Judy Riha conducts a billboard count along a roughly two-mile stretch in City Council District 10. The event was organized by the Pico Neighborhood Council and the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight.
As part of a neighborhood plan to curb the growing number, a group in the Mid-City area counts and records what it sees in hopes of ridding the streets of signs posted illegally.
By Esmeralda Bermudez January 11, 2009
On a sunny morning when many Angelenos flocked to parks and beaches, Judy Riha hit a busy, noisy commercial stretch of La Cienega Boulevard on a hunt for illegal billboards.
She stopped every few feet Saturday -- nine times within a two-block stretch -- to count and take note of ads large and small selling cigarettes, energy drinks, movies and retirement plans."They're holding the city hostage," she said, pointing to the ads, at the start of the 2 1/2 -mile stretch she was assigned to canvass as part of a neighborhood plan to curb the growing number of signs popping up in City Council District 10. The district includes Wilshire Vista, Mid-City and SouthRobertson.
The move comes as the city tries to grapple with complaints from residents and a host of legal challenges brought by billboard companies.
A three-month sign moratorium took effect Dec. 26 to give the city time to draft new laws regulating their quantity, size, location and brightness. A two-year statewide moratorium targeting electronic billboards was proposed Friday in Sacramento.
In Los Angeles, signs without permits have continued to sprout despite the local ban, according to city lawyers. Some billboard companies have argued that the city is violating their 1st Amendment right to free speech and favoring some companies over others. One state legislator worries that limiting electronic billboards could worsen an already sagging economy.
The issue has turned residents like Riha, who works in the entertainment industry, into watchdogs as they fan out across corridors, creating a record of signs they see on poles, storefronts and high-rises.
With a clipboard in hand, she set out with about 20 residents to take inventory of billboards along Pico and Wilshire boulevards and other strips. They wrote down sizes, addresses and identification numbers to submit to the city at the end of the month.
"We're stepping out -- some with their partners, some with strollers -- and making a day out of it," she said, standing on the corner of Venice Boulevard and La Cienega with a 360-degree view of eight billboards, some digitized. "People like us are going to save this city."
The event was organized by the Pico Neighborhood Council and the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight.
"We want the city to compare what we found against their database and figure out which ones are illegal," said Josh Pretsky, a resident of Faircrest Heights and coordinator of the event.
He said he expected residents to find about 600 signs. It is unclear how many are illegal. In a separate inventory in Council District 11 late last year, residents counted nearly 500 signs in areas including Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.
A 35-year resident of the Fairfax area, Ron Smith, 69, decided to get involved.
"I've started noticing more and more signs as I'm driving," he said. "It can be blinding sometimes."
A proposal by the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) to allow "vegetative" billboards and commercial displays at interchanges on Nevada's highways has been rejected by the federal government.
The plan, which agitated some Nevada officials after they first learned about it in media reports, rather than from NDOT, was similar to a proposal in California to allow advertisers to craft billboards made out of flowers and other vegetation on the public right-of-way itself, a move that would have required the waiver of several statutes and regulations governing signage and commercialization on federal roads.
Scenic America was a vocal opponent of the proposal and had communicated its position to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and other public officials. In a letter to Scenic America President Kevin Fry, FHWA official Regin McElroy wrote, "based on further consideration of all the factors relevant to the proposal, we have decided not to proceed with it."
Although the plan had been given preliminary support by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) during the waning days of the Bush administration, federal officials apparently reconsidered the implications for the integrity of the federal highway system and the effect the proposal would have had on several long-standing laws that would have been undermined.
"We are relieved and grateful that FHWA has made the right decision and rejected this proposal," said Fry. "We hope Nevada and other states will first consider the safety of the motoring public, the aesthetics of their roadways, and the dangers of undermining the basic principles that have guided federal highway policy for over fifty years, before considering proposals like this in the future."
This post, and all the links contained within, seem to cover all the aspects of the PosterBoy MoMA mashup. My only two cents is, yes HappyCorp knew this was publicity stunt and MoMA is surely happy about that as well. It doesn't ruin the fact that HappyCorp respects PosterBoy his concerns about public space. They did a good thing by championing his work and keeping the outdoor advertising industry furious about their lack of control.
As of Tuesday, Doug Jaeger of HappyCorp was cleverly wording his comments about his and Poster Boy's involvement in the alteration of MoMA's subwayad campaignin Brooklyn, which he developed. According to Jaeger, he met Poster Boy, who he says is more than one person, and that he and some others were in the subway system the night the ads were deconstructed.
