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Trespass: A History Of Uncommissioned Urban Art Hardcover – October 15, 2010
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About the Author
Carlo McCormick is a pop culture critic, curator and Senior Editor of Paper magazine. His numerous books, monographs and catalogs include Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture, The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984, and Dondi White: Style Master General. His work has appeared in Art in America, Art News, Artforum and many other publications.
Marc & Sara Schiller founded Wooster Collective in 2001, a website that celebrates and plays a crucial role in documenting otherwise ephemeral street art. Based in New York City, the collective curated most of the contemporary images in Trespass. Its "Wooster On Paper" series presents the work of international artists in limited edition books.
Ethel Seno received her BA in the College of Letters from Wesleyan University before teaming with TASCHEN, where she worked with William Claxton on Jazzlife and New Orleans 1960, and David LaChapelle on Artists & Prostitutes and Heaven to Hell. Having grown up in Tokyo, she feels most at home in urban environments and currently resides in Los Angeles.
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In order to frame the "discipline" the book incurs in a series of generalizations and clichés, which work relatively well, with some notable exceptions. For instance, there are the laughable remarks illustrated in the promotional video, linking all urban artistic practice to a defense of "our democracy". However, the most handy conceptual tool used is the notion of "uncommissioned urban art" to throw together a long series of mostly, public, city-centric, and disconnected street expressions. And while some rigor is applied around the concept, it fails to be entirely accurate, and misses an opportunity to really open a more complex analysis. Among the most obvious misgivings are the samplings of the actions that took place in the German city of Wuppertal, like the featured work of Hitotzuki, which was sponsored, commissioned that is, by a well know energy drink. It is not the first time that a product from the Schiller's Wooster Collective enters a controversy about its commercial ties, or marketing machinery. And in this case in particular, it hurts what otherwise might be a good attempt to develop a different analytical framework for urban expressions.
The book might work rather well as a sampling case of tendencies, typologies, and milestones in the "discipline". But the way it concludes is rather bothersome. The last pages are dedicated to a legal appendix by J. Tony Serra, titled "Graffiti and U.S. Law". Not only this illustrates right there the almost perfunctory U.S./Western emphasis of the volume, but as the author tries to offer a broad brush portrait of the legal prosecution of graffiti it ends emphasizing certain aesthetic values. As he tries to construct an argument around free speech and legitimate expressions, he defends the trite and murky solution of differentiating between vandalism and art:
"It is important to distinguish between graffiti writers that are driven by artistic expression and those who are driven primarily by the desire to deface property. The distinction between graffiti and vandalism needs to be drawn more clearly in the laws, in public debate, and by the art community. "
The idea to articulate a taste patrol, a series of regulations that are based on the distinction associated with certain works in order to make them acceptable or not, is quite convoluted and simplistic on a variety of levels. Not only it forgets that the dominant paradigm does survive pivoting precisely in such ideas. But it also forgets the subversive and critical value of those expressions that precisely do not sit well with the establishment, those that may not belong to a decoration of the urban realm, and that may not be necessarily subject to the rapid absorption in processes of gentrification, mercantilization, or propaganda. It is precisely this subversive capacity, and the whole range of critical opportunities that it offers, that is put in question when one argues for a distinction based on aesthetic prejudice between what one views as vandalism vs. what one considers art. With this concluding note Trespass might be contributing precisely to perpetuate those cliches, sets itself as a judge of taste, and misses an opportunity to open up a broader debate.
Not a good book. I wouldn't even recommend it second-hand or in a bibliography unless you're desperate.