• August 3, 2005
  • Posted by Marc

Terrific Rerview for Swoon and Barry McGee in Today’s NYT

Today, the New York Times finally got around to
reviewing both Barry McGee and Swoon’s shows at the Deitch Galleries. It was
fantastic to see both shows so warmly received. In particular, we couldn’t be
happier for Swoon as this show takes her work to a whole ‘nother level. We can’t
think of anyone more deserving. Congrats!

If you haven’t read the
article in today’s paper, here it is:

Urban Outsider Artists
Evoke Society’s Margins

August 3, 2005

Jeffrey Deitch may spend more time in a well-pressed
pinstripe suit than any other downtown art dealer, but he is second to none when
it comes to diverting street art’s creative energies into the white cube of the
traditional gallery. At the moment both of Mr. Deitch’s white cubes - former
garages in the relatively quiet southwest quadrant of SoHo - are going full
blast with installations by two resourceful streetwise artists, a veteran and a
promising newcomer.

Swoon, a street artist and recent graduate of
Pratt Institute, is making her New York gallery debut at Deitch Projects.
Mr. McGee’s installation includes patchworks of panels painted with
fluorescent-colored variations on a three-color stepped block pattern. More
Photos >

The larger Deitch space, on Wooster Street near Grand
Street, has been taken over by Barry McGee, who helped ignite the street-
graffiti art renaissance that emanated from San Francisco in the 1990’s. This is
his third solo appearance with the gallery, and he has gone all out, venturing
into new areas (abstract painting of all things) and presenting enough work in
drawing, graffiti, video, photography, animatronic sculptures and over-the-top
installation art for several shows. It is aptly titled “One More Thing.”
Meanwhile, around the corner in the smaller Deitch space (on Grand near
Wooster), a street artist and recent graduate of Pratt Institute who calls
herself Swoon is making her New York gallery debut. She is presenting a shadowy
stage-set-like reverie on the sidewalks, tenements and elevated subways of New
York that was also inspired by the spontaneous, unregulated squatter structures
of Kowloon Walled City, a Hong Kong slum that was bulldozed in 1993. So far,
Swoon has been known for the large-scale linoleum block prints of expertly drawn
city folk that she has been plastering around the Lower East Side and Brooklyn
for several years. They earned her a place in the Greater New York exhibition at
P.S. 1 in Queens, where, consistent with her preference for anonymity, her
paste-on prints appear unlabeled in an obscure stairwell. Most people will come
across them as on the street, entirely by accident.

These two
environments form a remarkable loop of energy and thought about art and life and
the ways they can be merged into a third thing, something highly artificial and
visually immersive, yet profoundly real and infused with social commentary. They
are the work of urban outsider artists whose main subject is the urban

Mr. McGee’s piece operates between extremes of recognizable
modernist strategies to evoke society’s margins, where subcultures produce their
own visual signs and art forms. On the one hand he makes grandiose (and somewhat
macho) use of found objects: you enter the show through the back of a large
truck turned on its side, to be confronted by a three-story-high pileup of
wrecked, rusted, heavily graffitied vans, cars and trucks. On the other hand, he
pursues geometric abstraction with effortless dispatch, covering walls with
patchworks of panels painted with fluorescent-colored variations on a three-
color stepped block pattern. The eye-popping results update Op Art while also
evoking the subcultures of sign painting and quilt making.

As for the
in between, it is hard to know where to start. Animatronic figures tag the walls
with graffiti. Some appear to be made of the carved wood African sculptures that
street vendors sell; others are life-size replicas of Mr. McGee’s friends,
hoodies and all, including two of the graffiti artist Josh. One version of Josh
is sighted in a very convincing re-creation of a public restroom that fills a
shipping container at the bottom of the wreck pileup. He is adding his best-
known tag, AMAZE, to a graffiti-covered mirror.

Meanwhile, videos
blaring from a towering kiosk of old television monitors makefurther use of Mr.
McGee’s paintings and the signature sad-sack faces and figures of his drawings.
Also here are videos, purchased on the Internet, that show members of street
gangs brandishing their tattoos and hand signs. Down some stairs, two walls are
covered in beautifully rusted metal plates that turn out to be recycled
typesetters trays. Up other stairs, a small shed lined with metal plates (trompe
l’oeil this time) leads by ladder to a basement hideaway where the walls are
covered with drawings on paper napkins by the artist’s father, while the floor
is a veritable snake pit of cables and brightly painted DVD players for the
videos. A third stairway leads to a dense display of Mr. McGee’s drawings on
paper and empty night train bottles - along with photographs of graffiti artists
in action.

Playing chapel to Mr. McGee’s cathedral, Swoon’s
relatively intimate, unified installation nonetheless shows her ingeniously
parlaying her linoleum-block prints and doilylike paper cutouts into an
ambitious walk-in environment that is magical in both its complexity and its
hands-on directness.

Intact found objects have little role here,
although the piece includes some old doors and bits of molding and rickety-
looking wood structures that suggest fire escapes and subway trestles. The
dominant factor here is a flexible pictorial language that depicts workaday
people of diverse ethnicities and urban vistas, often in combination. Motifs can
migrate among printed paper, paper cutout, wood cutout, paint and stencil. And
there are whiffs of the artist’s Southern roots (she was born and brought up in
Florida) in the form of frequent silhouettes of trunk-nosed elephant moths and
cut-out paper that hangs overhead like Spanish moss. Although a little further
along you discover that the hanging cutouts actually depict the Coney Island

Precedents for Swoon’s work include various forms of 80’s
street-oriented art: Keith Haring’s chalk figures (which were also on paper),
Richard Hambleton’s Ab Ex figures and Martin Wong’s lovingly exact depictions of
tenements and graffiti. She also builds on the traditions of the German
Expressionist woodblock print, American Social Realism and the slightly heated-
up illustrational style of postwar magazines and cheap novel covers. There’s an
implicit conservatism to Swoon’s style; sometimes the piece feels like a visit
to the set of “West Side Story.” But the show creates an engrossing perception
of life on the move, conjured up by an artist whose talent is all revved up with
lots of places to go.

At Deitch Projects, SoHo: Barry McGee’s “One
More Thing,” at 18 Wooster Street, and Swoon’s debut, at 76 Grand Street,
continue through Aug. 13; (212) 343-7300.