The NY Post, not a fan of Poster Boy's work in the past, chimes in today saying that Jaeger has "admitted his responsibility in the bizarre publicity stunt," refused to pin any of it on Poster Boy (who is already facing charges), and allegedly didn't have MoMA's permission to carry out the vandalism. In a statement released yesterday MoMA said, "The museum deplores any kind of vandalism and we are distressed that this happened, did not condone or authorize it and hope it doesn't happen again." (In other words, they love it, it's drawn even more attention to their campaign, but they can't say that because it's totally illegal.)
The museum is keeping mum about their current relationship with HappyCorp, and the fact that they haven't severed ties with them has the MTA "furious," according to the Post. While we haven't heard back from Jaeger about the latest developments, we talked to Jeremy Soffin at the MTA, who told us that even if MoMA and HappyCorp altered their own ads it is still illegal, and that "designing an ad doesn't give him any more right to vandalize than anyone else." The MTA's contractor CBS Outdoor is currently in contact with both parties on the organization's behalf.
While it seems pretty evident that this was the plan all along,the Village Voice is still questioning why the HappyCorp folks went from being so proud of the installation to vandalizing it. Maybe they were just tired of seeing Starry Night? The subway station isn't a dorm room, after all.
I was excited to see yet another piece on the now infamous PosterBoy came out yesterday in The New York Press. Always a potential outlet for the open discussion of the issues surrounding his work, press is one way I hope the public can be informed about the larger context in which PosterBoy's work is taking place. Needless to say this interview disappoints on many levels. I think John Doe's comment on The New York Press's website encapsulates my feelings well. "The Poster Boy movement would have been better off without so much Henry..."
John Doe's sentiment has less to do with Henry, who I think is an incredibly interesting character in this whole affair, than it does with Matt Harvey's incredible lack of interest in the "movement" he seems to put at the forefront of the article. When the interview byline reads "Henry Matyjewicz says he's part of an art revolution that's bigger than one person." I get excited, hoping to find an insightful look into what this whole "art movement" is, and potentially what it's goals are.
The Interview begins with a solid account of the last few months of activity surrounding PosterBoy. Interestingly, Harvey begins this account by framing the times, "After the economy crashed—and millions of straphangers were sick to death of being sold so much shit—Poster Boy’s style evolved into more sophisticated mash-ups." This is the first time I've seen the political climate used to help explain the recent overwhelming excitement and interest in this kind of illegal art activism. It was a similar situation of economic destitution which bore the consumer movement in the late 30's and early 40's, and I think an interesting insight on Harvey's part. Earlier in the century, consumers in an economic wasteland, unable to pay for the common goods they needed, rose up against the injustices that the economy had exacerbated, no longer able look past them. They demanded price control and consumer product grading systems, and in turn began to see their roles as consumers through their roles as producers, demanding minimum wage requirements and a standardized work week. If deepening economic woes can cause consumers to re-evaluate the economy they live in and demand restitution for things they look past in more favorable economic times, then maybe we are also at a tipping point where consumers of today might be fed up enough to want to openly discuss some of the ways in which they are currently being taken advantage of. After all, necessity is the mother of all inventions, and an artist working with no material costs whatsoever, discussing the purchase of products that people are quickly becoming unable to afford, rings pretty true in my ears.
The interview starts out promising, trying to nail down some of Henry's heroes, a good way to contextualize what Henry is interested in with his part in the project, but that doesn't turn up any interesting relationships. It goes on to immediately tackle whether or not the work is activist, but here Henry is unwilling to paint it solely in that light saying, "It’s activist work. It’s a bunch of stuff. You know? It’s illegal. It’s whatever. But there’s, you know, just one more thing that you can label it under." It's not Henry's job to be the champion of ideas here but come on, this is an opportunity to call out some of the serious ideas about how the work challenges existing structures in our city and for whom the city is currently operating. I mean for god sake the guy is facing jail time for something he may or may not have done as well as for something which I believe shouldn't even be a crime. Clearly there is an unjust system in place here working against the residents of this city (Henry included) and for the large ad corporations inundating our public space with private messages.
