Recently Jonathan Barnett was selected to participate in the Art Wall project, a public art initiative organized by the Ralph Lauren Corp. that turned the Denim & Supply [a Ralph Lauren brand] shop at 99 University Place into a showcase for emerging artists. The exterior serves as an approximately 31 ft. x 80 ft. “canvas” for his site-specific illustration, which was printed on vinyl and heat-applied to the building’s surface.
Inside, shoppers can purchase limited-edition T-shirts based on Bartlett’s art. Ok…so hold on a second…is this any different from artists covering the the buildings in downtown Los Angeles (or any major city in the world for that matter) with fantastic art? (see art to your right) I acknowledge that the process is different and of course Mr. Barnett’s work was paid for and assigned but the effect is the same. A building is covered with contemporary artwork. However one is lauded over and considered fresh and new, the others possibly not. In fact Barnett says “When’s the last time a major brand not only covered the entire facade of their building with conceptual illustration, but let that art continue through the windows and into the store itself?” I don’t know, but I do know it’s been done by some faceless nameless street artist who at best gets a pat on the back from his friends and a few bucks from the buildings owner and at worst gets thrown in jail for defacing public property.
That is the way most things go. From renegade underground figure wanted by the law to advertising friendly street artist who go from obscurity to art gallery flavor of the week. Think Basquiat. Do I sound jealous?
What’s my point? Well I’m a little uneasy about the marketing machine behind all this, knowing marketing and promotion as I do. It feels kinda of like what Buffalo Bill did with the proud Indians he employed when he toured the country giving city folks a “real” live view of the American Indians. Make no mistake Mr. Barnett’s work is not original or new. It is a scrubbed-down version of what street artists have been doing for years and without the heart and bravado.I applaud him and for the commission and his work is certainly good. It is rehearsed and carefully planned. But,f you’re going that route I’d rather see CF Payne’s work on a building or at least my friend Keith Batcheller’s. Or mine for that matter. Hear that Ralphie boy!?
Here’s a link to the story I read about Jonathan Barnett’s work and his interview from Design Arts Daily. Draw your own conclusion