Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Street Art and Graffiti as Public Dialogue

We have long advocated that street art and Graffiti are a particularly potent force for public dialogue about issues facing our urban spaces. A recent post on Arrested Motion on the interaction between Pixadores and commercial street artists in Sao Paolo helps prove the point. According to the post, some Paolistas are angry that the city is funding beautification projects while the cities poor are overlooked. Taking this issue to the streets they defaced a city funded mural project with the following sentence. “R$ 200,000 in makeup, and the city is in calamity.” In doing so they have created an important dialogue about who the city looks after in a very visible way. Sadly their commentary was removed immediately as it was clearly not to the cities liking. I do hate to see such beautiful work buffed like this but I am happy to see that conversations through public works continue to push important social issues.

VIA Arrested Motion

Proving that tensions between graffiti artists and street artists are not just a phenomena of the western world (see banksy vs. robbo),Pixacao artists in Sao Paulo have defaced a mural by Os Gemeos, NUNCA, NINA, Finok, and Zefix. They are probably angry that the mayor of Sao Paulo, after creating the project “Clean City” in 2006 (which erased much of the illegal graffiti) is using public funds for commissioning legal writers and famous street artists. This all at a time when the government is perceived by them as doing nothing to help the poor communities that were flooded after 30 days of non-stop rain, yet the mural was all cleaned in the same night, by a huge team of City Hall by using sponges and hydraulic cranes. [More Here]

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Guest Post For Vandalog

RJ of Vandalog asked me to weigh in on a recent Banksy piece in Notting Hill that treads a thin line between advertising and art. We have mixed feelings about Banksy, and thought the whole thing had more to do with how we use our public space than the infamous street artist.

You can read my full response [HERE]

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Reader Post Comment Response or Why Advertising And Public Space Are Inherently At Odds With One Another

A PublicAdCampaign reader named Dennis made a wonderful comment regarding the Philip Lumbang cuddly bear disaster in LA and I wanted to respond. He writes...
"The bloggers and commenters shaking their heads over this story need to look beyond the obvious. This kind of situation was created by our friends in the outdoor advertising industry who have used every legal tactic to destroy the ability of cities to control billboards, supergraphic signs, and other conveyances of outdoor advertising. In a nutshell, they have argued in court that the city is guilty of unconstitutional discrimination if it treats a fine-art mural differently than a supergraphic sign. In other words, if it permits a mural on a wall, it can't prohibit a sign for Nike or McDonald's across the street. There is ongoing litigation about this, but as of now the city jeopardizes its sign regulations if it issues permits for murals, or fails to act on complaints about unpermitted murals.
Dennis makes an incredibly important point here which speaks to the fact that outdoor advertising and a healthy public space are two incompatible ideas. Advertising by its very nature must control public space, dominate it, in order to have the most influence over public thought in order to push commercial consumption. This control is not only seen in outdoor advertising language which often describes its presence as dominating, but also in its legal tactics which attempt to strip the city of its ability to protect itself from advertising's ravaging behavior. (as evidenced by Dennis' comment)

What is sacrificed in the wake of advertising's constant land grab and volatile tactics, is the public's ability to use its own judgment on how to curate our shared environments. If the permit issue was not at hand in this current LA mural atrocity, the issue of whether or not to let this mural stay up would be decided by a neighborhood board. The single resident that is taking issue with the mural, calling it "ghetto," would be out voted by the many residents who love the mural and it would be allowed to stay. The public ultimately should be responsible for the curation of our shared spaces and the fact that the city must enforce rulings which do not agree with public sentiment is the horrendous result of how advertising alters and controls our public spaces for the worst.

For this reason, outdoor advertising must not be allowed in public space. A good example of this is a story I come back to routinely. One of the problematic things that outdoor advertising does to our environment is that it assigns a monetary value to public walls, or rather private walls that face the public and therefore have a direct affect on public consciousness. Without a monetary value, public walls can be used for a myriad of things, the value of which is determined by the benefit that use brings to the property owner and the community as a whole.

Take for example a typical corner deli in New York City with an entrance on one side and a blank wall on the other. Now imagine this deli is in close proximity to a public school. This school might ask the deli owner or landlord to use the blank wall for a mural made by the students of one of the classes. Without monetary value, the landlord would be inclined to say yes, knowing that the mural will not only benefit the students, giving them a sense of self worth and physical investment in the neighborhood, but also attract the approval of the community which will then patronize the store.

A moral obstacle arises once this public wall has monetary value. The landlord or deli owner must now decide between receiving a small paycheck for the rental of this public wall, versus the benefits it might have for the community at large. I don't believe we can expect people to disregard the inherent value ascribed by outdoor advertising firms to public space. This would be expecting a self sacrifice for the greater good that simply does not agree with our ego centric capitalist societal values. The answer then is to simply eliminate the motivation to strip our communities of a valuable resource, public space, by preventing outdoor advertising from prescribing monetary value to our shared environment.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

I Won A Contest Promotions Sweepstakes! or The Most Important Post We Have Ever Made

This is a long post but please read it. Due to some fantastic circumstances we finally found out what NPA and Contest Promotions are up to.

A while back I entered one of the Contest Promotions sweepstakes at The Deli. Yesterday I received the above package from 28-20 Borden Avenue in Long Island City. Oddly Contest Promotions is right down the block from Clear Chanel taxi media, and on the same property as Spring Scaffolding and Skyline Scaffolding. I only bring this up because we all know Contest Promotions is a front to make NPA City Outdoor legal and we also know NPA holds many contracts with scaffolding companies which allow illegal Wildposting on their construction sheds in return for small amounts of cash. I'm not saying this is the case with these two companies, I'm just saying they occupy the same building. On a side note, if you want to send the leasing agents at NPA copies of the $25,000.00 violations you received from the DOB for having their illegal advertising signage on your property, the address is 49 west 23rd st. 8th floor, NY NY 10010. Oddly you can address the package to Contest Promotions, NPA City Outdoor, or National Promotions with the same result.

Upon opening the package I realized I had just received my "prize" for entering the contest along with a nice letter from Mrs. Tong, the contest coordinator. The second paragraph in the letter caught my attention and so I will transcribe it here...
"Contest Promotions operates sweepstakes activities just like the one you entered in conjunction with small businesses throughout the city of New York in an effort to increase patronage at the participating businesses. Should you wish to learn more about the sweepstakes, please log on to"
This struck me as a strange way to talk about a business whose single purpose was to legitimate the illegal advertising business run by NPA. I quickly logged on to their website only to find more of this heavy handed altruism.
"Who We Are

"Contest Promotions" is a company that does exactly what it says - it employs contests and sweepstakes to promote businesses, specifically small retail businesses nationwide. That's why Contest Promotions' motto is:

"Helping Mom and Pop's Complete" (I think they mean Compete)

By 'Mom and Pop's,' we mean all the small, potentially family-owned retailers across the countries who have found themselves in the challenging position of competing against well-funded national chain stores. In today's competitive marketplace, these Mom and Pop retailers need to find ways to increase foot traffic and bolster sales to prevent themselves from being squeezed out of their own backyards. It's a basic issue of retail survival.

That's where Contest Promotions fits beautifully into their business strategies"

The complete fabrication of the motivations behind the Contest Promotions business leads me into a few questions I think will debunk the assertions that this is a legitimate business looking out for the greater good, and give credence to our belief that they are actually aiding NPA City Outdoor in their illegal advertising business.

What is Contest Promotions' revenue stream? According to The Deli, they pay $50.00 to put their raffle box on the deli counter. They also spend money collecting the tickets, processing and mailing the prizes. The only place I can see revenue coming into this business is through companies like Dr. Pepper paying to have their products used as promotions. Otherwise it would seem they have no revenue at all which would lead me to believe they are actually NPA or at least sponsored by NPA.

What kinds of businesses are actually using Contest Promotions sweepstakes materials? In my neighborhood, along with delis and "Mom and Pop" stores, there is MTP or Central Parking and Rawhide. The first is definitely not a "Mom & Pop" establishment, having hundreds of parking locations around the city, and the later is an old Chelsea icon catering to the leather bound gay scene. When I went to both places, neither knew what I was talking about when I told them I wanted to enter the sweepstakes. Yet both have huge NPA City Outdoor illegal advertising billboards outside.

Rawhide street view
MTP parking street view

Why is there not a single example of Contest Promotions operating at a location which does not already operate an illegal NPA City Outdoor advertisement? Walking the streets of New York City I have been able to visually make the link between Contest Promotions and NPA but since Contest Promotions operates in 3 other cities I needed the very illuminating information made available on their website to further prove this connection. Under "Markets" on the Contest Promotions website they list the 3 other cities in which they operate, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston. Within these cities, they list every location they operate sweepstakes promotions at. Choose any location from these lists and get the Google maps street view of this business and you will see an NPA run ad frame. Take for example...