The interview then goes on to try and figure out whether or not Henry is PosterBoy, all the while seeming like an opportunity for Henry to once again shake off responsibility for some of PosterBoy's more aggressive acts. Henry saying, "I feel a lot more safe in a studio making a painting than climbing up a structure and cutting down a whole billboard in Brooklyn." I Don't know who this PosterBoy is, if it's Henry or a whole crew of disgruntled citizens, The fact of the matter is Henry has denied responsibility for that act so let's move on.
In fact regardless of who tore that billboard down, both of them were excited about the fact that it had happened. Harvey responding, "Yeah, I loved that." and Henry reiterating the sentiment, "Yeah, that’s one of my favorites too." A quick response on Henry's part is all we get in the way of explanation for why this act from PosterBoy was so politically charged. "But it’s very good when you turn it (the billboard) into something that’s more local and public and more of a community space." The article makes haste moving forward, more concerned with whether or not "they wanted to pin..." the billboard removal on Henry. Who cares?
I could go on but I think my point has been made. The rest of the interview passes by inanely with questions about Henry's background, family life, and what he thinks PosterBoy would look like if he was a superhero. Really? Really? A superhero? get out of town.
The one saving grace is that in the end Henry does assert that his role in this project is about participation, that when things are wrong you must decide you level of involvement and not be afraid of the consequences.
"I understand what I can do and what I want to do and my involvement; and I think people should do that too and not be afraid to get arrested because that fear is why were are in this predicament—this moral predicament— in the first place, you know. You need to stop being scared and being empowered and thinking you can make a difference."
Personally I could care less who PosterBoy is, and maybe even less about who Henry Matyjewicz is. The fact of the matter is some very bold illegal activities are taking place right before our eyes and I want to know why.
Henry Matyjewicz says he's part of an art revolution that's bigger than one person. In his first interview since his arrest, he talks to MATT HARVEY about what Poster Boy means as a movement. By Matt Harvey
A full year ago, as the city was marching to the beat of BUY! BUY! BUY!, defaced posters began appearing throughout the subway system. The early cut-and-paste jobs were crude and clever puns loaded with obscenities. A glop of paint turns a reality show tagline—about some rock stars’ brats—on itself. Alongside a tow-headed child, a placard asks: “Are They Born to Fuck?” The images are simultaneously logged on a Flickr site of someone called Poster Boy NYC. Street art blogs such as “And I Am Not Lying” took notice and Gawker and Gothamist kept the ball rolling.
After the economy crashed—and millions of straphangers were sick to death of being sold so much shit—Poster Boy’s style evolved into more sophisticated mash-ups. He teamed up with a high-minded cabal, including the public space artist Aakash Nihalani—who framed Poster Boy’s petty criminality in geometric tape designs. By the time New York magazine published a profile of Poster Boy on Oct. 5 2008, the subway artist was an anonymous masked avenger (a sexy accompanying photo showed tan arms in a wife beater, with a bandana and conductor-style cap, slouchy jeans and Nikes). He was now a symbol for an ever-more frustrated creative underclass losing jobs every day.
Then there was the cold night in Williamsburg when a solitary figure hung over the top of a king-sized billboard next to the Marcy Avenue El. He cut two long strips into the 50-foot-long poster—featuring a cartoon Giraffe and the words “Reach?”—with a box cutter. As subway cars careened past, the sheet of vinyl peeled off like a giant bumper sticker. Again, it was all digitized for YouTube. An act of youthful rage was transformed into a rebel raid on a corporate Death Star—and taggers later descended on the blank canvas to finish it off.
On the evening of Jan. 30, undercover cops busted Poster Boy in a Soho gallery space where Sly Art vs. Robot had advertised a performance by “Poster Boy NYC.” Identified as Henry Matyjewicz, a 27-year-old art student originally from Hartford, Conn., he was arrested on vandalism charges and, according to him, shuttled to Rikers Island. The New York Post reported on Feb. 3 that he was fingered by his own hubris— when overheard bragging to a girl about his exploits—with the headline, “He’s a Boaster Boy.” Indeed, Poster Boy inexplicably gave up his anonymity when he’d let a cameraman from the Guardian follow him in mid-January for a video that was later posted on YouTube. The video showed a young man with olive-colored skin wearing a gray fedora, a gray hoodie, a leather jacket and a bandana over his nose and mouth. He deftly slices and dices subway ads in the name of art while explaining his intentions.
On Tuesday, Feb. 10, Matyjewicz refused a deal offering him community service, vowing to fight on in court. But people were already saying that Matyjewicz wasn’t really Poster Boy. A Feb. 4 New York Times piece posited that Matyjewicz was just a stand-in.
