Barry McGee at Deitch Projects
WHY, BARRY, WHY???
Those of you who did not have the good fortune to live in
San Francisco during the nineteen-nineties may not know of
Barry McGee as the Phenomenon. Under the tag name
â€œTwistâ€ he provided
graffiti-observant citizens with endless sources of awe,
amusement and introspection. His hand was instantly
recognizable, as the endlessly inventive king of urban poetry,
disdaining the garish, riotously unreadable glyphs of
run-of-the-mill taggers in favor of beautifully executed,
emotionally pregnant drawing. His long lines of large-scale
heads in the subway tunnels, seemingly identical, but each with
a different expression, once prompted a roommate of mine to
declare, â€œhe must use a template.
Iâ€™d like to know what it looks
He never used a template, of course. You
canâ€™t hide a four-foot template from the
cops, when accosted while climbing a billboard at three in the
morning. Our â€œTwistâ€ was simply
formidably gifted and mind-bogglingly prolific. When he
wasnâ€™t out tagging he was filling
galleries--the Diego Rivera at the San Francisco Art Institute,
the Yerba Buena Center, ultimately the SF MOMA--with junk-shop
installations made up of piles of small, whimsically sad
drawings, slapped into secondhand frames and jammed against one
another in antiformalistic chaos, seguing cheerfully into words
and figures painted drippily onto the wall, frequently
juxtaposed with rusting printerâ€™s plates and
random bric-a-brac. Despite the seeming chaos, however, the
aesthetics of materials, color, line and object were
sufficiently considered as to evoke the poetry of contrasts.
His palette in those years was largely restricted to red,
black, white and yellow ochre, and his figures were
compassionately observed cartoons of sad-sack fellows--ground
down by life, but retaining an innate human dignity.
Given his talent and workaholism, it did not surprise me in the
least when I wandered into Deitch Projects last weekend and
recognized his hand. However, at first I thought he must be
collaborating with somebody else. Why else was the gallery
filled with smashed-up trucks and vans, piles of video
monitors, and automated mannequins? Most of the monitors were
registering either white noise or video filler; horrible noises
echoed off the cavernous ceiling, and acrid smoke filled the
atmosphere. Upon further examination, the smoke proved to be
emerging from contraptions attached to the truck engines, which
were generating this mess ON PURPOSE. A few of the monitors
were running actual videos, but the din and the smoke rendered
it impossible to concentrate on them.
Deeper exploration of the space revealed an entire public
restroom, transported into the gallery, with its own
pimply-faced mannequin, perpetually graffiti-ing the mirror.
Other stairs and ladders led to a shack and a pit, filled with
some lovely samples of drawing and a great deal more chaotic
garbage. The mezzanine contained the only halfhearted examples
of vintage McGee, including several Jesus Christ portraits,
some screaming, some without mouths, most of them virtually
identical. Stairs leading to a second pit revealed a wall of
printerâ€™s plates--just the plates, without
any of the lyrical visual elements which formerly showed them
up as more than rusty tiles holding up the wall. Almost as an
afterthought, a lone, random totem pole held a spray can to the
wall, presumably in an attempt to attach something like depth
to the entire miserable enterprise.
I donâ€™t mean to be harsh, here, Barry, but
what is this about? Is this the result of getting co-opted by
an art dealer who thinks that Over The Top is Not Enough? Was
it the desperate need to fill a gallery the size of an airplane
hanger which led to the creation of what might pass for a
rendition of GraffitiLand at Disney World?
Because the vast majority of all this stuff is simply not
necessary. The hand of the shabby punk is sufficiently implied,
in the elegant line of spray paint which remains to declare it,
without installing a bunch of fatuous mannequins. The trucks,
the smoke and the noise are quite sufficiently obviated by the
torqued grids of clashing colors nailed all round the walls.
And what about the klutzy use of space? Is it merely the fact
of having so much of it to fill, that led to making
architectural decisions that are not merely antiformalistic,
but sullenly, pointlessly graceless? Who produced this show,
Barry, the poet in your soul, or the ego of Jeffrey Deitch?
2005 by Stephanie Lee Jackson