Monday, April 04, 2005

In Graffiti We Trust

The “new” East Village is design-perfect, approved by the hip and cool throughout. Restaurants, tattoo parlors, no bookstores, galleries, minimal inventories. The streets feel more narrow. The old neighbors mingle on weekends drinking Budweiser with visitors drinking Mojitos and exotic-flavored martinis.
Graffiti, once the outpost of the outsider is now part of the inside-out world of the East Village whose buildings and people are changing. Graffiti is now ornamental, part of the decorative element of the cityscape.
Part of the message of the present renewal of the East Village is that it incorporates the bohemian, drug-addled, poetic, ecstacy-crazed neighborhood into a gestalt of graffiti as design whose messages are no longer threatening or political. The old graffiti is simply a design element and has lost its power. The medium is the message.
On weekends the landscape overflows with visitors cramming into boutiques and restaurants to spend money. It is obvious that people are spending money and that is why they are carrying bags. Most of the shopkeepers are happy knowing that they are bringing goods and information to their shelves which people want to buy. It makes everyone happy when nobody is hungry.
The transformation of the East Village has taken place over many years, but now seems to be entering its final stages, although in New York City, the city itself is never finished, always renewing.
The odd thing is that the graffiti is no longer labeled radical outsider art that Basquiat and Haring once practiced. Of course Basquiat’s current exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum and Keith Haring’s designs on Swatch’s watchfaces clearly label them insiders now, AND HAVE FOR A LONG TIME.

The outsiders – old ex-cons and bad guys of the 70s and even before, let’s say the 50s or late 19th century have now become designer teachers and designer mentors and designers and their statements are meaningful in ways different than anyone would have ever suspected.

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