Monday, January 29, 2007

Keith Haring Was Misunderstood, Too: A Councilwoman’s Sincere Commitment

Like many of you, we couldn’t make it out to the “Off the Wall: Graffiti, Art or Not?” symposium held a couple of weeks back at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. We semi-seriously contemplated gracing the discussion with our presence (the promised lagniappe that “attendees are invited to samba in one of Oiticica's painted capes” being especially enticing), but after sobering up we realized we aren’t that hard up for laughs.

But thanks to the Jan. 24 edition of the West University Examiner, which is down like James Brown on the enclave city of West U (“Whitest People and Blackest Soil in the Greater Houston Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area”), we were able to cop a taste of the chin-stroking and in the process learned that one member of the Houston City Council is thinking big when it comes to graffiti abatement. In a story headlined “Councilwoman’s ‘Off the Wall’ comment on area’s graffiti” the Examiner reported that at-large member Sue Lovell

made a commitment some considered “off the wall,” [one is enough with that] when she suggested creating a “free space” for graffiti artists to work — prosecution free — if they promised to stop vandalizing public and private property.“I make a commitment to you that we’ll find the space you need, a legitimate space,” Lovell told fellow panelist and local graffiti artist “Article.” [Close readers of the Houston Chronicle’s Sunday Zest section will recall that Article is the former graffiti writer-turned-graffiti artist who’s responsible for the legally sanctioned mural of Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Famer Jimmy Hendricks.]

A brief video clip of Lovell’s comments found its way onto the video-sharing Web site, where one poster expressed doubt that such a plan could actually work.

“The hope of negotiating with hundreds of teenagers and several fractious political groups of (graffiti) writers to stop graffiti in Houston is an impossible task representing a lack of understanding of the problem,” posted a user named “Cactus.”

Yeah, Monsieur or Madame Cactus is right: The idea that an officially sanctioned space for graffiti "art" would somehow deter the jugheads responsible for this betrays a deep misunderstanding of the problem. The risk involved in this puerile turf-marking is a big part of the motivation (and in our neighborhood the risk includes the outside possibility of getting greased with a 12 gauge, or so we’ve heard one of our neighbors proclaim). These dimshits don’t give a poo for art, fine or otherwise.

But after viewing the referenced clip and a second, shorter one posted on YouTube, you can see that the councilwoman is trying to toe a hard line against graffiti---in the short clip she equates ”writing your name across a stop sign” to “what male dogs do”*---while cozying up to Article and the rest of the deep thinkers who were inclined to waste part of an evening discussing this, um, issue.

One thing Lovell makes clear is that she really, really understands today's misunderstood youth:

"I certainly can relate, too,” she tells Article. “I felt really misunderstood a lot, too, and really, Keith Haring felt misunderstood a lot, but that doesn’t give you the right … ” Etc.

So we’d be inclined to ignore the councilwoman and go curl up with our 12 year old’s book of Haring's works, except for what she told the Examiner after the MFA to-do:

Lovell estimated the city spends $2 million a year cleaning up graffiti on public property, and though she made no promises to use city money to fund the spaces, she committed to do her best to find walls or free space where graffiti artists could exhibit their talents legally.

“If we can stop using city dollars to abate the graffiti that’s done illegally, we could use some of that money to put up free space where it could be done legally,” she said in a later interview. [Emphasis added, natch]
Why don’t we just give the full $2 million to Article, see what he can come up with. We’re really enjoying the city’s Third World ambiance.

UPDATE: Mr. Article has been misunderstood, too.

*What's with the anti-male bias?


Banjo Jones said...

hey, Slampo!

christina said...

FWIW, the taggers left Inversion (the inside out house) at the Art League alone until after the official closing of the piece. I've been told by members of the tagging community it was a sign of utmost respect.

Same goes for the Beats of Basquiat parties. Not a single piece of work was even approached. And there were plenty of taggers among the 10,000 people in the MFAH the night Grandmaster Flash was there.

Slampo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Slampo said...

Thanks, Banjo, for helping us out here. Do us a favor and ask the Mouth of the Brazos to reinstate us to his blogroll, or we'll be forced to boycott the Subway in Brazoria and may refrain from patronizing other local merchants as well.

Christina, thanks. Taggers should show the same respect for the back side of a strip center in Alief as they do for do for art on the wall. But we may be talking about 2 distinct sets of taggers.