Mayor Seeks To Take the 'Hip' Out of Hip-Hop Graffiti Art
BY JULIA LEVY - Staff Reporter of the Sun
August 16, 2005
With a truck full of 10 life-size replicas of subway-car sides rumbling across the country in preparation for a celebration of graffiti next week, Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday that New Yorkers shouldn't be glorifying graffiti.
The 48-foot-long, two-dimensional subway replicas, crafted in California by a fabricator known as Metal Man Ed, are supposed to be used as canvases for about 20 artists - most of whom started out as graffiti artists in New York City and now produce works for major corporations and museums - at an August 24 event on West 22nd Street in Chelsea.
Yesterday, when a reporter asked Mr. Bloomberg about the event at an afternoon news conference, the mayor said: "Look, there is a fine line here between freedom of expression and going out and encouraging people to hurt this city. Defacing subway cars is hardly a joke."
He said glorifying graffiti might encourage all New Yorkers, and especially youngsters, to go out and create graffiti - something the city has spent a lot of money and manpower erasing in recent years.
"Graffiti is just one of those things that destroys our quality of life, and why anybody thinks that it's funny or cute to encourage kids to go do that, I don't know," Mr. Bloomberg said. "We have talked to them and asked them to not have a subway car motif to write graffiti. This is not really art or expression. This is - let's be honest about what it is - it's trying to encourage people to do something that's not in anybody's interest."
Last month, the city's Community Assistance Unit issued a permit to the company behind the graffiti-fest, Marc Ecko Enterprises. The company, which has also created a controversial video game about graffiti, says it has been planning the event since October, recruiting artists, securing sponsorship for about 600 cans of spray paint, and having discussions with the local police precinct and community board.
Yesterday, the Community Assistance Unit sent the company a letter officially revoking the permit. The stated reason was that the permit was issued for an "art/Exhibition" event rather than a commercial event. The company has already reapplied and is in talks with the city about finding a compromise.
The director of corporate communications for the company, Clint Cantwell, described the event as "an art exhibition celebrating the history of hip-hop and in particular street art."
He said although the artists started out spraying graffiti onto surfaces around New York City, they are now all successful artists whose work is displayed in major museums and whose designs have been used by such companies as Pepsi and Time Incorporated.
"It's all derivative of graffiti art - of the street art they got their start in," he said.
"Graffiti is everywhere now. It's one of the most powerful art movements in modern history, and Marc Ecko and our company wanted to create an opportunity for these people to be seen as fine artists."
Mr. Cantwell said the company didn't hear any concern until the middle of last week, and he said close to $150,000 has been spent on the event, including about $50,000 for the subway replicas. He also said the mayor's criticism was unfounded.
"We're not putting this event together to encourage kids to go out and tag the sides of cars or buildings," he said. "We're trying to showcase these 20 graffiti artists who are established artists now."