments:

AllenS said...

Waterboard Henry to find out if anybody else is involved in this illegal activity.

Pogo said...

Governments have a few basic duties. Foregoing these, it abandons legitimacy.

Chief among them are public safety and the enforcement of property rights.

Vandalism does more than simply make the occasional 'political' message. It serves as a signal for the decay of safety, the abandonment of neighborhoods, and the rejection of ownership.

The effect of such vandalism, if legalized, would be the complete absence of advertisements, except those that are nearly impossible to deface because they are unreachable. Why bother putting up a poster that will be destroyed and no one is punished?

How stupid does Henry Matyjewicz think people are? Does he really think business owners will provide him free canvases? Does he think lawyers won't be after him for destruction of property and copyright infringement?

I have always hated assholes like Henry Matyjewicz, who perceive themselves artists above the law. If I were to steal his wallet and draw a mustache on Benjamin Franklin, would he agree that it is now mine? Dipshit.

Bissage said...

Mr. Matyjewicz would do better to spend his time trolling Althouse.

Bissage said...

And, I don’t know what Mr. Matyjewicz does for a living but . . . yes . . . he’s the guy stealing other people’s lunches out of the refrigerator.

Palladian said...

The Brooklyn Museum had a whole exhibition of "grafitti art" fairly recently. Since the Brooklyn Museum is a public institution, isn't that sort of an implied endorsement of vandalism by the city? I wondered how everyone would react if I went and did my own artistic "intervention" on some of the art on display in that show. I somehow felt that it wouldn't be well received. There's apparently some sort of tribal code that allows people to deface other people's property only if the "other people" are the "wrong" kind of people. In other words, if they're The MAN!

Anyway, this guy will soon have a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum, paid for by the revenue generated from selling ads in the subway. Isn't moral relativism fun?!

Original George said...

Subway artmucking is how Keith Haring first got noticed. See here.

He, too, got arrested, in the press, blahblahblah

The ruts of art run deep.

Original George said...

Sorry, Prefessor, in my zeal to write something mildly intelligent six seconds before anyone else I initially failed to noticed that you had commented on Haring as the ur-undergrounder.

I like this new guy's work. It disgusting. It nasty.

For the times we are being.

ricpic said...

SAY WHAT?

The ruts of art run deep.
A catchment not a keep.
Are you little bopeep?
First percolate, then steep.


Top that, Bissage!

MPorcius said...

Living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan I have seen the work of De La Vega innumerable times. Generally he writes in marker on refuse left on the curb for garbage collection, like the flat surfaces of discarded air conditioners or stoves, or in chalk on the sidewalk.

http://www.delavegainternational.com/

Joseph Hovsep said...

"Who was he to decide that his images were more important than the nothingness of the black panels? Is there never to be any visual quiet? But there was a simplicity and charm to his gift to the city. A sweet, elegant vibe — a light touch — that is missing from Poster Boy."

That is beautifully put... and I pretty much agree with your insight.

TitusWouldLikeToRecruitU said...

I miss Keith Harring....

Audities said...

Jeez...some folks here have no sense of humor. I thought the adage was "no such thing as bad publicity". Tho I agree tho these don't exhibit much humor, 'cept in the Angry Henry vein.

But is anyone really being hurt by such adh-hoc art? Certainly not the bill posters who update & maintain them. Clear Channel now owns almost all billboard space, but who owns these poster size spots? Doesn't matter I guess as by 2020 Google will own it all.

In Frisco for 30 years we've had the Billboard Liberation Front - grand, funny, original and highly topical. But not mean.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/24301298@N08/2299346434/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/24301298@N08/2299349480/

http://laughingsquid.com/billboard-liberation-front-money-to-burn-wachovia-bank/

http://laughingsquid.com/the-billboard-liberation-front-att-nsa/

Bender said...

Challenging outdated, impractical, and/or immoral laws -- isn't that what the legislature is for?

How about we challenge the outdated, impractical, and/or immoral idea that anarchy (i.e. thuggery, force, violence) and/or the judiciary are legitimate ways to challenge the law?

Pogo said...

"But is anyone really being hurt by such adh-hoc art?"

Hey, Audities, where's your house?

I've got a great idea for some ad hoc art for your car, siding, and windows.

traditionalguy said...

Why not just blog on the internet? These Artists use art as a cover to rebel against the social order in the City, and do so with impunity. That's their message. It is a contest of authority using paint for guns. They prove that Political Power comes out of the barrel of a spray paint can. Good luck keeping any quality of life with them on the loose.