Last Thursday, I met Henry Matyjewicz (pronounced Matee-YAY-veetch) on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. He was bundled inside a black coat, and he pointed to a yellow sticker on the ground that was torn from one of his mashups. It was stuck across the doorway of The Charleston, where we planned to meet. I took in his short, athletic frame, handsome features and thick black hair. Over the course of the next couple of hours, his frequent and long discourses—on topics ranging from art and music to politics and metaphysics—gave me the impression he was repeating received ideas to see which ones stick. He was simultaneously proud and eager to please. First, he averted his eyes from my gaze to deal with the lightning bolt stuck to the concrete.
“It’s from a Gatorade ad. I swear to God I didn’t put it here.” As he explained what happened, things weren’t exactly matching up to the reports. He goes in and out of the third person when referring to Poster Boy. He explained it was to protect himself from prosecution, but I sensed there was something else more puzzling at work: Sometimes he really was Poster Boy and sometimes he wasn’t. Strangest of all, he didn’t seem to remember some of the specifics of his own arrest.
When I called Matyjewicz later for clarification on some of his comments, he told me: “I’m pretty sure I was arrested in Brooklyn and sent to Soho.” When I tell him that was not possible, he replied, “I’m not good with that stuff.” It’s not the first time I’m baffled by holes in his story.
So where are you from?
Born and raised in Hartford, Conn., and moved out to New York a little bit later to go to school, to art school.
I’ve been to Hartford before. I’ve been to West Hartford.
It’s like night and day, the difference. West Hartford is like...the difference would be like Upstate New York and Manhattan.
Some areas of Hartford are just like, whatever, you know, just laid back. But there’s a lot of places in Hartford that are pretty…you don’t want to walk to down the street unless you’re from there—or at least you’re strapped... Some places are pretty crazy in Hartford, and it’s not that big of a city. It’s predominantly Hispanic or black.
Are you Hispanic?
Half Hispanic. Grew up on the Hispanic side really. Half Polish, last name Matyjewicz. I mean, clear giveaway, but I grew up with my Hispanic side.
Puerto Rican or…?
Yeah, Puerto Rican, sorry. Puerto Rican-Polish.
[We get into a discussion of Keith Haring and his “Crack is Wack” mural along FDR Drive.] Is Haring a hero of yours?
Haring? I acknowledge, you know, I respect what he does, but he’s actually not a hero. You know, I like a lot of what he stood for, the energy he had. Just like his really bright colors, his line of work, you know, like sometimes he would have messages like “Crack is Wack,” and so I appreciate his energy.
But as far as like a full-blown hero? I’d have to say no.
Who are your heroes?
I’d say for art, it would be Basquiat; I mean that’s the dude that even his background his pretty close to mine, you know. Even he came from a more, like, upper-class background than me, but he still had to go through a ton of shit—especially being black. So he went through his own shit. I don’t want to take that away from him. I like...there’s a lot of Spanish influences I love as far goes, and like Egon Schiele and Goya; Marcel Duchamp—a lot of those guys [were] into activist stuff. A lot of musicians influenced me. I like jazz a lot.
How do you think the activism influences the work of Poster Boy?
Well coming from someone who is just a part of it, how does it affect it? It just...I guess it gives it another label to attach to the work. You know? It’s vandalism. It’s graffiti. It’s street art. It’s activist work. It’s a bunch of stuff. You know? It’s illegal. It’s whatever. But there’s, you know, just one more thing that you can label it under. I don’t, you know, hmm. Yeah. That’s all I can say about that.
So it’s mainly an aesthetic manifestation?
Right, right. Cause you gotta understand from what I hear that the Poster Boy movement is, you know, I guess like it’s activist work or high-minded art. It’s beautiful activism or… [he’s distracted by music and doesn’t finish the thought].
[He then says he wants to explain the difference between Henry and Poster Boy]
Henry is an artist just inspired by what’s going on with the Poster Boy movement.
So Poster Boy was started before you?
Well, I was born before there was a Poster Boy movement.
Poster Boy has been out for less than a year. But I got into art before the Poster Boy thing. So I’ve been, you know, a painter in New York. There’s more to me than just my involvement with Poster Boy. I share a lot of the same ideals behind Poster Boy, but I’m not that extreme. I still like the idea of painting on a canvas, you know. And maybe…existing [and] living in a gallery system. Maybe this would be the way certain things work in the gallery system, but I’m still willing to participate in it because I still love the traditional mediums.