Esequiel's Hair Salon - 808 N. State St. Los Angeles, California.

Sonoma Liquor Company - 65 6th St. San Francisco, California.

King Cole Liquor - 1802 Richmond Ave. Houston, Texas.

So if the connection between these two companies is clear, how does the addition of Contest Promotions to the equation make the illegal NPA advertisements legal? For a while we thought this was simply an attempt to turn NPA advertising signs into what are referred to as first party signage on the understanding that these ad images were being used to promote the products to be won inside in the same way a shoe in a shoe store window would suggest shoes are available for purchase at this establishment. This is not entirely the case.

It seems that Contest Promotions is applying for accessory business sign permits from the DOB. You can see the two applications at 98 Avenue A that were denied, here, and here. This is a slightly different case than simply trying to call these legal first party signs and in my non-expert opinion here is why they are doing this. Once NPA locations are permitted as accessory business signs, they fall under a different category than advertising signage which is policed more rigorously. The main difference between the two types of signs and how they are policed is between the fines that can be given by the DOB sign enforcement unit. For an illegal advertising sign, the fine can be $25,000.00. For improper use of an accessory business sign, the fine is on par with a traffic ticket. If the local business is caught improperly using an accessory business sign for advertising, NPA can handle paying these tickets since they charge about $5,000.00 - $6,000.00 a month per location and pay local landlords about $120.00 per month.

The last thing we learned and maybe the most interesting is that from the landlords I've talked to, they have no idea that any of this is going on. In fact Contest Promotions is applying for accessory business signs without the landlords or business owners even knowing about it. And the worst part about this deplorable behavior is all being done to bypass the laws we have put in place as a city concerned about the over proliferation of outdoor advertising. On top of this it is being done under the guise of a company that pretends it is helping the city by promoting local businesses. Ask East Village Farms, the business located at 98 Avenue A, which has 10 $25,000.00 fines pending due to illegal signage operated by NPA and Contest Promotions, if they feel like the whole scheme is helping them out.

I'm not exactly sure what the next course of action is at this point but it would seem outrage is an appropriate response. As we find this to be one of our more interesting posts in a while, please feel free to leave your comments for NPA and Contest Promotions.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Right To The City: Paper Tiger Presents The First In A Three Part Series

This is the first video in a 3 part series presented by Paper Tiger on The Right To The City campaign. As this video does not directly relate to outdoor advertising I feel it necessary to explain why I would post this to the PublicAdCampaign site. As I see it, the Right To The City campaign is about providing a voice for those people that the city overlooks. Although this video talks directly about gentrification, the Right To The City campaign can be applied to many other areas in which the public at large is taken advantage of or overlooked in favor of a few individuals.

A while back I went to a lecture at the CUNY grad center in New York at which David Harvey, an integral component in this video series, spoke about the Right To The City concept. I wrote down some of my thoughts and realized this might be a good opportunity to post them as a way of tying the idea of gentrification, in relation to the Right To The City agenda, to the proliferation of outdoor media, as well as justifying the posting of this video. Both gentrification and outdoor advertising take advantage of the city at large, although in different manners, and with more or less obvious effects. By invoking the Right To The City concept, each movement gains momentum from this term's inherent power to represent the will of the people. The following text was my reaction to the lecture and my desire to expand this Right To The City concept to all movements that represent the public's wishes.

I went to a discussion a while back at the CUNY grad center given by David Harvey, Neil Smith, and Don Mitchel. My oversimplified view of the talk was that it was about two things; whether there is, or ever was an urban commons? And what the term "right to the city" was going to mean in the future, and whom would it favor? I'm not an academic so excuse me if I misquote some things. I don't have the material in front of me to draw from, so I will be going from memory.

Mr. Harvey began the talk citing some Marx I believe, specifically a hypothetical conversation regarding the equal rights between an employer and an employee to determine their own version of the working day. To paraphrase, the employer asserts it is his right to work his employees as hard as he wishes, and to death if need be. The employee then responds, that he has the right to live a humane existence where he is treated with dignity and respect over his long life. Marx says that between these two forces equal right to exert there own will on what constitutes a working day, the one with the most force will decide the outcome. To me this idea seems applicable in all situations where "force" is the resolving factor in any conflict of interest, above justice and truth.

The talk then went on to discuss the existence, and or loss of the urban commons, places people have an inherent right to inhabit simply by being in a city; sidewalks, parks, schools, hospitals. It then moved on to the term "right to the city", which has often been used to justify the demands of marginalized populations whose access to urban commons is restricted. But who has the right to the city? What does "right to the city” actually mean? Is it the liberal term to describe the under represented demands of marginalized populations in major metropolitan environments, housing, education, healthcare, homelessness? Or is it something else? Neil Smith made an interesting point, the term "right to the city" could be assumed by any person or group of people living in a city, including the likes of Mayor Bloomberg, or even real estate development firms. They too in fact have a "right to the city", and therefore the term is misleading and could even be problematic for the liberal agenda that wants to politically invest the phrase with a sense of urgency for those whose needs are being overlooked.

Outdoor advertising isn’t one of the typical problems associated with the “right to the city” battle cry, but here at PublicAdCampaign we consider it to a public health issue of great importance. This got me thinking about NPA city outdoor, InWindow, and all the other outdoor advertising corporations that abuse public space by illegally presenting messages that are inherently not public. Messages we as a community have decided should by law, require proper permitting because of their ability to alter the very nature of the spaces they occupy. Both NPA and InWindow, as well as countless other outdoor advertising companies, have forsaken this process. These messages not only construct public space in their own image, turning our shared environment into a commercial space, but also turn our public walls into a commodity, preventing people from using those spaces for important public projects.

These outdoor advertising companies often call on the first amendment when the public protests their abuse of our urban common space. In many ways, they are invoking their own "right to the city" as a reason they should be allowed to operate in our environment as they see fit, even when the city does not give it's consent. These bullying tactics only seem feasible when you think of Marx's idea that if two parties are given the equal right to determine an outcome, how public space is used, the one with the most force will decide that outcome. Outdoor advertising companies often impose their will, or "right to the city" with a monetary force that employs the awesome power of huge legal teams. This is unacceptable, and as a result must change the very nature of who “the right to the city” concept can apply to so that “force” is taken out of the equation.

It can be assumed outdoor advertising is in direct conflict with many people's desire for how public space should be used, given that we have made laws to mediate this conflict. Knowing this, a large community of activists and artists are out on the streets of our city attempting to reclaim what outdoor advertising has taken both physically and psychologically. This is often done illegally, and is our own demand for our "right to the city" in the face of this much stronger force. And yet inevitably that stronger force continues to decide the fate of an environment we should be in control of. The resistance we are putting up and our demand to be a part of the control process in our public spaces seems to be falling on deaf ears. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that there is no accepted avenue for public disagreement with how the city is being used and who it is serving.

How then do we then define this term "right to the city" so that it represents the will of the people and not the elite, or these outdoor advertising corporations? How do we create a city in which the public can protest and be heard, or invoke this "right to the city" in a way in which the city assumes our demands are the priority? This city should serve the people first. No one should go to jail for loitering, be moved on for no reason by police when congregating in groups larger than 3, or for defacing an illegal advertisement in protest of the wholesale abuse our of shared common spaces. The public is the only one who can demand a "right to the city" because we are the city. Corporations, buildings, governments and institutions may come and go but it is the people who should always be heard first. The term “right to the city” should be a battle cry for those whose voice represents this city. That means the homeless, those without proper healthcare, those without proper education, and I shamelessly throw in at the end, those who demand that the city be curated by residents and not companies trying to pry open our minds and insert thoughts of an entirely un-public nature. When the term “right to the city” is used in this light, it immediately invokes the power of the public and not those who have no right to determine our city’s fate.

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PosterChild Suggests A More Prudent Use Of Pay Phones In NYC

PosterChild is wrapping up his stay in NY very soon, but not before he gets out there and does a few more projects to make you think about the advertising that surrounds us and how it is altering our lives for better, or worse. His most recent project aims at making the viewer aware of the fact that the ubiquity of outdoor advertising does not have to be an entirely bad thing. In fact the millions of dollars that OOH advertisers are making off the space they are occupying in each and every one of our brains can be put to a better use than simply lining the pockets of media conglomerates. He writes...