Palladian said...

"Hey, Audities, where's your house?

I've got a great idea for some ad hoc art for your car, siding, and windows."

Um, Audities likely doesn't have a house or car. He rents and takes public transportation. And besides, the difference is that these artists are targeting THE MAN! Property rights don't apply to THE MAN! It's all part of the tribal philosophy you'll soon need to learn, cause if you keep defending THE MAN, they'll be coming to "ad-hoc" your property. In a grand, funny, original and highly topical manner, mind you!

former law student said...

A couple of points in favor of Poster Boy:

"Poster Boy's" work looks like art, not vandalism. Further, it draws attention to the posters, and makes the viewer think, "What was that poster really advertising?" Thus it revives the impact of the poster, which quickly fades into the background once seen.

But I am easily amused and impressed. I still remember walking under a billboard advertising Men In Black, where some energetic wit had blacked out the first "s" in the tag line, "Protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe."

tim maguire said...

A while back, I was watching "Style Wars" about the battles between Ed Koch's New York and the graffiti artists/vandals of the time, some of who's work was amazing and beautiful. My reaction was probably very common among those who watched it--I agree 100% with both sides. Yes, it's vandalism, but that vandalism contributes to cultural vibe of the city that most people who live here (even the ones who hate graffiti) benefit from.

This isn't a simple issue. Yes, posterboy is vandalizing advertising that companies paid the city for. But artists like posterboy are a big reason why so many people want to live in the city in the first place and, incidentally, those people will examine and remember the advertisements more thoroughly and enduringly then they would have if they hadn't been vandalized.

The advertisers can write it off as an occupational hazard or they can recognize that they benefit from this, but they have no right to complain about the very system they are trying to make money off of.

Pogo said...

The advertisers can write it off

The whole problem with that worldview in a nutshell.

dick said...

Sorry, Tim,

As a NYC resident I hated that graffiti on the subways. They all too often blacked out the subway maps in the cars and the scratched up the windows so you could not see where you were nor could you see the maps to find where you should get off the subways. It was all well and good for the limousine liberals of the Upper East Side to praise these artists but they never set foot in the subways, in fact never used public transport at all so it did not affect them.

I for one do not appreciate seeing my neighborhood look like a dump and that is what the graffiti artists leave us with.

Palladian said...

"A while back, I was watching "Style Wars" about the battles between Ed Koch's New York and the graffiti artists/vandals of the time, some of who's work was amazing and beautiful."

I don't think I've seen any graffiti that I've considered "amazing" or "beautiful". It's generally over-colored and is usually hindered by the limitations of its medium (aerosol paint). And I tend to like order rather than chaos and elegance rather than complexity. Graffiti doesn't generally deliver order nor elegance. At best, I've found a few things amusing and creative, but that was back in the 80s and early 90s. I haven't seen any amusing, amazing, creative or beautiful vandalism since then. It's all scrawl now, which does nothing to enhance my city.

"My reaction was probably very common among those who watched it--I agree 100% with both sides."

How is it possible to agree 100% with both sides? Again, amazing stuff that moral relativism!

"Yes, it's vandalism, but that vandalism contributes to cultural vibe of the city that most people who live here (even the ones who hate graffiti) benefit from."

Except of course the owner of the property that's been vandalized! But I suppose this mystical "cultural vibe" is more valuable than mere property. Do murder, robbery, rape, and violence also add the magical spice of "cultural vibe" to the city? Do you "miss the old New York"?

"This isn't a simple issue."

Maybe not for you.

"Yes, posterboy is vandalizing advertising that companies paid the city for. But artists like posterboy are a big reason why so many people want to live in the city in the first place"

Really? Well "artists" like "posterboy" are a big reason why so many people want to move out of the city in the second place.

"...and, incidentally, those people will examine and remember the advertisements more thoroughly and enduringly then they would have if they hadn't been vandalized."

Yes! Just like I'd be more likely to remember your face if it was horribly disfigured than if it was simply another normal face. So is that a good thing? What if the advertisers are happy with their ads as placed? Oh, right, a big fuck you to them. "Posterboy" is going to decide which of your ads need his brilliant augmentation!

