November 01, 2012

On Finding Barry McGee in Brooklyn

In case you haven’t heard yet, a new Barry McGee mural was just completed in Brooklyn. It was commissioned by Vanity Fair and kicks some serious ass. The mural adorns a 100-foot wall on the Mark Morris Dance Center in Fort Greene. It is refreshing because it does not pretend to be a site-specific community mural, as so many murals are these days. Instead of making an idiotic artwork with giant dancers or photorealistic images of cultural heroes from the neighborhood, it is a kind of autobiographical work that has little to do with anything and is content to be in a conversation with itself. Political correctness is out, individualism is in. And that’s a good thing.

Fort Greene, nonetheless, is currently undergoing a kind of creative renaissance and is a magnet for all kinds of interesting people. It’s where Spike Lee has his film studio and is home to the likes of singer Erykah Badu, jazz pianist Cecil Taylor, media personality Touré, painter Chris Ofili, Popa Wu from the Wu Tang Clan, and Mos Def. Many writers have lived in the neighborhood, too, including Walt Whitman and Richard Wright. In fact, Wright wrote his Native Son while living at 175 Carlton Ave. there — just a few short blocks from where McGee’s mural is.

This work will be featured in next month’s issue of Vanity Fair.

Comments (6)

  • Nice, Patrick. I agree.

  • That one spot of yellow, the yellow head with the red and green heads, make it kick. but the content is a separate thing. the content is very rich. it does what I think art should do-keep the viewer occupied and out of touch with mundane. keep the viewer occupied and searching for ‘the path’. hints to ‘the path’ are in this work. and that is not easy to do. fakers and makers cannot do it. only those ON path can do it. that’s just what I see. The yellow spot makes it kick, and holds the viewer there until viewer decide “I like it”. …because it shined the light on viewers path again. not lost for a minute. the work is a red flag to civilization; “hey slow down!” “this is a rich life”

  • Chris – you have run into one of Barry’s many devoted followers. I write a critical piece earlier this year on his current show at the Berkeley Art Museum. It’s a good thing that they don’t know where I live because I was verbally tarred and fathered.

  • @Max – There is a feeling in the art world that an art critic should never criticize art, but only praise it. I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree with that attitude because the very praise then is an affirmation of an art world which favors those whose work sells over those whose work does not. My problem with many community murals is that people often mistake art made on a wall for being a mural. Similarly people often mistake murals for art. The truth is that murals are often more decorative and less art. Some are political, some are propaganda, some are cartoons, some are just reproductions of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes.
    But like McGee’s work here, some wall pieces are true works of art – like Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s photo tile mural at the DeFremery Pool in downtown Oakland. But I hardly think it’s insulting to call out overly didactic or overly decorative murals for not being a little bit more creative. In fact, one of the great creative laboratories in the Bay Area are Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley, where artists have been exploring and experimenting and pushing the idea of the mural since the 1970’s.

  • Emilie Mitcham says:

    I completely agree with Max Allbee, above.

  • Barry Mcgee is a master. Period. Unfortunately your comparison of his work to community murals is a irrelevant and insulting distraction from Barry’s new piece. Why don’t you focus on what Barry is doing, and leave alone what he is not.
    In order to promote one’s work you don’t need to put down another’s.

See all responses (6)
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