"You know what I’d like to see? If they’re going to maintain, and even grow, the network of payphones as an advertising-revenue generating platform, then they should make all local calls free. That is the old “Contract” of advertising, after all: We shouldn’t have to be exposed to your damn ads if you’re not going to give us something back in return." More [HERE]

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Friday, November 27, 2009

RawleMurdy Uses The Recent NYSAT 2 Project To Call On Advertising To Make Artful Ads

Despite a full understanding of marketing's interest in "trying to shape people’s perceptions of concrete things in order to sell those things." Mr. Mathieu still seems to miss the point of the last NYSAT project. Irregardless of how "artful" an ad might be, it is still stealing from the public. By placing a monetary value on our public surfaces, we prevent those surfaces from being used for things that are good for all of us and not simply those intent on profiting from our cityscape. Honestly it really has little to do with "artfulness" or "beauty".

The example I often use is this. A deli owner is offered $1,440.00 a year to allow an outdoor advertising company to hang advertisements on the side of his or her business. Without much thought he takes this offer and profits minimally. If that space was not allowed to be used for commercial messages, another scenario might play itself out benefiting the city and its residents. One example might be that the 3rd grade class from the local public school would ask this deli owner to paint a mural about the neighborhood on the side of his business. Unable to profit from this space, the deli owner would be inclined to allow these youngsters to make their own mark on the city surface.

The benefit of this type of use of public space is relatively simple to understand. By creating something visual, the students will leave a piece of themselves behind. What is left behind creates an attachment to that space that results in an investment that is both physical and psychological. An invested resident is just that, someone who has a reason to care for the space in which he or she lives. Better yet, this type of use of public space also benefits the viewer, creating neighborhood landmarks which create spatial relationships, alter your sense of place and offer you community in an often anonymous landscape. Juxtaposed, the advertisement creates no such investment on the part of the producer or viewer.

October 26th, 2009 by Henry Mathieu

A response to the NY Times article, “A Battle, on Billboards, of Ads vs. Art,” by Colin Moynihan, published on Monday October 26 — — and copied below.

There is an interesting piece in today’s NY Times. It reports on an artist named Jordan Seiler, and a group he founded called, “The Public Ad Campaign.” — – They whitewash billboards in Manhattan and allow advocates to spread anti-advertising messages, or artists to replace the ads with their own artwork work.

“ … ‘We’re bombarded by ads every day,’ [artist, Jordan Seiler] said. ‘Advertising frames the public environment as being for sale but public space is not inherently commercial.’ … Some passers-by liked the commando like cover-ups; an artist named Jane Gennaro, who was not connected to the project, approved of the men painting over an ad for the video game Grand Theft Auto, saying, “We need to get rid of all the visual noise. …”

This raises an interesting question in my mind. If ads were more ‘artistic,’ per se, would they be considered so offensive? Would beautiful ads contribute to the cacophony of ‘visual noise’ we’re ‘bombarded’ with on a daily basis?

Ads are very often considered to be obstacles that impede our ability to get the information or the entertainment we’re looking for, or distractions that clutter our everyday lives. We’ve trained ourselves to side-step or tune-out the vast majority of ads we see in nearly every context. We tune them out, that is, unless they offer up something we want. Nobody seems to object to an ad that give us a piece of information we find to be useful, or an ad that makes us laugh. Thus advertisers try to cut through the clutter with targeted media placements, and offer up engaging/relevant content. What I take from this article is that advertisers aren’t making ads that are artistic enough to be relevant and engaging to Jordan Seiler and his New York street artist friends.

While I’m sure advertisers aren’t loosing too much sleep over having lost that particular audience, I do think we should pay heed to the fact that we’re very likely loosing other audiences who aren’t aggressively protesting our communication efforts. One way to get some of those audiences back might be to beat Jordan Seiler and The Public Ad Campaign at their own game. Here’s my challenge to advertisers far and wide: make artful ads.

When I was a college student, I was an Art/English double major. In looking for that somethin’-somethin’ I wanted to do when I grew up, advertising struck me as a real world application of many of my interests. I perceived the industry to be an intriguing blend of storytelling, music, visual arts, and pop-culture all applied to shaping people’s perceptions of concrete things. What I’ve learned since (and frankly should have been obvious to begin with) was that we’re trying to shape people’s perceptions of concrete things in order to sell those things. So while I recognize today that – Advertising isn’t Art, it’s Business – I’m still unwilling let go of all that initially drew me to the industry. Granted, advertising does thrust billboards and a whole lot of other ‘visual noise’ into all of our lives. So when we create ads, I feel it’s important not to loose track of the fact that each of these billboards can be thought of as a canvas not only to sell things, but to sell them beautifully. I would like to believe that I might one day create an ad Jordan Seiler himself deems worthy of hanging in his living room.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Email Correspondence Between Mediacy & PublicAdCampaign

The following post is in regards to an interesting email interaction between the owner of Mediacy Inc. and PublicAdCampaign. I think it helps, at least on some level, to better explain how both sides of this argument feel about their use/abuse of public space, and how remarkably similar those feelings are. It also is interesting to see people consistently call advertising art in these contexts. It is amazing that some people can't see the difference between the two, their different motivations and because of this their different effects on society. Intention is a huge part of the equation that is consistently left out of the discussion.

After receiving an unsolicited press release for the company Mediacy Inc. regarding their newest form of OOH advertising, the Gatescape, we couldn't help but immediately publish our reaction. Within minutes we received a complaint from the owner of the company, Michael Gitter. This is not the first time we have been contacted by the heads of major outdoor advertising firms for taking them to task. About 6 months ago we sat down with Steve Birnhak of InWindow, at his request, to discuss his illegal Streetscape business and why PublicAdCampaign was keeping tabs on the companies activities. I am happy to report the last InWindow advertisement that I know of was removed only a few days ago from it's 13th street and University location.

photo of old InWindow Streetscape at 13th and University around 07-09.

At this point a bit of back story is required to give Mr. Gitter credit where credit is due. It turns out Mr. Gitter was one of two owners of the MaxRack company. The racks provided free postcards in bars and restaurants to anyone who wanted them, and appeared in New York City a few years back. About 3 weeks ago Mr. Gitter contacted me saying that the business was ceasing to operate and would I have any interest in using the racks for the PublicAdCampaign project. I pondered this offer and in the end declined, unable to find an appropriate use for the now unused equipment. When we posted our initial reaction to the Gatescape concept, I did not put two and two together to realize that Mr. Gitter was also the owner of this new company Mediacy. Considering the nature of the business the press release was proposing, I can't say this would have changed my reaction.

What follows is a series of communications between Mr. Gitter and I which he has given me permission to reproduce for you. I think they are interesting to read because they show the inherent lack of understanding by most people of how advertising negatively affects the community and our shared psyche. Mr. Gitter, obviously cares for the city, being a born and raised in New York. He also has a deep felt appreciation for the arts as is evidenced by Maxrack's support of local artists as well as his interest in using Gatescape locations that are idle to exhibit artwork. The problem is, support for the arts in this situation comes at a high cost and that is the overburdening of our collective subconscious with commercial messages which not only alter our individual desires and therefore our society at large, but also define the city as an inherently commercial space. This also does not address the issue that art in this situation might be used to legitimate what could be an illegal advertising business that will have to take advantage before it can "give back."

Michael to PublicAdCampaign:

I spoke with you only a few weeks ago about offering you my old Maxracks postcard racks for your arts projects. I was fine that you decided not to do this but now you have decided to criticize my Gatescape? C'mon.

What I was planning to do is offer your artists some of the real estate when vacant, and print their art on the banners at my cost, to really make a great impression.

I am in business and you might not like my product. But I am an artist (, a New York native and I am sensitive to over-saturation of advertising.

You could have at least called me, or sent me an email. But to publicly try to threaten or humiliate me and my efforts on your blog?

I don't scare and I don't appreciate this and I wish you would have taken a different tact where we both could have been happy.

But I guess this is not the way you work.

PublicAdCampaign to Michael with responses in red:
michael, i did not realize you were the same person who offered me the max racks. that was generous of you and i appreciate it.

I must say im a little appalled that you think my reaction would be any different than what it was, and if so then i take it those racks were a bribe for my sympathies.

Jason, I'm not looking to bribe or for sympathies. This is an idea that isn't even in our Media Kit and was conceived only weeks ago. I offered those racks, not out of fear of what you will say about the gates - I hadn't even thought of doing them at that time. I offered them because I liked what you did and the racks were becoming unappealing to me.

clearly this gatescape idea is nearly identical to the InWindow concept and given the way i have attacked their illegal practices I would clearly take issue with your "new" idea. not to mention this "new" adform you are trying to push can be extended much further than InWindow considering they rely on abandoned buildings where you rely on any space with a rolldown.

