Sitting in music composition class in college, I remember learning sometime important: originality is over-rated. Does art have to be so original to be good? Why re-invent the wheel? Instead, why not take the wheel and make it better? Or why not force the observer to think differently about the wheel?
Shepard Fairey’s current installation, at the Jonathan Levine Gallery in Chelsea, E Pluribus Venom, takes the medium of political propaganda and does exactly that.
Fairey is most well known for his popular street art campaign, Obey Giant. Fairey parodies advertisement campaigns by creating a campaign without an actual product, or awareness of what the product may be. He continues this idea into his current exhibition by creating parodies of war propaganda to force the observer to reconsider her surroundings.
He uses stencils, collages, and detailed designs, to create the art. The choice of colors are reminiscent of communist propaganda with the exclusive use of a red, black and white palette of colors. Fairey also incorporates other familiar symbols such as the popular fashion and typography of the 1960s and 1970s alluding to the hippie peace movements of the time.
All art can have meaning, sometimes the context is immediately available, other times it is not. In this case, it is obvious what the message is, the Medium is the message.
Souther Salazer’s artwork is on the opposite end of the gallery and is quite different from Fairey’s on many levels. This is also Salazer’s first solo exhibit.
Salazer’s artwork incorporates a kind of crafty-pop method of artistry. Salazer uses a variety of found objects, colors that are reminiscent of a 1950s day out at the park (dark forest greens, creamy off white and yellows, deep reds and so on) and cartoony drawings.
Like Fairey, Salazer has taken the wheel and improved upon it. Salazer uses objects such as light bulbs, old library card holders and used cardboard, to create his art.
One may wonder how artistic it is to incorporate light bulbs and cardboard? Certainly it has already been done and certainly it is likely that your child has come home with a craft project involving an old cardboard roll or moulding clay. Furthermore, Salazer’s art has a very home made craft feel to it, much like the crafts that one might find from a seller on at a craft fair.
This begs the question, is this art and if it is (let us assume that it is a form of art), what kind of art is this and does it belong in an art gallery?
According to the Jonathan LeVine Gallery manifesto, the gallery claims that their “goal is to expand this genre beyond its Pop Surrealism, Lowbrow, or street art roots and bring it to the forefront of contemporary art.” In other words, the placement of Salazer’s work in the LeVine gallery is an attempt to question and perhaps foment change in the status quo which believes that only a certain kind of art can exist in the art gallery. In some ways, it adds legitimacy to handmade crafts, elements from which Salazer has taken to create his art.
But does this mean that once pop art ends up in the gallery, it is no longer lowbrow and therefore no longer for the masses to enjoy? Should it be highbrow art? Is that its purpose? What’s wrong with street art being in the streets, anyhow?
Both exhibits are going on from now until July 21 at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in Chelsea, 529 West 20th Street, 9th Floor, NYC.
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Veronica Paez is a writer in New York.