My involvement with the Poster Boy thing was just the legal aspect. Maybe I’ve given an interview or two about the Poster Boy movement and, like, I’ll show up like I did at the art show [in Soho] and create a piece, you know, as Poster Boy. Just doing my part for something I believe in. I don’t get paid. I didn’t get paid for it. I just believed in it. I played my part.
So were you recruited or...?
No, I just found out about all that was going on. Then they said they needed volunteers, and my expertise lies in the arts. And they asked if you’d be willing to do a Poster Boy piece, and I said, “Yeah, of course.” And so I did. It’s a legal piece [of art], and there was a chance of getting nabbed by the cops. Not that that was what they were planning. But if you look at that piece from that night, it’s really ironic—or really genius. So I’m willing to make sacrifices for certain beliefs.
How did they nab you?
Undercovers showed up. It was on the flyer saying, “Live Performance by Poster Boy,” and I was aware of this. And like I said, I am willing to take the fall for something I believe in.
And that was the piece on YouTube?
No the piece on...I mean they’re trying to hit me up for it, the piece on YouTube, and attach that to me.
So you’re saying that’s not you?
Yeah I’m saying that’s Poster Boy and not Henry.
There are people that say that it doesn’t even look like you.
Of course it doesn’t look like me. When they nabbed me, I had a gray hoodie on underneath a pea coat. In the video, it’s clearly a gray hoodie underneath a leather coat. They took my gray hoodie and the scarf, and they said, “Oh look, this is the same person as the video.” And I said no, it’s not, it’s just a gray hoodie…They were just trying to get me with whatever they could. Well actually, they didn’t mind what was going on in the subways. They were like, “You know a lot of the stuff that you do is cool, but it’s illegal.” And I was like, “I don’t do it all. What I do on my part is just the legal piece, which was done at the Soho gallery at the show.”
Right, right. And I didn’t want to, like, you know, take it in with the spirit of Poster Boy. I didn’t sign it. I didn’t sign it as Henry. I didn’t sign it as Poster Boy because Poster Boy isn’t about copyright. The idea of originality is thrown out the window. It can belong to anyone.
Images are stolen from corporate media and reused for a greater purpose, and I like that, so I didn’t feel the need to attach this Poster Boy piece that I did as Henry as a community service thing. You know, a selfless act. I participated in it and did it, but I’m not trying to get any recognition as a part of something that is bigger than me. So that’s why I did it. Forget about it. Getting arrested was nothing. It was just dirt on my shoulders.
So you’re saying they arrested you for a private, legal act?
Like I said, the evidence that was thrown against me, these are random posters that were vandalized and not for what was at the show. It was a legal piece. They went to the show on the suspicion that Poster Boy was going to be there since that was on the flyer and since I was working on the legal piece, they were like, “This is Poster Boy, let’s get him.” So it was kind of expected in a way. And like I said, I didn’t care. I didn’t want to keep anything.
I didn’t want to get money off of this, so I did make the piece in the name of Poster Boy and, you know, let it happen. Whatever Poster Boy wants to do with that image…gets done. I didn’t feel any attachment...
So it sounds like you were a superhero?
Yeah, it was like a Robin Hood. As someone said recently, a Keyser Sze? From Usual Suspects? I’ve never seen that movie, but I’ve got to see it now. How I feel about things is that we’re too attached to material things and the need to be famous and have money and have that as the idea of success...It’s a little too wacky.
I mean, I want to make money and be a little successful making paintings and stuff. But I don’t feel the need to, like you know, make a ton of this shit and just spit out this artwork and make millions and millions of dollars. If it happens, it happens. I’m not trying to do that. I don’t feel the need to do that. This idea that’s kind of put out there by the media makes people feel insecure because, if they don’t reach that, then they feel bad. And I think that compelled me to partake in Poster Boy because, though I’m not as extreme as what Poster Boy stands for, I feel...I have an affinity for what is being said.
What do your parents do?
Well my dad, he doesn’t do too much of anything. He owns a building, and he used to do some construction. He’s not really that active. He’s trying to lay low with the construction, but [he’s] barely getting by collecting rent in this building that was passed down to him. My mom, she’s like a nanny— barely gets by.
So you come from the working class?