That's true it could be bigger. But given the ugly way these gates look as opposed to a nice clean 57th St storefront with huge clear windows and white walls, we see the concepts as very different from the efforts of In Window. (as I understand it, the idea is that Gatescapes will clean the city by replacing graffiti scrawl with huge colorful advertising images. If graffiti, and unclean gates is the problem, I suggest we address why young boys want to write their names on the streets and that Mr. Gitter start a gate cleaning business because clean gates have nothing to do with advertising)

all of this comes on top of how I have been championing the no longer empty project and these spaces being used for art. as well i think my position on outdoor advertising continuing to find ways to abuse the public by pushing commercial concerns on them is clear.

Jason, you are not the first and nor am I to come up with these ideas. For yrs I worked with Tibor Kalman's group at M&Co. And I'm sure you know about the work they did concerning making Times Square more appealing by doing many things with empty storefronts and gates when Times Square was the city's blight.

Im glad you thought you could offer a few free vinyl prints to artists and this would make what is potentially an illegal advertising business viable.

Please don't humor me with your snarky sarcasm. I am not interested in your views on how little or how much I do to sponsor the arts.

I think the no longer empty project clearly shows artists are willing to pay for their own materials.

Ok, so? Are there no talented artists or fantastic non-profit organizations who would appreciate and be helped immensely by space and supplies?

in fact im sure they appreciate the opportunity to install their work themselves, spending time on the street interacting with pedestrians and others interested in their creative process. Im also surprised you didnt mention this act of altruism in your press release. seems like it would be a big selling point if you were serious about it.

Jason, I have anonymously supported artists with Maxracks cards for decades without saying a word to anyone. Its none of anyones business what I choose to do with extra resources, and it is ironic that you are suggesting I exploit artists and nonprofits wrapped around the idea of altruism. Altruism is handled individually and if you want dozens of these people and organizations I have helped over the last 15 years just let me know.

As far as being an artist, a new yorker... what can I say?

You can say it counts for something. Or it doesn't. You can maybe say I am just like you in that I lived here my whole life and I don't want this great city to look like shit.

As for being sensitive to the over-saturation of that a joke? why if you are sensitive to saturation would you start a company which will be over saturating our environment?

Joke? Some might look at your gigantic black and white squiggle on the wall in Soho as nothing more than ugly visual noise. (I don't know exactly what he is referring to here but I'm assuming he is talking about the image on the corner of Howard and Broadway) But see that's not for me to judge. I went to the Guggenheim and saw modern art of the Marlboro Man photos. Is that art? Who cares. Someone does. (Here again the difference between art and advertising escapes us. Richard Prince rephotographing the Marlborough man was not to sell you cigarettes but to elucidate ideas about authorship and reproduction in art.)

As for threatening, or humiliating you on my site, I am sorry you feel that way. I really never called you out but rather the company.

I am the company, Jason.

I think advertising like this is a blight and a humiliation to the residents of this city.

Some people might say Christmas displays in October is horrible. Or the smell of bad perfume being pumped out of Hollister's store front door is a blight too. We all pick our battles.

it takes them for nothing but consumers and this is a travesty. It is also taking away from the possible space for murals done by no longer empty and putting store owners in the precarious position of having to decide on profit over public health.

You had years to do something with these gates. But now I'm doing something so you kvetch? Is it because you didn't think of it for your artists first?

My last question regarding what I assume you are calling the threats in regards to calling 311. and believe me i mean this sincerely as you have been nice to me in the past in our email communications

do you plan to get these permitted through the DOB? because if not you should know that they will be illegal and you should consider the possibility of fines not making this a viable business option.

i apologize for our differences and I hope you can understand my point of view.

Point noted.

Two last items. We have a website: And if any of your artists wants some free Gatescapes exposure have them call me.

At this point Michael and I decided it better to sit down and discuss all of this in person. Because of this I did not respond to his email after this point although we continued the conversation where our lunch left off. I will relay these small communications below, Michael in Red and PublicAdCampaign in Black.

Michael: "Hey, walking home, and have already seen about 1000 ads on everything from buses and taxis to umbrellas and signs outside stores. Any interest in coming to the other side? Because Mediacy could use a salesperson like you. :)"

PublicAdCampaign: "I think we established the going rate for selling your soul at a million two right? make me an offer."

Michael: "Just like Cemusa, I'll pay it over 20 years!" (this is a refence to the crap deal the city took when it gave Cemusa control over the bus stop shelters and magazine stands in New York. The resulting deal would have Cemusa pay the city for control of these locations over a 20 year span.)

There was some very interesting discussion that happened over lunch which has resulted in Mr. Gitter contacting his friends at GenArt, FlavorPill and the likes, offering them the Gatescape format for artists when those locations are not rented for advertising. I will be sitting down with them all after thanksgiving to discuss how this situation might result in a more appropriate use of our public spaces. More to follow soon.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Gift, Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World

I just finished Lewis Hyde's The Gift, Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. One of the more interesting aspects of the book for me was the integration of the ideas regarding the gift economy with the artistic process. I highly suggest reading this book to anyone interested in defining more tangibly what is gained from the hours of unpaid work we do in service of our art.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Art, Advertising, Activism & Alchemy-An Evening of Artist Talks at Wonderland

Art, Advertising, Activism & Alchemy-An Evening of Artist Talks at Wonderland, Friday November 20th.

After an intense and long conversation about the PublicAdCampaign project, street art, graffiti, advertising, and public space with a wonderful and interesting film producer this morning, I felt it was time to announce this upcoming talk at Wonderland. It will feature the work and words of three other artists who I greatly admire, including Jason Eppink, Posterchild, and Gabriel Reese. Along with discussing the PublicAdCampaign project, I will be talking about the larger goals I think we all share as artists working in public spaces whether we know it or not, and how those might inform our future as a collective community.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wildposting's Been Operating Longer Than I Thought

A good friend and PublicAdCampaign reader, Elizabeth Carey Smith, sent me this image taken from Ellen Lupton's "Thinking with Type". According to Elizabeth, the caption for the picture reads...
"Lithographic trade card, 1878. The rise of advertising in the nineteenth century stimulated demand for large-scale letters that could command attention in urban space. Here, a man is shown posting a bill in flagrant disregard for the law, while a police officer approaches from around the corner."
It's interesting to know that illegal posting of bills, or Wildposting as we now call it, was illegal in 1878. I'm not so sure this has remained true the entire time since, but I can tell you Wildposting in NYC is completely illegal today. In fact, about 3 hrs ago I saw two construction workers on 17th street between 8th and 9th avenues laboriously removing illegal Wildposting from and area approximately 200' long by 10' tall. They did so by wetting down the illegal ad, waiting till the water soaked through, and then scrapping at them with a putty knife. From what I could tell in the 5 minutes I watched them work, this process would take at least the entire day.

Why were they doing this you ask? Because in our insane system, when you call in this type of illegal advertising to 311, the building owner is the one who receives the $10,000.00 fine. This I have been told is largely because the city is unable to positively identify the company who is sneaking around the city at night illegally posting these advertisements and therefor the building owner must be held responsible for the conditions of his property. In yet another bizarre loophole that keeps our city riddled with unwanted commercial messages, the companies who are being advertised are not responsible for the damage either. Again this is all because for some reason we can't figure out if the companies had full knowledge that the advertising they were paying for would be used in this illegal manner.

Excuse my language, but give me a fucking break. One only knows how many Wildposting companies operated back in 1878, but today I can tell you the one that rules NY with an iron fist, as well as most of the major cities around the United States, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., is NPA City Outdoor. In fact they own the copyright on the term Wildposting, which is odd because as far as I know you can't copyright something illegal. In fact this company openly admits that they offer citywide domination through Wildposting on their website...
"Available in the top 25 markets from coast to coast, nothing lets you dominate a space more quickly, or more efficiently, than our WILDPOSTINGSM Outdoor Advertising Programs. We offer high profile locations - with the greatest of visual impact. Because of this, big name advertisers are now using WILDPOSTINGSM not as a sideshow but as an integral part of their multimedia campaigns.
Firs of all, who said you could "dominate" our public space? As this situation is infuriating to many people living in New York City, PublicAdCampaign has made it a mission to deal with this problem. This has included laboriously cataloging and photographing 189 illegal NPA Wildposting locations around the city and sending this information to the DOB sign enforcement unit, as well as direct action projects to take back those spaces, if not briefly, for public use. The former resulted in no response, despite having a personal relationship with important people in this department, while the later has resulted in a total of 9 arrests of our friends and colleagues.

The result? A total disregard for our public space causing building owners to incur unnecessary fines and require them to pay for countless days of work to remove these illegal commercial messages. On top of this, the tax payer has had to foot the bill for the arrest, processing, detainment, arraignment, and judgment of nine individuals intent on helping the city become aware of this problem. With no one else to blame but NPA City Outdoor, isn't it time the city stop footing the bill for its illegal advertising problem and go after the company we all know is responsible?

More to come as the fight to regain control of our public space continues...

