(Updated Friday morning with Yale gallery response.) We’d love the money. But higher artistic principles are at stake.
That, in effect, is Artspace’s response to an offer by the Yale University Art Gallery to donate a controversial new public-art piece by celebrated street artist Believe in Believe (BiP) for an annual fund-raising auction.
“We will honor your request and make it known to the Yale University Art Gallery that we cannot accept their proposal,” Artspace Director Helen Kauder wrote to BiP Thursday.
“We are also moved and grateful to you for your very generous offer to make another work that could be included in our fundraiser, and we hope that its realization and its existence will continue the dialogue generated around the questions that your efforts raise—can art can exist independent of markets and commodification? Can the artists in a community—those that give birth to the community and bring life to the streets—be the ones to define and have a say in what public community—or what public art might look like in the first place?”
BiP responded late Thursday that he “support[s] the gallery and artspace for being willing to advance public art.”
And Yale gallery chief Jock Reynolds weighed in Friday, saying the next move is BiP’s.
The piece that sparked all this attention and debate is a faux historical bronze plaque that BiP affixed to a brick front wall of the Yale gallery on April 1—setting off one of New Haven’s great cultural debates in the process.
BiP praised the gallery’s actions and intentions while philosophically disagreeing with the decision. Art shouldn’t be auctioned, he declared. He suggested the piece be exhibited at Yale or destroyed. (He also Tweeted, on April 4: “as much as this is my life’s work, I feel sad arguing about art when a few blocks over from the plaque, 16 year old kids are being shot.”)
That sparked much philosophical debate at Artspace, of course. Director Helen Kauder sent BiP a letter Thursday informing him that following all that debate, the organization concluded it should heed his wishes and not accept the piece for auction.
BiP responded Friday on Twitter by announcing he will make good on a promise to deliver a replica of the piece for the Artspace auction. “so proud of @artspacenh and @helenk today for showing backbone. keeping promise, giving their auction the only backup plaque i made,” he wrote.
That said, she made the case for why the auction helps support local art. She invited him to follow through on an offer to donate another piece. She also invited him to donate materials associated with the controversy over the plaque and/or to participate in an upcoming show on “Vagaries of the Commons.” The show, opening in late July, wrestles with just the kind of concerns that BiP has put in the public forefront these days, Kauder wrote: “the porous boundaries of what is deemed public and private space, and who criticize the policing and rapid privatization of the commons. The show looks specifically to New Haven to see how we can use the marginalized spaces within the public-private binary to claim common ground for public use and will examine the legal systems that deem what type of art is suitable for funding as public art.”
Click here and here to read some of the reader debate generated by BiP’s piece and Yale’s reaction. Click here and here to read previous stories on the episode.
Reached Thursday through an intermediary, BiP insisted he would not take his plaque back from Yale.
“you know i’d never ever ever take that plaque back,” he wrote in text-messages relayed to the Independent, “or accept anyone taking it back on my behalf.”
“i can’t say “no one can take this from the public domain” and “then turn around, take it back for myself and sell it, that’s bullshit.”
“let the plaque get destroyed by the gallery so we can finally be over all this,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Yale gallery chief Jock Reynolds has been communicating with BiP over next steps, much as Reynolds took a personal interest in another underrecognized New Haven artist, Winfred Rembert, back in 2000, offering him his first major exhibition on the way to eventual national acclaim.
Reynolds reported Friday:” I will now await BiP’s decision as to whether he wishes to retrieve his plaque from YUAG himself, send a personal representative to do so, or have YUAG transfer the plaque to Artspace so that it can be further exhibited there this summer as he has been invited to do by its director and curators. YUAG will be happy to honor whichever course of action the artist now chooses.”
