By Bendik Sorensen
Assistant Arts and Entertainment Editor
Street artists have gathered to create a journey through the evolution of graffiti and art at the Steinberg Museum on the second floor of Hillwood Commons. The exhibit features work from more than 35 artists, and different mediums such as photography, graffiti painted directly on the walls and on traditional canvas, as well as digital mediums.
The exhibit, called “Concrete to Data,” will span from Feb. 29 through March 21. Curator, professor Ryan Seslow, has created a museum space reminiscent of the graffiti boom of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and has incorporated new technology to showcase it.
“We’ve gathered artists from five generations here, with the oldest being in their seventies, and youngest at 23,” Seslow said. “It’s the first time anyone has had this kind of street art in a proper museum space.” Seslow, who is an artist and professor in the Art Department and a longtime street artist, has four of his own pieces in the show.
The pieces on show vary in terms of medium. With one wall being covered by the pictures of Henry Chalfant, a photographer who’s known for his documentations on graffiti, breakdance, and hip-hop culture. The piece consists of small cutouts of subway cars from the ‘80s and ‘90s, covered in different motifs. “He’s got over 800 of them, and that wasn’t even all of them!” Seslow said.
The new exhibition incorporates technology in a way that includes the viewer with the artists. “We have a map of where all the artists works’ are shown in the space, but it also includes the various artists’ Instagram-tags, so you can snap a photo of the artist’s piece, tag him, and ask him a question,” Seslow said. “It removes this hierarchy of who’s better, and removes some distance between the audience and artists.” This is contrary to the traditional exhibit space, “where the artist is either dead, or impossible to reach,” he added.
“The subject of both graffiti and street art are being expanded in this show. I am interested in seeing how the works [will] come together on a technical and stylistic front,” Seslow said. “Can the digital works hold up with and compliment the murals? Can the framed photos compliment the three-dimensional works? The viewer plays a big role in how they will experience the works, both physically and digitally. The show has a growing website,” which can be found at concretetodata.com.
Art students from professor Winn Rea’s classes are also involved in this exhibition, where they are learning various molding techniques. They have molded pieces of technology, such as keyboards and cell phones, in concrete. “Afterwards, we’re digging a hole for them, sort of as a time capsule,” Seslow added.
Museum director Barbara Applegate is happy with what she thinks is a brave exhibition. “As a museum director, this project is a risk. Normally, you can look at the pictures up front, and keep it within the usual frames. But here, the artists came in and painted directly on the walls,” she said. “I’m pretty sure at least one [of the artists] didn’t know what to put up there before he saw the space.”
Usually, the museum knows exactly where everything is going, and exactly how it’s going to look, but this time, they had the risk of artists not showing up, and not knowing what they would make, which, for Applegate, was a new experience. Content-wise, Applegate was clueless as to what she would have in her museum the day after the artists were there. Street art is known for its social commentary and edginess, so she took another risk by leaving out the frames and constraints that others might have had.
“There are a few pieces that show the social commentary,” Applegate said. Seslow pointed out one piece, a modified version of the ‘80s cartoon G.I. Joe, where the soldier is coming back from the Vietnam War. A realistic version, where G.I. Joe is met with mental and physical struggle, opposed to the glorifying, pro-war propaganda of the original. The six minute cartoon is available online at www.encryptedfills.com, and is a collaborative project between Seslow and artist RJ Rushmore, who has other pieces in the exhibition.
Despite the risk she’s taking, Applegate is very happy with the result, and has already gotten positive feedback from students and colleagues alike. While the artists were installing and painting, Applegate said people passed by and were obviously hit by what she calls a very dynamic exhibition, full of contrast and different mediums.
The reception will be held on Friday, Feb. 6, at 6 p.m., and is open to the public. For more information about museum hours, visit www.liu.edu/museum.