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Spent: Sex, Evolution, And Consumer Behavior

I just finished reading Geoffrey Miller's newest book, Spent. It was quite fantastic and I suggest it to anyone trying to navigate the stormy waters of an overburdened consumer society.

Right off the bat Miller says that marketing is the most powerful force on earth to date, directing everything from our social interactions, to our use/abuse of the environment. Marketing, in today's society pushes conspicuous consumption, which is often wasteful, selfish, and socially isolating. This conspicuous consumption and interest in consumer products has evolved along with our physical evolution through an evolutionary psychology that attempts to display what he calls the big six traits. These traits show our general fitness as mates, both physically, but psychologically as well. They include things such as conscientiousness, agreeableness, intelligence, creativity, etc. He goes on to argue that many of the conspicuos purchases we make are often very poor indicators of the big six. Marketing, in order to drive conspicuous consumption, alters a product's real value by attributing it with other qualities outside of the products real value. The book goes on to suggest more affective and socially responsible ways to display our big six and regain a sense of community lost through selfish conspicuous consumption.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Plastique Magazine-Argument For An Ad Free Public Space

photo by Adam Amengual

I wrote this small piece for Plastique, a fashion and culture magazine out of London. In it I quickly summarize my feelings towards media and my intentions behind the PublicAdCampaign project. A big thank you to Brylie for giving me a reason to put pen to paper and delve more deeply into the motivations that breath life into this project.
In today’s modern, market driven existence, every once in a while you have to think about who you might be without continual suggestion from advertising and commercial media. After all “you,” having been presented to you many times over by a marketing world intent on capturing your gaze and hoping to bend and transform your desires, might not in fact be the you, that you want to be. This conundrum is a result of living in a world where reality is consistently represented, over and over, by enterprises without your personal interests in mind through a myriad of media channels. Because of this, without fail, our lives are directed by a wind that recommends our desires, and imagines our selves. This isn’t a revelation, media influence is a very real and powerful force that shapes and directs the world we live in. This force affects even those lives that choose to consciously censor programmed expectations, and discern for themselves a reality in which they choose to exist. The force we are talking about is commonly referred to as marketing: the process of representing and illuminating one’s products or services in a dark world. Today more than ever, the cacophony of media lights shines bright in new and subtler ways. The saturation of media, like too many lighthouses guarding the shore, renders the waters of mass culture almost un-navigable for those attempting to avoid this confrontation, and impossible to ignore for those who make no such choice. How then do we determine who we are and what we are to become when the innocence of our decision making process is affected without our control on a daily basis?

I myself fall somewhere in the middle of two opposing reactions to a media saturated world. I digest my TV commercials (for lack of a DVR), peruse magazine print ads with the same rigor as I do the articles, am awed by the event based spectaculars at the forefront of marketing madness, and continually find myself traveling through my city, paying more attention to the lofty billboards than the blind man risking life and limb to cross the street. My choice to imbibe these intoxicating messages is done both consciously and unconsciously as I navigate my way through life in the modern metropolis known as New York City. And though my travels through the mediascape are overwhelmed by a frenzy of messages, I know to want less, to challenge the consuming images that surround me in the public environment. It is in this space of our social lives that the decision to determine who we are, without the aid of behavioral psychologists and new marketing techniques, takes place. Within this space we can demand our own representation and illuminate our own visions of the reality we wish to live in, something we cannot do in the private theaters operated by magazines, television channels, movie houses and corporate theme parks. If only we could pull our attentions away from the full-building-wrap Bacardi advertisement obscuring 25% of our field of vision.

And herein lies the problem. We cannot shake the unconscious reception of marketing memes when our public lives are constantly confronting them at every turn. We are thus faced with a decision: Do we take the laws that protect these private messages, presented to us in the most public of spaces, to be set in stone; obey their every command and continue to live in the shadows of private concerns? Or do we take it upon ourselves to alter the landscape in which we travel, adorning the walls we live with so that they suite our needs and present our own image of a reality we have determined for ourselves? Faced with this dilemma, I have for the past eight years illegally reclaimed public advertising space for art and open public communication, breaking into and altering the mediascape to reflect my personal concerns. Along with providing an alternative to the private communications that overwhelm our public experience, I have found that visually interacting with public space has increased my sense of responsibility for, and dedication to my city. Rupturing the hypnotic control of these alternate ideologies has been a path to defining the city and myself on my own terms. By becoming a part of the process of production I have championed my own thoughts and desires; it is these that the public should reflect before the will of external industries and the media empires that promote commercial needs above all else.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Do We Think About Graffiti In A Modern City?

I've always had a tenuous relationship with tagging, with those who use/abuse the public by writing their names on the walls of our shared public spaces. Depending on who you ask, the scrawl is a rich texture of social networks and base level social communication, or simply the wanton destruction of public and private property by citizens hellbent on reaping havoc on our city and culture. I must say my views lie somewhere in the middle and at least in theory favor those striving to create a signifier which represents themselves in a vast network of individual, and corporate iconography. After all the city can be an incredibly complex environment in which to define ones identity and ideas, especially for those whose identity is perhaps forming for the first, but probably not the last, time.

It would seem that as a public we are fighting this scrawl to the best of our ability. Two examples of this counter initiative are the Anti-Vandal squad wing of the NYPD as well as the private maintenance crews employed by local BID's to paint over graffiti as fast as it can crop up. While doing our best to control this aggressive form of mark making, I think it is important to take notice of some of the interesting scrawl that exemplifies a more concerned individual armed with a spray can. Not all graffiti is intent on destruction and when it is, sometimes it is indicative of a social fabric rich with differing opinions and interests. Some graffiti goes beyond the name and enters into the realm of conversation. Is this form of urban writing worth preserving and even fighting for? And how, or should, we distinguish between the mundane and the exciting?

This photo was removed. It was a picture of one of the public art works at the LMCC's newest Lentspace project after having been vandalized with the words "This is not art". It seems there has been a mistake and the kind people at LMCC think I might have been responsible for this act of vandalism. I most assuredly was not and do not condone the destruction of public art. I apologize to anyone who might have gotten the wrong idea.

Take for example the recent vandalism of the LMCC's newest public art project. It appears someone took it upon themselves to make a commentary about the use of the term "art" to describe several works presented by the LMCC in their newest sculpture park, a public/private collaboration between the LMCC and the Trinity Real Estate Development Corporation. If you know this location, you know the high risk involved for the individual who made this commentary. I do not necessarily agree with the statement, but one cannot deny the fact that this was not your typical tagging so much as it was social commentary, whether you agree with the vandal or not. Again, graffiti is being used here as a form of communication, and not in an arbitrary way, something I think we should take notice of before we simply denounce all graffiti as vandalism. The question then becomes, do we want this sort of visual commentary/vandalism to be a part of our public experience?

photo by Jake Dobkin

Another instance of graffiti I think we would be quick to call vandalism is the work of Booker. Often you can see his work around town in the form of simple scrawl and stickers, albeit more interesting than most in my opinion. His graffiti employs the word "read" and "book" over and over again in many different iterations, "read more", "reader", "read more books", etc. As far as I'm concerned these statements defy the typical egocentric nature of street level name tagging by incorporating a beneficent slogan into the tag. True to form, one of the more recent works by Booker that I have seen takes this to another level, getting rid of the reader name all together, simply asking viewer to "Open Your Eyes".

How then do we qualify graffiti in our shared public spaces? is it vandalism? is it a simple nuisance? or is it something more that a city with such a widely varied set of opinions must embrace as a form of public communication? I still don't know but I think we must all think harder about what and who graffiti is for before we shut down our minds and cover the entire form in a blanket of illegality.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Loie Merrit-One Artist's Experience

After talking to Loie Merrit about her experience with the NYSAT project, it became clear that there was a lot of interaction taking place between the whitewashers, artists, and the public. I asked her to write down what happened, and it turns out to be a great example of how this project raised awareness about how the public can participate in the construction of its shared visual environment. If there are any other participants that have an interesting story from the 25th, please email them to me and I will post them accordingly.

Loie talking to the tenants that live upstairs from the illegal advertisement she was painting on.

"As I finished my piece on the corner of Hooper and Borinquen, a couple approached me asking what I was doing. I explained the mass artistic protest that was occurring all around the city. After informing them that NPA Outdoor illegally achieves their outdoor advertising, they confided in me that they live in the building I was working on. According to them, on a daily basis one or two people come by at all hours of the day and put up the awful advertising that nobody residing in the building particularly wants to look at. Not only is the advertising unwanted, but they also told me that the people posting are incredibly rude! "We don't want these advertisements here," they said "They look awful and just prove to us that our capitalistic society has gone to shit!" During our conversation the couple expressed full support for what me and the other artists were doing, "We think it's awesome! We always thought they owned the space and we had no choice, it never occurred to us to just take the advertising down. We're so happy to have seen you out here. What you're doing should happen everywhere. And you guys are inspiring. Why shouldn't we take back the space that's ours!" This is just one example of the kind of support I experienced that afternoon. With any luck those people that did witness a white washer or artist at work will spread the word, and maybe even produce something of their own. We're living in a unique time and it is only through these types of movements that we will ever be able to challenge the money-hungry, socially corrupt, artistically bankrupt establishment."