I’m glad that Artspace is doing the right thing and honoring BiP’s intentions of preserving public art. It is now YUAG’s turn to follow suit—they should keep the plaque for the gallery, keep it so that people can literally see their right to public art preserved.
posted by: jp14 on April 10, 2014 4:42pm
Super cool debate on public art going on here. Love that artspace is willing to critically engage with this issue. Would be even better if they held an auction, not for a replica, but for a new public work.
posted by: phatoey129 on April 10, 2014 4:53pm
Wait, seriously, why doesn’t the Yale gallery just keep it?! I mean, its an ART GALLERY, so not like they have any interest AGAINST displaying pieces of art, especially if its local and means a lot to the community. Just keep it and display it proudly as a source of pride and homage to New Haven.
posted by: New Have on April 10, 2014 4:54pm
I am impressed by the dialogue surrounding this piece. It has brought together all these different forces in the arts sphere of New Haven for an interesting discussion. Artspace’s response was right on. Fingers crossed YUAG will keep the piece.
posted by: NYCcroc on April 10, 2014 5:20pm
I would be happy to put that plaque in my mobile New Haven history museum that i am currently building. It belongs in the public view in the future simply for the dialog that it created. Whether i agree with bip, Yale or Artspace is irrelevant, its apart of our local history here in New Haven.
posted by: Albatross on April 10, 2014 5:39pm
Kauder’s letter is thought-provoking and gracious, well worth a read, and thanks NHI for linking to it. But just as the plaque wasn’t intended to be sold, it wasn’t made with the intent to end up in a collection either—isn’t part of the purpose of such a work to engage with the public, without an institution or curators mediating? Does BiP even want it in YUAG’s collection?
posted by: OrangeStreet on April 10, 2014 6:41pm
If Believe In People wants the piece to be either displayed or destroyed, then the Gallery should do one or the other. Believe In People is adding to New Haven in a way that is complicated, new, and unregulated. To leave his or her art “out in the open” as he or she does is a great risk, and the only protection this work has is whatever protection the community, including the Gallery, gives it. If display or destruction is the protection he or she is asking for for this work, the Gallery should give it.
posted by: MarkJacobsFKLM on April 10, 2014 7:11pm
A public art piece should remain as a public art piece or be destroyed. Moreover, the effect of bip’s work has left a lasting impression on New Haven. It makes sense to keep it as part of an art collection.
posted by: robn on April 10, 2014 8:53pm
Great. So If I and others in town who may have artistic ambitions decide to start hanging my art on YUAG exterior walls, will we too then be included in this internationally renowned collection? IS BIP’s blatant attention-whoring and buddy-spam actually gaining him a place in the Yale Art Gallery?
Please people. Artistic creativity is distinctive from marketing creativity in one very significant way. Great art isn’t trying to sell you something (in this case, what’s for sale is the image of BIP as a great artist; you buy it, he/she profits).
The beauty of art is it’s ability to transcend boundaries. Whether those boundaries are cultural or legal, art is the one release society has for free expression. This is a fascinating predicament for YUAG. By no choice of the museum, they find themselves between a rock and a hard place, and their ultimate decision has the potential to unpredictably influence street art’s place in the modern age. Very exciting!
posted by: Mary Lou on April 10, 2014 9:39pm
I agree with Phatoey129, why doesn’t the Yale gallery just keep it?! As an institute of higher education, I think it would also be a good opportunity for the museum to be inclusive and offer BiP a space to show more of his work. He has done a 3-story high piece for the Museum of Contemporary art in Taipei, Taiwan last year. BiP belongs to New Haven. We don’t want BiP to leave.
posted by: 14chainz on April 11, 2014 1:10am
This piece sure has generated a lot of buzz and initiated a discussion on the current role of art that is much needed. I really hope they leave this piece as a free gift to the public, rather than selling it (even if it is for charity). Auctioning it off would go against the purpose that the artist installed it in the first place.
OrangeStreet (among others making largely the same point) wrote:
“If Believe In People wants the piece to be either displayed or destroyed, then the Gallery should do one or the other.”
Personally, I think Ms. Kauder’s response was fair and gracious given the outcry from BiP’s friends posting on this forum and reiterating his expressed wishes. But I don’t see how those wishes in any way impose an obligation on the Yale Art Gallery. I think they can be trusted to be the best judge of what they want to be in their collection. ‘Display or destroy’ is a no-win scenario; either be held hostage, as robn warns, or ride out what’s sure to be a PR headache.
