Beauty, ugliness, youth, strength, and decay: Via Mick Hartley Bruce Davidson at Magnum’s ‘Subway (NYC subway during the 1980’s).
Was a subway ride in the early 1980’s really that wild, violent, dirty and dangerous? Why am I taking such pleasure in the beauty of the images?
NYC holds a place in many, many people’s minds (mine included); however small a place and however much based upon words, images, and hearsay.
A chimney, breathing a little smoke.
The sun, I can’t see
making a bit of pink
I can’t quite see in the blue.
The pink of five tulips
at five p.m. on the day before March first.
The green of the tulip stems and leaves
like something I can’t remember,
finding a jack-in-the-pulpit
a long time ago and far away.
Why it was December then
and the sun was on the sea
by the temples we’d gone to see.
One green wave moved in the violet sea
like the UN Building on big evenings,
green and wet
while the sky turns violet.
A few almond trees
had a few flowers, like a few snowflakes
out of the blue looking pink in the light.
A gray hush
in which the boxy trucks roll up Second Avenue
into the sky. They’re just
going over the hill.
The green leaves of the tulips on my desk
like grass light on flesh,
and a green-copper steeple
and streaks of cloud beginning to glow.
I can’t get over
how it all works in together
like a woman who just came to her window
and stands there filling it
jogging her baby in her arms.
She’s so far off. Is it the light
that makes the baby pink?
I can see the little fists
and the rocking-horse motion of her breasts.
It’s getting grayer and gold and chilly.
Two dog-size lions face each other
at the corners of a roof.
It’s the yellow dust inside the tulips.
It’s the shape of a tulip.
It’s the water in the drinking glass the tulips are in.
It’s a day like any other.
For the people who live there, I imagine, it must just be life. Maybe lives burned through a little more quickly and intensely.
A forest of skyscrapers:
Excuse me while I project more of my own subjectivity onto the place.
First the Beats, then the Hippies, then came the Hipsters?
You know, the Bonfire Of The Vanities was about very similar circumstances: The satire of the liberal intelligentsia is pretty rich, as well as the Southern Gentleman’s WASP ‘rejuvenation.’ You just know Christopher Hitchens had to get-in on that action:
From the Late Show in 1989 with Howard Jacobson.
New York City is unlike most other places in America. Was Tom Wolfe seeing things clearly, as they really are?
As posted: Maybe some deeper currents from Romanticism to Modernism to Postmodernism are worth thinking about. As I see things, many people who care deeply about the avant-garde also can bind themselves to ever narrower political and ideological commitments.
The journey of The Western Self bears proper care.
According to some folks at The New Yorker magazine, the only answer to injustice is radical and revolutionary equality.
To be fair, the logic embedded within much radical chic usually reveals itself to be cool at first, the same old murderously bad doctrinaire utopianism a little later on:
Avant-garde to avant, huitard?
Not the ‘right’ kind of emptiness for Richard Brody, at The New Yorker, in Todd Phillips’ ‘The Joker.’
‘“Joker” is an intensely racialized movie, a drama awash in racial iconography that is so prevalent in the film, so provocative, and so unexamined as to be bewildering.’
Brody’s review is as much about historical events (The Central Park Five), and moral judgments surrounding these historical events (racist and nothing else, Trump is horrible) as it is about the movie.
Apparently graffiti art does have a price, and it may be much more than $$$:
Ruling that graffiti — a typically transient form of art — was of sufficient stature to be protected by the law, a federal judge in Brooklyn awarded a judgment of $6.7 million on Monday to 21 graffiti artists whose works were destroyed in 2013 at the 5Pointz complex in Long Island City, Queens.
Would you be willing to undermine property-rights and the rule-of-law?
NY Curbed had original 5Pointz coverage here.
A NY Times beat reporter shared in the suffering of those graffiti artists whose 5pointz canvas was whitewashed in preparation for demolition by owner Jerry Wolkoff.
‘One street artist, who would give his name only as Just, had at least two works painted over. He spent hours early Tuesday gazing at the whitewashed buildings, leaning against a red-brick wall across the street. Then he bought himself a tall glass of beer, which he sipped slowly from a brown paper bag.
“Heartbreaking,” he said. “This is not just about graffiti — it’s about the unity of people who met here from all over the world.” He paused and took a drink. “That’s what really hurts.”
Three photos and some backstory here. 5pointz had become something of a graffiti mecca, arguably more than the sum of its parts:
Once the real-estate market began heating-up in NYC, Wolkoff decided to whitewash his building overnight..
Every bit of graffiti scrawled there over 40-years was at his discretion.
Personally, I don’t take pleasure in the erasing of people’s hard work and creativity, nor in the breaking-up of a graffiti-collective which traveled far and wide to get to 5pointz, nor even in the iconic stature they gave the place, but David Thompson sums it up pretty well:
‘The moral of the story, gentlemen, is buy your own canvas’
The pathos in the Times article stops short of a familiar ‘art will unite all races, classes, & genders,’ type of Leftist political ideology.
I”m getting a sense that even should graffiti become a longer-lasting vehicle for artistic expression, beyond the street, it likely began for many non-taggers possibly in affect, driven by ideology, or the boredom and rebellion of the suburbs and people looking for some meaning in their lives.
What are they overlooking? What are they looking for? What do the people looking at the work might think they’re looking at?
Or perhaps it would have been better to celebrate the way street-culture and graffiti has interacted with money and market forces through tourism. 5pointz arguably was a tourism draw.
From The Times piece:
‘Though street art is meant to be temporary, 5Pointz became known as a graffiti museum. And the medium itself, once considered a symbol of urban unraveling, became a sought after gallery-worthy commodity, with work from street artists like Banksy commanding millions of dollars. Which is one of the reasons the whitewashing of 5Pointz’s walls was greeted with such vociferous dismay. “What?! What did they do?!” cried a tour guide named Hans Von Rittern, as he raced out of a tour bus early Tuesday, his arms wide, his face crumpling as soon as he caught sight of Ms. Flaguel. They embraced tightly and wept.’
I can think of some possible messages being sent by the law:
–You don’t have to work and own something to have ownership in it (normalizing a collectivism which rejects the property-rights of others…thus your property rights as well…for what’s to stop the next guy from tagging over your tag?). Someone else owns all this building anyways, so screw him, and screw the guy who came before me too.
–The value of artistic creation is yet again associated with money in the modern world (partially out of guilt, I suspect), and not so much with self-expression, technique, craft, freedom, and moments which can elevate and expand, offering meaning within a process.
–The criminality associated with graffiti is also tactily rewarded/overlooked by a court of law (there are real victims to the kinds of activity that can accompany tagging). I would much rather have lawmakers and law enforcers hold a simple line, rather than set the wrong incentives.
It can’t have been a good day for those who lost something. It’s hard out there.
Here’s a video:
More broadly, romanticizing the logic of the street, and taggers, comes with its own risks. Celebrate the spirit of creative lawlessness and turf warfare with the full acceptance that there ain’t much law involved. I’m sure 5pointz served as an escape, and a positive environment for many, but all the other things going on in these neighborhoods aren’t so uplifting, hence, it’s importance.
That’s right Banksy, it’s still a tagger’s world:
Related On This Site:Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘Radical Graffiti Chic’
So, You’re Telling Me What’s Cool?-Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal: ‘Banksy In Neverland’
Trading Robert Moses for Brailia…an authoritarian streak?: Brasilia: A Planned City…And Aesthetics…Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?
Under A Green Moon-Ira Stoll At The New York Sun: ‘Comma in the New Yorker Opens Up Quite a Vista Of Liberal Parochialism’