Come on. This stuff isn't very interesting, it's not particularly visually compelling, just a retread of trite hipster graphics that we've endured for the last 10 years or so, it's self-righteous (did you look at more than just two of them?) and it has all the philosophical sophistication of a stoned college freshman's poetry. Whoever this "posterboy" is, all he really wants is to get the attention of various media whores and to get himself a lucrative spot in a Chelsea gallery. And guess what would happen should someone decide his gallery work needs a little "augmentation"?

blake said...

Apparently there is no private property in public spaces.

Palladian said...

"I for one do not appreciate seeing my neighborhood look like a dump and that is what the graffiti artists leave us with."

Yes, because since graffiti is a crime, there's really no way to sort out the "good" graffiti from the "bad" graffiti. You get what you get. Most people are profoundly untalented, so you spend 98 percent of your time looking at scrawled shit and 2 percent of your time smiling wanly at a competently sprayed-on picture of Tweety Bird. Hardly worth the destruction and degradation is it? And what if I like the texture and color of an old brick wall? Tough luck for me! Here, enjoy this metallic-edged rendering of the word "Fresh!" instead. You'll learn to like it. It's a "cultural vibe" thing. And like the kind of cultures that grow in agar-covered petri dishes, if they're unchecked they'll soon cover every millimeter of every single surface.

Trooper York said...

Someone has been graffiting the side of my store. I contacted the Police's graffiti task force and they responded quickly. They even have a program where they repaint your walls. Of course they did a horrible job and it almost looks worse than before that that is not their fault. I have a camera and have turned over the tape and will prosecute these vandals to the fullest extent of the law. However if I catch them or any of the people I have looking for them catch them, will be happy to rearrange their faces in a much more artistic manner.

Trooper York said...

There is also a bounty for anyone who can bring me the finger that they used to spray their paint with.

Trooper York said...

I ain't fucking around.

Palladian said...

But you're PART OF THE MACHINE, Trooper! You're THE MAN! You must submit to these Artistic Robin Hoods, who are liberating your dull, undecorated public space with their mad skilz! Who are you to question their wisdom?!

Palladian said...

One of these Rubens of Rustoleum recently painted a particularly beautiful rendition of the word CUNTZ on my loft building's exterior door. When I came home and saw it for the first time, I though to myself: "Amazing and beautiful! Yes, it's vandalism, but vandalism contributes to cultural vibe of the city that most people who live here, even the ones like me who hate graffiti, benefit from!

Artists like the CUNTZ sprayer are a big reason why I want to live in the city in the first place and, incidentally, I will examine and remember my door more thoroughly and enduringly than I would have if it hadn't been vandalized! Thank you CUNTZ sprayer! Next time, I'll just let the door to my loft open and you can come in an add your "cultural vibe" to my interior spaces as well!"

Trooper York said...

Well you gay guys do scieve the cuntz but I get the idea.

Will the douches who think this is great send me $500 to sand down and repaint the walls that these jerkoff's vandalized. I mean if you think it is such a great idea.

former law student said...

Someone has been graffiting the side of my store.

Graffiti on a building like that is a claim to territory. The graffiti writer -- whether simple tagger or someone more elaborate --is no artist, any more than a dog pissing on a tree is.

Plus, painting a wall is meant to be permanent. A poster by design will be torn down and discarded.

TosaGuy said...

Since adverstising space is "temporary" and not permanent like a wall....

Why don't these "graffiti artists" buy advertising space and then do what they want with it.

But that would be the responsible, respectful of other people's property thing to do.

pst314 said...

"artists like posterboy are a big reason why so many people want to live in the city in the first place"

BS.

fcai said...

Hey, it's all Yankees and they talk funny - who in the rest of the country cares? Spray paint, deface, fly airplanes into the buildings - it doesn't matter - they are liberals, and as such, they get what they deserve.

Bissage said...

Master ricpic, I do humbly accept your challenge and concede defeat, as follows:

There once was a man Matyjewicz
An artist depressed cause he ain’t rich
He ain’t paid no dues
Still he got in the news
Do you think that it’s fair? Ain’t no way, bitch!

Pogo said...

" - it doesn't matter - they are liberals, and as such, they get what they deserve."

As long as there is one Trooper or Palladian, it should be spared, no?

Palladian said...

"Hey, it's all Yankees and they talk funny - who in the rest of the country cares? Spray paint, deface, fly airplanes into the buildings - it doesn't matter - they are liberals, and as such, they get what they deserve."

Really? We're all "liberals" here in New York? Gee, you sound like... a liberal! Because that's the same smug, self-satisfied attitude that they have.

