The Futility of Fighting with Chaos
Hurricane Irene left very little damage in New York City compared to what happened in surrounding countrysides. New Jersey, upstate NY and Vermont all got hit very hard with flooding, not to mention what happened further south. It’s as if Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs are in a protective bubble, rarely affected by natural disaster.
Irene did leave her mark behind in Gotham, however. Many are reporting this mark as damage, but I see it as Mother Nature’s collaboration with artists JR and Kenny Scharf. Irene’s water has soaked through JR’s black and white photo of a giant furrowed brow and crinkled nose so much that Scharf’s colorful painting left underneath shows through. Personally, I think JR’s photos are far more powerful when installed in cities that heavily benefit from their presence. He is a selfless and intelligent artist whose work blends in and gets lost in New York City’s jaded and cynical streets. Scharf’s colors give this particular photo of his a nice punch. The new look is also a reminder of how pissed off Scharf was when his work was tagged (sorry, Kenny, the tagging looked horrible, but stop wearing your trendy outfits around town and maybe you’ll avoid this kind of problem in the future).
JR's furrowed brow colorized by Irene with Kenny Scharf
Kenny gets tagged
This graffiti wall on Houston Street just west of Bowery that currently exhibits this inadvertent collaboration, curated by Deitch Projects, had for a while a recreation of a mural by Keith Haring. Haring’s image was eventually replaced with a new mural by street art duo Os Gêmeos who were soon covered over by Shepard Fairey’s pasted graphics. Then Scharf and JR…then Irene.
The Keith Haring replica gets whitewashed to make room for something new.
Shepard’s efforts weren’t well respected by some. I recall walking by and seeing giant holes punched into the wall of Shepard’s pastings, revealing the drywall and metal studs that had been built over the previous work. The holes let the Os Gêmeos painting peek out once again creating a Fairy/Gêmeos medley of sorts. So, you see, the wall has a history of damage that has been inflicted upon it, time after time, left out in the open air for the weather and random New York vandals to play with. Thus, the latest damage from Irene’s deluge is not unexpected, yet creates a pleasant visual surprise.
Shepard Fairey's mural with plywood to cover up extensive damage.
A close-up of the Os Gemeos mural
My favorite city walls are those covered with many artists’ work, stickers, tags, dirt and nails all collaged on every surface in the most hidden nooks. This is what gives New York its special character. To me, the uproar that results when one of the works on this Houston Street art space gets marred is futile. Part of the allure of street art are the random or uncontrollable changes that happen to it over time. If you put something up on a wall giving others access to it, then you need to accept and even revel in the fact that others are going to tag it, break it, lick it, pee on it… It’s going to rain, mold will grow on it, the glue and paint will peel… If you don’t want that to happen to it, put it inside and protect it, or make sure the materials used to create it can withstand the toughest abuse.
I don’t know…I suppose one could argue that the news about the damage is all part of the art, but I think time would be better spent helping those who cannot return to their homes due to Hurricane Irene.
Thanks to Animal New York