Barry McGee at the ICA, Boston


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Barry McGee at the ICA, Boston

Last week saw the opening of graffiti artist Barry McGee’s traveling retrospective at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). McGee, affectionately known under his tag name “Twist,” began exhibiting his art in the late 1980s on the streets of San Francisco at a time when the city was struggling with a flattened economy and the burgeoning AIDS crisis. Clean, bright reds, bold black text, and his often quilt-like arrangement of drawings and photos uniquely contrast against the messy, distorted parts of urban life that he depicts.

The exhibit covers different genres of art, from black and white photography and drawings to video works with audio to ready-made art, including a life-sized, hollowed out dumpster overflowing with trash, inside of which a mechanical man dressed in baggy jeans and a flat rimmed hat (McGee?) spray paints a mirror in a public restroom. Consistent with other pieces in the exhibit, here McGee seems to demand our participation in his art, as the mere discovery of the tagger inside the bin leaves us exhilarated as if we’ve caught the artist in the act.

The tower of televisions is certainly one of the collection’s highlights. Here McGee plays with the tension between the young, anarchic energy of the time and the stifling presence of public authority. He intentionally over-stimulates our senses with this tall beam of tiny televisions, some with audio and visual, some with only one of the two, others just with pure static. Videos of crashing cars, young men scaling walls – even a series of McGee’s own drawings of people we saw framed earlier, now with glowing red eyes – makes it impossible for us to take the work in all at once. Instead, we see McGee undo and then transform moments taken from a society driven by mass consumption.

Aesthetically, some of McGee’s most interesting works are those that apply the motif and images of his street graffiti. In one of his untitled pieces, he paints destitute faces using acrylic on glass bottles hung by wire. The face’s defeated-looking individuality is said to reflect McGee’s daily encounter with the homeless population that lived on the streets of San Francisco in the early 21st century.

For those of you who missed the opening, you can catch this exhibit through September 2, 2013. To learn more visit the ICA’s website HERE.

by Colleen Saville
Gloobbi Contributor based in Boston

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