And even if we are liberals, you think we deserved to be murdered? Wow.

dick said...

FLS,

Assume I own a business that I want to advertise. I pay an agency a healthy amount to design an ad that portrays my business the way I want it portrayed. I pay the MTA a fair amount of money to have my ad placed on site. Now some little weenie thinks he should have the right to take this ad I have paid for and also paid to have placed where it will show my business off the way I want it to be shown and tear it down and mess it up and then make all kinds of marks on it. Then another little weenie doesn't like that design so he marks it up some more and tears it down some more.

You are saying that I should just be happy that these "artists" redesigned my ad campaign because it is just temporary and will be torn down anyway. I don't think that fits the scope of what I want to do with this ad I paid for and the space I rented from the city. It is the equivalent of this douche bag walking into my apartment that I rent and tearing the upholstery on my sofa because he thinks it would look better with something else stuck on it. Same principle.

Smilin' Jack said...

...He was much less destructive, confining his work to the plain black panels that filled the poster spaces when the city had no ad to display. He wasn't wrecking an ad somebody gave money to the city for....I remember seeing these drawings and feeling slightly nauseated by his appropriation of public property for self-promotion — Who was he to decide that his images were more important than the nothingness of the black panels? Is there never to be any visual quiet?

Yes, we should all respect the sanctity of visual quiet--unless, of course, the city can make a few bucks covering it with glaringly obnoxious and stupid ads.

Assume I own a business that I want to advertise. I pay an agency a healthy amount to design an ad that portrays my business the way I want it portrayed. I pay the MTA a fair amount of money to have my ad placed on site.

But did you pay me to have it projected onto my retinas in a public place? No? Then tough shit. Keep your ugly-ass ad in your ugly-ass apartment and out of my sight.

former law student said...

Now some little weenie

Not "now." Poster desecration is a fine American tradition.

http://i45.photobucket.com/albums/f71/blueyedsoul419/heather-locklear-short2.jpg

http://powerline.blogspot.com/DavosBushMoustache.jpg

It is the equivalent of this douche bag walking into my apartment that I rent and tearing the upholstery on my sofa because he thinks it would look better with something else stuck on it.

The ad itself is a visual intrusion on our common property. The ad is almost as annoying as the graffiti on Troop's building: we do not want it there; we did not put it there; nobody asked us if it was OK to put it there.

The presence of the ad has been sanctified by the payment of a small amount of money, paid by a douche bag who thinks the subway wall would look better with his commercial message emblazoned on it. That another douche bag creating a derivative work from this commercial message -- free of charge -- does not create a new annoyance.

If the payment of money to a third party made such visual intrusions OK, then Trooper York should be satisfied if his tagger paid a fine. But I doubt he would be.

Trooper York said...

There will be blood.

Trooper York said...

I am not fucking around.

lakelevel said...

My adventure in poster defacing happened one summer about 10 years ago when I was visiting Wisconsin for a rock and roll festival. There was a poster for a casino near the state border that stated, "In Wisconsin, Slots are looser". I obtained some scotch tape and tore some background color from the corner and pasted it to cover the top of the "O" in slots. I had to stand on my friends sholders to do this and when I turned around to jump down, I noticed that a police officer had walked up and hadn't noticed me yet. Eventually he looked up at me, looked at the poster,laughed and walked away. When he was out of sight, I fell off my friends shoulders, laughing so hard, it took us a while to get up off the ground.

So I guess the lesson here is, if your defacing touch is light and humorous, and not too offensive, then there is nothing wrong with it. Oh and Wisconsinites have good senses of humor.

dick said...

fls,

The MTA as the representative of the people, which is what they are, rented that space to me for theplacement of my ad. As a representative of the people and of you agreed that my ad was appropriate and did not deface that space. I therefore paid rental for that space for the period of time that ad occupied it. It therefore was my property for that period of time. Your douchebag POS "artist" invaded my space just as much as if he entered my apartment uninvited and mucked it up. If you do not like ads occupying the space in the subways, then increase your fares and change the makeup of the government that rented me the space. Then you can do whatever you want with that rental space on the walls. Until then it is temporarily my property to use and then return in good nick at the termination of my lease on it.

Pogo said...

I would join a tazer gang of geezers whose sole purpose was to catch young men in the act of vandalism and taze them.

Interestingly, personal tazers go for 30 seconds, while the cops' version lasts only 2 to 5 seconds.

Or so I have heard.

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