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Real Names-Not Games

I would like to point out that many people involved in the April 25th NYSAT project decided to use their real names. In my case, and I believe in theirs, this was a conscious decision and one that reflects the motivations of the project in general.

I believe that physically, and often as a result, visually interacting with your public environment is an important part of being a citizen in any major metropolitan city. Whether it is through a community sponsored mural project, your own desire to adorn the streets, or simply scribble messages, visual interaction with your public space binds you to that environment. It creates ties which perpetuate your existence in that space and therefore your presence. That presence is a sense of pride that results in a committment to that same space. That commitment extends itself not simply to the physical space you occupy but to those individuals who share that space with you.

By using our real names we are asking that you look at us like regular citizens concerned with the health of our shared social spaces. We do not want to hide behind monikers and pseudonyms many have grown accustomed to pre-prescribing guilty of vandalism and criminal mischief. We ask you to engage a dialogue about the way in which our shared public space is used and how it might better be used in the future.

Question: (please leave your comments)

What would your reaction, and possible action be, if NPA brought charges against any of the participants involved the NYSAT project?

(for those unfamiliar with the NYSAT project, a general synopsis can be found [HERE] as well as in many of the posts since 04-26-09)

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cause This Fits In Nicely

Not only does this urban scrawl attack the product being sold, but it addresses one of my concerns with public advertising. Outdoor advertising in public spaces transforms those locations into environments intended for commerce and thus for private agendas. Maybe the subway was once a transportation system, but today it is a carefully crafted advertising distribution system with a controlled target audience. These NPA City Outdoor ads turn our city streets into private messaging boards sold off to the highest bidder. In the process, my interest in painting political messages about the failure of our city government is criminalized and my public voice silenced.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can a Rebel Stay a Rebel Without the Claws?

BOSTON — You will be seeing a lot more art by Shepard Fairey on the streets of New York this spring. But it won’t be in the form of the illegal guerrilla strikes he has been committing since his days as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design 20 years ago, nor anything like his famous Obama Hope poster. For starters, it is in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, for whom he has also designed swanky red, white and black Russian Constructivist-style limited-edition shopping bags.[Read More]

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bussiness Goes Under, Ads Pop Up

Recently I've been noticing a lot of street level businesses closing shop, either relocating or going under completely in these dismal financial times. As if empty store fronts weren't bad enough, these empty spaces are now being turned into giant inescapable street level billboards as a way to offset rental losses for the landlord. The complete vinyl wraps are sure attention grabbers and must work very well as ads cause they are popping up everywhere. I had been meaning to look into the legality of these ads when I stumbled upon this one at 22nd street and Broadway on the south east corner.

It seems a stop work order has been issued because the sign at this location was erected without a permit. The DOB website has many violations in regard to this sign but complaint #1250447 seems to be the clearest citation. The problem here is despite the sign being erected without a permit and therefor being illegal, the sign will continue to operate exactly as it was intended. It is likely if a permit is obtained, the company responsible for this abomination will face no penalties and be allowed to continue to operate at this location. It is important that we understand that outdoor advertising is able to operate unphased despite the city's best efforts to control rampant illegal operations.

If this sign was erected without a permit you can be damn sure the rest of the signs erected in a similar fashion and on similar locations are probably done without permits as well. This is often the case with new forms of advertising, companies test the public's reaction by erecting signage before asking for permission. Only once the public has put out a distress signal do the ads come under city jurisdiction and begin to comply with the law. It is in our best interest to be outraged by these new intrusions and make that voice heard. Maybe enough distaste for this type of signage will keep these from becoming another expected intrusion on our public psyche.

If you see any other signs similar to this one please take a picture and send it to us. We will report the sign and follow its removal.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Who is Poster Boy? Who Cares?

I was excited to see yet another piece on the now infamous PosterBoy came out yesterday in The New York Press. Always a potential outlet for the open discussion of the issues surrounding his work, press is one way I hope the public can be informed about the larger context in which PosterBoy's work is taking place. Needless to say this interview disappoints on many levels. I think John Doe's comment on The New York Press's website encapsulates my feelings well. "The Poster Boy movement would have been better off without so much Henry..."

John Doe's sentiment has less to do with Henry, who I think is an incredibly interesting character in this whole affair, than it does with Matt Harvey's incredible lack of interest in the "movement" he seems to put at the forefront of the article. When the interview byline reads "Henry Matyjewicz says he's part of an art revolution that's bigger than one person." I get excited, hoping to find an insightful look into what this whole "art movement" is, and potentially what it's goals are.

The Interview begins with a solid account of the last few months of activity surrounding PosterBoy. Interestingly, Harvey begins this account by framing the times, "After the economy crashed—and millions of straphangers were sick to death of being sold so much shit—Poster Boy’s style evolved into more sophisticated mash-ups." This is the first time I've seen the political climate used to help explain the recent overwhelming excitement and interest in this kind of illegal art activism. It was a similar situation of economic destitution which bore the consumer movement in the late 30's and early 40's, and I think an interesting insight on Harvey's part. Earlier in the century, consumers in an economic wasteland, unable to pay for the common goods they needed, rose up against the injustices that the economy had exacerbated, no longer able look past them. They demanded price control and consumer product grading systems, and in turn began to see their roles as consumers through their roles as producers, demanding minimum wage requirements and a standardized work week. If deepening economic woes can cause consumers to re-evaluate the economy they live in and demand restitution for things they look past in more favorable economic times, then maybe we are also at a tipping point where consumers of today might be fed up enough to want to openly discuss some of the ways in which they are currently being taken advantage of. After all, necessity is the mother of all inventions, and an artist working with no material costs whatsoever, discussing the purchase of products that people are quickly becoming unable to afford, rings pretty true in my ears.

The interview starts out promising, trying to nail down some of Henry's heroes, a good way to contextualize what Henry is interested in with his part in the project, but that doesn't turn up any interesting relationships. It goes on to immediately tackle whether or not the work is activist, but here Henry is unwilling to paint it solely in that light saying, "It’s activist work. It’s a bunch of stuff. You know? It’s illegal. It’s whatever. But there’s, you know, just one more thing that you can label it under." It's not Henry's job to be the champion of ideas here but come on, this is an opportunity to call out some of the serious ideas about how the work challenges existing structures in our city and for whom the city is currently operating. I mean for god sake the guy is facing jail time for something he may or may not have done as well as for something which I believe shouldn't even be a crime. Clearly there is an unjust system in place here working against the residents of this city (Henry included) and for the large ad corporations inundating our public space with private messages.

The interview then goes on to try and figure out whether or not Henry is PosterBoy, all the while seeming like an opportunity for Henry to once again shake off responsibility for some of PosterBoy's more aggressive acts. Henry saying, "I feel a lot more safe in a studio making a painting than climbing up a structure and cutting down a whole billboard in Brooklyn." I Don't know who this PosterBoy is, if it's Henry or a whole crew of disgruntled citizens, The fact of the matter is Henry has denied responsibility for that act so let's move on.

In fact regardless of who tore that billboard down, both of them were excited about the fact that it had happened. Harvey responding, "Yeah, I loved that." and Henry reiterating the sentiment, "Yeah, that’s one of my favorites too." A quick response on Henry's part is all we get in the way of explanation for why this act from PosterBoy was so politically charged. "But it’s very good when you turn it (the billboard) into something that’s more local and public and more of a community space." The article makes haste moving forward, more concerned with whether or not "they wanted to pin..." the billboard removal on Henry. Who cares?

I could go on but I think my point has been made. The rest of the interview passes by inanely with questions about Henry's background, family life, and what he thinks PosterBoy would look like if he was a superhero. Really? Really? A superhero? get out of town.

The one saving grace is that in the end Henry does assert that his role in this project is about participation, that when things are wrong you must decide you level of involvement and not be afraid of the consequences.

"I understand what I can do and what I want to do and my involvement; and I think people should do that too and not be afraid to get arrested because that fear is why were are in this predicament—this moral predicament— in the first place, you know. You need to stop being scared and being empowered and thinking you can make a difference."

Personally I could care less who PosterBoy is, and maybe even less about who Henry Matyjewicz is. The fact of the matter is some very bold illegal activities are taking place right before our eyes and I want to know why.