The plaque is a nice piece of work—well-crafted and convincing, and it’s mildly amusing but the satirical faux historical marker is well-trod territory, not exactly avant-garde or groundbreaking. Neither is sneaking things into prestigious art collections. At least Banksy gets them all the way inside.
I like BiP’s paintings and agree that he’s “adding to New Haven in a way that’s complicated” (if not particularly new). But he doesn’t want to turn into that guest or relative who makes a ‘gift’ of some piece or art or tschotske that comes with onerous expectations of how it has to be handled or displayed.
posted by: WC10 on April 11, 2014 8:36am
What is the appraised value of the piece?
posted by: Dwightstreeter on April 11, 2014 9:13am
Having seen a mind-mending exhibit in L.A. of graffiti a few years ago, it’s not so easy to label what is in the museum “art” and outside it “not art”.
If Duchamp could call a urinal “art - because I say so” - why such outrage Robn at BIP?
Warhol saw “art” as a commodity that could be mass produced and the zillions paid for all sorts of things (think Damien Hirst) has to make us step back and re-think our definitions.
Sometimes “art” discomforts. That YUAG is struggling to find the right gesture for BIP’s piece does speak well of them. Of course selling it would get us right back to Warhol’s cynical - and accurate view.
Let’s enjoy the joke and lighten up.
posted by: grounded on April 11, 2014 11:12am
I love Helen Kauder.
BiP is a child. A very talented child, but a child. You don’t just get to demand that a world renowned art gallery display your work. And why destroy the thing when it could benefit a local gallery that supports local artists and provides free access to art, much of it locally produced? I’m as capable of academic navel gazing as the next college town resident with too many letters after my name but this really takes the cake. Kudos to Helen Kauder to being sensitive and politic about this but really, BiP, this is silly.
posted by: robn on April 11, 2014 11:13am
The question is NOT, “is this art?” The question is, “can anyone exhibit their art anywhere they want?” If your answer to the latter is “yes” then you remove both popular and scholarly judgment from the equation and the notion of disciplined hard work and exceptional talent get thrown out the window.
Even if the piece itself is weak, the boundary test is clever (amplified by partisans participating in the performance). However, its not so clever that it merits admittance to an internationally renown museum. If I were Jock I’d take the piece back outdoors, lean it against a wall, and let the public have it.
posted by: Fawnz on April 11, 2014 12:08pm
Oh “Land that I love” and the people in it!! Just to think how an ingenius piece of April Fools art work can cause so much communication and problem solving amongst us is comforting and makes me proud to be an American. BIP, maybe this was not what you set out to do, but Thank you for this (maybe not so new found), but a little neglected spirit!
posted by: JudyLove on April 11, 2014 12:22pm
I’ve never seen a satirical plaque before, and I went to RISD, where we had people doing pretty much everything under the sun. Read: smearing pudding on their genitals and dragging them across paper. Story for another time I guess.
Whether the museum hangs on to this is irrelevant, what BIP did was rather genius. Seems like his coming-of-age as an artist. Not a fan of the paintings, which seem a little Banksy-esque, sorry :(
You also double-posted one of the stories that had *no pictures* but called the objects, “signs”, indicating that the last link is probably also not a plaque, at least in the mind of the person who wrote the article.
RISD students get out plenty, thank you very much. :)
I’m sure you didn’t do it intentionally, but that’s misleading, and you need to be more careful. I think we all understand your general point. It’s good to have a critical eye, and we can at least agree that this art is very controversial.
posted by: robn on April 11, 2014 11:39pm
We certainly do NOT agree that this art is controversial. I would define it more as ill-crafted crass self promotion. For more examples of precedent try Situationism or more close to home and more recent (if you call the 80s more recent) try Craig Baldwin. Appropriation and transgression can be meaningful when motivated by art and not marketing.
posted by: M.Welbourne on April 14, 2014 10:23am
I am an artist from another place and time. It has been interesting to move to New Haven and observe the brouhaha over kinda crappy work. This Banksy knock-off feels like the emperors new clothes.