Itchy Fingers

In one of last week's best pieces of news, Barry McGee is back. That is, the wall painting McGee created for the 2000 Consolidated Works exhibition Evidence has finally been reinstalled on the north wall of ConWorks' lobby.

In fact, what you can now see there is only about half of the original work, since there wasn't a wall big enough or available enough for the whole thing. And it doesn't include the moving collage of painted bottles (painted with pictures of droopy, sad-sack men who, depending on how you read the work, had possibly attached themselves, body and soul, to the bottles' contents) that were clustered on the original--I think McGee took those with him when the show closed. Nevertheless, it's a great sample of his work: sweeping, sad, homely, magnificent, full of pregnant empty space (in his signature tomato red) and the occasional graffiti tag. McGee started his career as the graffiti artist known as "Twist," but his indoor works are a different breed altogether.

These elements were also present in another 2000 work, called The Buddy System, which is now available in catalog form, published by Deitch Projects. From the looks of it, the installation was a stunner, including a rusty metal wall with a painting of a man--another of McGee's down-on-their-luck brigade, here haloed in paint drips--crawling prayerfully along the bottom edge. Somehow McGee's work avoids bathos, instead feeling--for all its odd assemblage--fully and forlornly human, even if some of the humanity seems to be made up of giant drip-shaped heads.

The catalog also includes a series of nicely composed black-and-white photographs of buffed graffiti (once again, may I direct you to Matt McCormick's excellent film on this subject?), and then images of tags and taggers and homeless people: in general, a disjointed portrait of public space.

One funny thing about the Buddy System catalog: It comes with 32 blank sheets of paper, or 64 blank pages. Now, I like to think of myself as alert to new ideas in publishing, and in particular to artists' books (which are often about framing and presenting books, about keeping the idea of the book new), but this just looked like a mistake. It is a lot of pages. I thought that it might be a printing mistake. So I blithely e-mailed the good people at Distributed Art Publishers and asked for a fresh copy.

The long and the short of it is that the book is supposed to have 64 blank pages. "That's how Barry designed it," the return e-mail said, "with this kind of clean space that make[s] graffiti artists' fingers itch." Well. I felt a little stupid, and it looks pretty weird, but on second thought, I found the whole thing sort of cool, and rather generous. It kind of made my fingers itch.

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