VIA The New York Press

Henry Matyjewicz says he's part of an art revolution that's bigger than one person. In his first interview since his arrest, he talks to MATT HARVEY about what Poster Boy means as a movement.
By Matt Harvey

A full year ago, as the city was marching to the beat of BUY! BUY! BUY!, defaced posters began appearing throughout the subway system. The early cut-and-paste jobs were crude and clever puns loaded with obscenities. A glop of paint turns a reality show tagline—about some rock stars’ brats—on itself. Alongside a tow-headed child, a placard asks: “Are They Born to Fuck?” The images are simultaneously logged on a Flickr site of someone called Poster Boy NYC. Street art blogs such as “And I Am Not Lying” took notice and Gawker and Gothamist kept the ball rolling.

After the economy crashed—and millions of straphangers were sick to death of being sold so much shit—Poster Boy’s style evolved into more sophisticated mash-ups. He teamed up with a high-minded cabal, including the public space artist Aakash Nihalani—who framed Poster Boy’s petty criminality in geometric tape designs. By the time New York magazine published a profile of Poster Boy on Oct. 5 2008, the subway artist was an anonymous masked avenger (a sexy accompanying photo showed tan arms in a wife beater, with a bandana and conductor-style cap, slouchy jeans and Nikes). He was now a symbol for an ever-more frustrated creative underclass losing jobs every day.

Then there was the cold night in Williamsburg when a solitary figure hung over the top of a king-sized billboard next to the Marcy Avenue El. He cut two long strips into the 50-foot-long poster—featuring a cartoon Giraffe and the words “Reach?”—with a box cutter. As subway cars careened past, the sheet of vinyl peeled off like a giant bumper sticker. Again, it was all digitized for YouTube. An act of youthful rage was transformed into a rebel raid on a corporate Death Star—and taggers later descended on the blank canvas to finish it off.

On the evening of Jan. 30, undercover cops busted Poster Boy in a Soho gallery space where Sly Art vs. Robot had advertised a performance by “Poster Boy NYC.” Identified as Henry Matyjewicz, a 27-year-old art student originally from Hartford, Conn., he was arrested on vandalism charges and, according to him, shuttled to Rikers Island. The New York Post reported on Feb. 3 that he was fingered by his own hubris— when overheard bragging to a girl about his exploits—with the headline, “He’s a Boaster Boy.” Indeed, Poster Boy inexplicably gave up his anonymity when he’d let a cameraman from the Guardian follow him in mid-January for a video that was later posted on YouTube. The video showed a young man with olive-colored skin wearing a gray fedora, a gray hoodie, a leather jacket and a bandana over his nose and mouth. He deftly slices and dices subway ads in the name of art while explaining his intentions.

On Tuesday, Feb. 10, Matyjewicz refused a deal offering him community service, vowing to fight on in court. But people were already saying that Matyjewicz wasn’t really Poster Boy. A Feb. 4 New York Times piece posited that Matyjewicz was just a stand-in.

Last Thursday, I met Henry Matyjewicz (pronounced Matee-YAY-veetch) on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. He was bundled inside a black coat, and he pointed to a yellow sticker on the ground that was torn from one of his mashups. It was stuck across the doorway of The Charleston, where we planned to meet. I took in his short, athletic frame, handsome features and thick black hair. Over the course of the next couple of hours, his frequent and long discourses—on topics ranging from art and music to politics and metaphysics—gave me the impression he was repeating received ideas to see which ones stick. He was simultaneously proud and eager to please. First, he averted his eyes from my gaze to deal with the lightning bolt stuck to the concrete.

“It’s from a Gatorade ad. I swear to God I didn’t put it here.” As he explained what happened, things weren’t exactly matching up to the reports. He goes in and out of the third person when referring to Poster Boy. He explained it was to protect himself from prosecution, but I sensed there was something else more puzzling at work: Sometimes he really was Poster Boy and sometimes he wasn’t. Strangest of all, he didn’t seem to remember some of the specifics of his own arrest.

When I called Matyjewicz later for clarification on some of his comments, he told me: “I’m pretty sure I was arrested in Brooklyn and sent to Soho.” When I tell him that was not possible, he replied, “I’m not good with that stuff.” It’s not the first time I’m baffled by holes in his story.

So where are you from?

Born and raised in Hartford, Conn., and moved out to New York a little bit later to go to school, to art school.

I’ve been to Hartford before. I’ve been to West Hartford.

It’s like night and day, the difference. West Hartford is like...the difference would be like Upstate New York and Manhattan.

Some areas of Hartford are just like, whatever, you know, just laid back. But there’s a lot of places in Hartford that are pretty…you don’t want to walk to down the street unless you’re from there—or at least you’re strapped... Some places are pretty crazy in Hartford, and it’s not that big of a city. It’s predominantly Hispanic or black.

Are you Hispanic?

Half Hispanic. Grew up on the Hispanic side really. Half Polish, last name Matyjewicz. I mean, clear giveaway, but I grew up with my Hispanic side.

Puerto Rican or…?

Yeah, Puerto Rican, sorry. Puerto Rican-Polish.

[We get into a discussion of Keith Haring and his “Crack is Wack” mural along FDR Drive.] Is Haring a hero of yours?

Haring? I acknowledge, you know, I respect what he does, but he’s actually not a hero. You know, I like a lot of what he stood for, the energy he had. Just like his really bright colors, his line of work, you know, like sometimes he would have messages like “Crack is Wack,” and so I appreciate his energy.

But as far as like a full-blown hero? I’d have to say no.

Who are your heroes?

I’d say for art, it would be Basquiat; I mean that’s the dude that even his background his pretty close to mine, you know. Even he came from a more, like, upper-class background than me, but he still had to go through a ton of shit—especially being black. So he went through his own shit. I don’t want to take that away from him. I like...there’s a lot of Spanish influences I love as far goes, and like Egon Schiele and Goya; Marcel Duchamp—a lot of those guys [were] into activist stuff. A lot of musicians influenced me. I like jazz a lot.

How do you think the activism influences the work of Poster Boy?

Well coming from someone who is just a part of it, how does it affect it? It just...I guess it gives it another label to attach to the work. You know? It’s vandalism. It’s graffiti. It’s street art. It’s activist work. It’s a bunch of stuff. You know? It’s illegal. It’s whatever. But there’s, you know, just one more thing that you can label it under. I don’t, you know, hmm. Yeah. That’s all I can say about that.

So it’s mainly an aesthetic manifestation?

Right, right. Cause you gotta understand from what I hear that the Poster Boy movement is, you know, I guess like it’s activist work or high-minded art. It’s beautiful activism or… [he’s distracted by music and doesn’t finish the thought].

[He then says he wants to explain the difference between Henry and Poster Boy]

Henry is an artist just inspired by what’s going on with the Poster Boy movement.

So Poster Boy was started before you?

Well, I was born before there was a Poster Boy movement.

Poster Boy has been out for less than a year. But I got into art before the Poster Boy thing. So I’ve been, you know, a painter in New York. There’s more to me than just my involvement with Poster Boy. I share a lot of the same ideals behind Poster Boy, but I’m not that extreme. I still like the idea of painting on a canvas, you know. And maybe…existing [and] living in a gallery system. Maybe this would be the way certain things work in the gallery system, but I’m still willing to participate in it because I still love the traditional mediums.

My involvement with the Poster Boy thing was just the legal aspect. Maybe I’ve given an interview or two about the Poster Boy movement and, like, I’ll show up like I did at the art show [in Soho] and create a piece, you know, as Poster Boy. Just doing my part for something I believe in. I don’t get paid. I didn’t get paid for it. I just believed in it. I played my part.

So were you recruited or...?

No, I just found out about all that was going on. Then they said they needed volunteers, and my expertise lies in the arts. And they asked if you’d be willing to do a Poster Boy piece, and I said, “Yeah, of course.” And so I did. It’s a legal piece [of art], and there was a chance of getting nabbed by the cops. Not that that was what they were planning. But if you look at that piece from that night, it’s really ironic—or really genius. So I’m willing to make sacrifices for certain beliefs.

How did they nab you?

Undercovers showed up. It was on the flyer saying, “Live Performance by Poster Boy,” and I was aware of this. And like I said, I am willing to take the fall for something I believe in.

And that was the piece on YouTube?

No the piece on...I mean they’re trying to hit me up for it, the piece on YouTube, and attach that to me.

So you’re saying that’s not you?

Yeah I’m saying that’s Poster Boy and not Henry.

There are people that say that it doesn’t even look like you.

