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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

ICA Moves to the Street Level

The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston has brought three artists from different backgrounds, cultures and countries together who have one thing in common: they’re “street artists.” While I am familiar with art that focuses on urban living and culture, I have never heard of the genre, “street art.” Although two of the artists on display complement each other quite nicely, the third seems forced. Before I continue I must admit that contemporary art is not something I have spent a lot of time studying.

“Street Level,” the newest exhibition at the ICA, features three artists: Robin Rhode from South Africa, Mark Bradford from Los Angeles and William Cordova from Peru. The artists are loosely connected through their reflections on urban culture and living. Work from the three artists is mixed together throughout the gallery, allowing you to be present with the different artists simultaneously rather than individually.

Mark Bradford specializes in making large-scale “paintings” out of old posters and billboard signs. His image “Spinning Man” (2007) is made from string inlaid under billboard scraps and looks like an abstract city map. Text from the sign is barely visible, which makes the piece visually tantalizing. Words such as “underdog” stand out amongst other more illegible text. The combination of these materials with the string underlay causes his pieces to look like abstract, birds-eye-view city maps.

Robin Rhode’s works combine graffiti, photography, video and performance. His pieces consist of photos of the artist building up, taking down or interacting with images made from chalk or graffiti on walls or sidewalks. The series “Catch Air” consists of 12 prints showing the artist riding a skateboard down a half-pipe and making a jump. The half-pipe, however, is drawn in chalk on a sidewalk. By lying on the sidewalk and being photographed from above it looks as though the artist is really riding a skateboard. Robin does other work like this, such as a yo-yo drawn on a wall in chalk and catching objects falling from the sky drawn with spray paint.

I felt the third artist, William Cordova, could have been left out of the exhibition. While the other two artists have direct connections to the urban environment in their works, Cordova’s work, I felt, could have been stronger on its own without trying to be “street art.” The only piece of Cordova’s that I felt went with the rest of the exhibition was “Wholesalers, Retailers & Bullshitters” (2005). The piece is a large field of gold leaf with, off center, a small delivery van that has been stripped and covered with graffiti. The text accompanying the image states that the gold leaf recalls both “bling” and the use of gold to represent the sun in ancient Peruvian art. While this image fits with the idea of street art, the rest of his work, such as a series of 100 drawings drawn over the pages of an art history book, doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the works on display.

The exhibition is very interesting, both in its focus and its bringing together of three different artists from very diverse backgrounds. It’s well worth a trip to the waterfront to see this exhibit.