Of course it doesn’t look like me. When they nabbed me, I had a gray hoodie on underneath a pea coat. In the video, it’s clearly a gray hoodie underneath a leather coat. They took my gray hoodie and the scarf, and they said, “Oh look, this is the same person as the video.” And I said no, it’s not, it’s just a gray hoodie…They were just trying to get me with whatever they could. Well actually, they didn’t mind what was going on in the subways. They were like, “You know a lot of the stuff that you do is cool, but it’s illegal.” And I was like, “I don’t do it all. What I do on my part is just the legal piece, which was done at the Soho gallery at the show.”

So you only did that one piece?

Right, right. And I didn’t want to, like, you know, take it in with the spirit of Poster Boy. I didn’t sign it. I didn’t sign it as Henry. I didn’t sign it as Poster Boy because Poster Boy isn’t about copyright. The idea of originality is thrown out the window. It can belong to anyone.

Images are stolen from corporate media and reused for a greater purpose, and I like that, so I didn’t feel the need to attach this Poster Boy piece that I did as Henry as a community service thing. You know, a selfless act. I participated in it and did it, but I’m not trying to get any recognition as a part of something that is bigger than me. So that’s why I did it. Forget about it. Getting arrested was nothing. It was just dirt on my shoulders.

So you’re saying they arrested you for a private, legal act?

Like I said, the evidence that was thrown against me, these are random posters that were vandalized and not for what was at the show. It was a legal piece. They went to the show on the suspicion that Poster Boy was going to be there since that was on the flyer and since I was working on the legal piece, they were like, “This is Poster Boy, let’s get him.” So it was kind of expected in a way. And like I said, I didn’t care. I didn’t want to keep anything.

I didn’t want to get money off of this, so I did make the piece in the name of Poster Boy and, you know, let it happen. Whatever Poster Boy wants to do with that image…gets done. I didn’t feel any attachment...

So it sounds like you were a superhero?

Yeah, it was like a Robin Hood. As someone said recently, a Keyser Sze? From Usual Suspects? I’ve never seen that movie, but I’ve got to see it now. How I feel about things is that we’re too attached to material things and the need to be famous and have money and have that as the idea of success...It’s a little too wacky.

I mean, I want to make money and be a little successful making paintings and stuff. But I don’t feel the need to, like you know, make a ton of this shit and just spit out this artwork and make millions and millions of dollars. If it happens, it happens. I’m not trying to do that. I don’t feel the need to do that. This idea that’s kind of put out there by the media makes people feel insecure because, if they don’t reach that, then they feel bad. And I think that compelled me to partake in Poster Boy because, though I’m not as extreme as what Poster Boy stands for, I feel...I have an affinity for what is being said.

What do your parents do?

Well my dad, he doesn’t do too much of anything. He owns a building, and he used to do some construction. He’s not really that active. He’s trying to lay low with the construction, but [he’s] barely getting by collecting rent in this building that was passed down to him. My mom, she’s like a nanny— barely gets by.

So you come from the working class?


Brothers and sisters? Yeah, all that.

So you said you went to art school? What art school?

I went to NYU, and they had a pretty good art program. I felt like there was a lot of bullshit in the art school that I didn’t really agree with.

Did you graduate?

Yeah, I graduated. So, it was...there was a contradiction between what I feel art should stand for and what they were teaching. So that’s kind of how I was able to like...really...I don’t know, come together with the whole Poster Boy thing. Like I said, maybe I’m not as extreme as the ideas behind Poster Boy, but I agree with a lot of it. Again, [I’m] a little too chickenshit to go out there and do that kind of stuff Poster Boy is doing.

You mean as Henry?

Yeah, of course, I mean as Henry. I feel a lot more safe in a studio making a painting than climbing up a structure and cutting down a whole billboard in Brooklyn.

Yeah, I loved that.

Yeah, that’s one of my favorites too. The whole point was, from what I gather, is to free up space for public engagement, whatever that may be. And lo and behold, the next day it was tagged by an artist named Lee(to), and it’s perfect, and it’s still up there—which is amazing! The potential for that is great. Ideally, I wouldn’t want to see any of the ads you know? Cause they’re like big and out-there and in-your-face. But it’s very good when you turn it into something that’s more local and public and more of a community space. I’d rather have that than a big billboard—a big advertisement.

Do you think that’s why they’re so intent on persecuting somebody for Poster Boy: because no one wants to see these fucking ads? Why not tear them down and throw them in the fire?

But none of us have that power. None of us want to see those ads. Nobody wants to see those ads. Some ads are clever, you know. You watch the Superbowl and you see like a funny ad or a clever ad, and there is some art behind it. You know, composition and color, there’s some appreciation. But then when it’s that big and in-your-face and it’s so aggressive; you get kinda tired of it. You’re like, Damn, I wish that shit would just like disappear. And then someone like Poster Boy comes by and just says, “Fuck it.” I’m going to cut it down with same razor I use in the subway. That takes fucking balls. Maybe you can’t do the same thing. But support it. If you believe in it in some way...

Do you think they wanted to pin that on you?

You know anything they wanted to pin on me. Anything. Every vandalized poster. Every piece that’s on the Flickr site. Every video piece. The billboard piece. The YouTube video.

They’re trying to nab me with all of that. I was kind of, like, taken aback at first. So I was kind of scared like, “Oh shit, I’m gonna get hit for all of this stuff.” You know, I don’t mind getting arrested and making a statement. But Jesus Christ, I don’t want to go to jail for this stuff.

So with that in mind, I tried to cop a plea. Maybe I’ll give them something to throw me a bone here, so I said, “All right, a while ago when Poster Boy started coming up, I maybe vandalized a poster or two but nothing else. You know, I didn’t climb up and do the billboard thing.” But they weren’t hearing that. They said, “Oh, really?” So they sent a cop right away to take a picture of every vandalized poster… I mean if that’s what it took—for me to get arrested, for all this crap to happen— maybe it’s worth it. Maybe I’m playing my part more than I think I am. I think so. It’s more than just doing a piece as Poster Boy. It’s me serving as a scapegoat or almost like a...

Well that’s an interesting term. Let’s talk about being a scapegoat.

Well, as far as like a scapegoat, like the whole idea with the NYPD trying to pin everything on me. Like people can’t understand something existing like Poster Boy, so they need one person to pin it on. People can’t imagine something existing like Poster Boy, so they have to have an individual to put all this shit on. I guess that’s my role, creating the change that I’d like to see. And so be it. I mean, I’d hate to go back to jail and stuff, but you know, at this point, seeing the way the institutions have been reacting, like the NYPD or MTA and advertisers and stuff, then my resolve would be [to get] stronger and getting a little more courageous as an active citizen. They [want to] give me jail time, fine, give it to me. I’m going to be scared shitless probably, but sometimes you have to put that aside. Put your fear aside.

How do you make a living by the way?

Bartend, odd jobs here and there. I sell paintings once in a while, and I’ve been getting a little mention—before the whole Poster Boy thing started. We’ll see where that goes. Of course, I’d love to make it as an artist. That’s why I came over here. I wasn’t born and raised here, you know? But I’ve been here for a few years. Not opposed to it. But capitalism seems like a pyramid scheme almost. The more you make, the more you spend, and the higher up you get, you just want to keep going and going, and make more money and consume more… Things should be evened out a little more. Maybe not be an anarchist state, you know. I still believe in some kind of government, but like make things like school free, healthcare, things that are essential. Like rights, human beings...

You said you liked comic books as a kid. If Poster Boy were a superhero, what would he look like?

Oh man, I think automatically, V for Vendetta stuff or like Batman.

What would he look like? What would he wear, Poster Boy?

The image that’s in my mind is this guy with a black jacket, jeans, a pair of red Converse and a fedora hat and a bandana covering his face—cause that’s like a couple pictures I saw that sticks in my head. Poster Boy is a New York thing. No, like, fancy clothes but still with a rough edge in a way, fucking like James Dean cool and then the bandana, like a vigilante, like an outlaw.

So I think that’s how I pictured it.

Anything else you want to make sure people understand?

Just that, in the spirit of Poster Boy, to understand that there are things out there that are not right and probably always will be things that are not right, and you have to decide your level of involvement and how you have to change that. I’ve decided that as a human being, as Henry Matyjewicz, as an artist, as a citizen, as an American. I understand what I can do and what I want to do and my involvement; and I think people should do that too and not be afraid to get arrested because that fear is why were are in this predicament—this moral predicament— in the first place, you know. You need to stop being scared and being empowered and thinking you can make a difference.

You feel like you’re this lone person that can’t make a difference, can’t do something about it, and you’re scared and you’re alone. But if you feel empowered and know that even a little bit can make a difference, then you feel empowered and not fearful, then you accept things like getting in trouble, jail, death… Poster Boy doesn’t want to hurt anybody.

He’s trying to bring awareness and letting people decide whether it’s art or not.

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