Brothers and sisters? Yeah, all that.
So you said you went to art school? What art school?
I went to NYU, and they had a pretty good art program. I felt like there was a lot of bullshit in the art school that I didn’t really agree with.
Did you graduate?
Yeah, I graduated. So, it was...there was a contradiction between what I feel art should stand for and what they were teaching. So that’s kind of how I was able to like...really...I don’t know, come together with the whole Poster Boy thing. Like I said, maybe I’m not as extreme as the ideas behind Poster Boy, but I agree with a lot of it. Again, [I’m] a little too chickenshit to go out there and do that kind of stuff Poster Boy is doing.
You mean as Henry?
Yeah, of course, I mean as Henry. I feel a lot more safe in a studio making a painting than climbing up a structure and cutting down a whole billboard in Brooklyn.
Yeah, I loved that.
Yeah, that’s one of my favorites too. The whole point was, from what I gather, is to free up space for public engagement, whatever that may be. And lo and behold, the next day it was tagged by an artist named Lee(to), and it’s perfect, and it’s still up there—which is amazing! The potential for that is great. Ideally, I wouldn’t want to see any of the ads you know? Cause they’re like big and out-there and in-your-face. But it’s very good when you turn it into something that’s more local and public and more of a community space. I’d rather have that than a big billboard—a big advertisement.
Do you think that’s why they’re so intent on persecuting somebody for Poster Boy: because no one wants to see these fucking ads? Why not tear them down and throw them in the fire?
But none of us have that power. None of us want to see those ads. Nobody wants to see those ads. Some ads are clever, you know. You watch the Superbowl and you see like a funny ad or a clever ad, and there is some art behind it. You know, composition and color, there’s some appreciation. But then when it’s that big and in-your-face and it’s so aggressive; you get kinda tired of it. You’re like, Damn, I wish that shit would just like disappear. And then someone like Poster Boy comes by and just says, “Fuck it.” I’m going to cut it down with same razor I use in the subway. That takes fucking balls. Maybe you can’t do the same thing. But support it. If you believe in it in some way...
Do you think they wanted to pin that on you?
You know anything they wanted to pin on me. Anything. Every vandalized poster. Every piece that’s on the Flickr site. Every video piece. The billboard piece. The YouTube video.
They’re trying to nab me with all of that. I was kind of, like, taken aback at first. So I was kind of scared like, “Oh shit, I’m gonna get hit for all of this stuff.” You know, I don’t mind getting arrested and making a statement. But Jesus Christ, I don’t want to go to jail for this stuff.
So with that in mind, I tried to cop a plea. Maybe I’ll give them something to throw me a bone here, so I said, “All right, a while ago when Poster Boy started coming up, I maybe vandalized a poster or two but nothing else. You know, I didn’t climb up and do the billboard thing.” But they weren’t hearing that. They said, “Oh, really?” So they sent a cop right away to take a picture of every vandalized poster… I mean if that’s what it took—for me to get arrested, for all this crap to happen— maybe it’s worth it. Maybe I’m playing my part more than I think I am. I think so. It’s more than just doing a piece as Poster Boy. It’s me serving as a scapegoat or almost like a...
Well that’s an interesting term. Let’s talk about being a scapegoat.
Well, as far as like a scapegoat, like the whole idea with the NYPD trying to pin everything on me. Like people can’t understand something existing like Poster Boy, so they need one person to pin it on. People can’t imagine something existing like Poster Boy, so they have to have an individual to put all this shit on. I guess that’s my role, creating the change that I’d like to see. And so be it. I mean, I’d hate to go back to jail and stuff, but you know, at this point, seeing the way the institutions have been reacting, like the NYPD or MTA and advertisers and stuff, then my resolve would be [to get] stronger and getting a little more courageous as an active citizen. They [want to] give me jail time, fine, give it to me. I’m going to be scared shitless probably, but sometimes you have to put that aside. Put your fear aside.
How do you make a living by the way?
Bartend, odd jobs here and there. I sell paintings once in a while, and I’ve been getting a little mention—before the whole Poster Boy thing started. We’ll see where that goes. Of course, I’d love to make it as an artist. That’s why I came over here. I wasn’t born and raised here, you know? But I’ve been here for a few years. Not opposed to it. But capitalism seems like a pyramid scheme almost. The more you make, the more you spend, and the higher up you get, you just want to keep going and going, and make more money and consume more… Things should be evened out a little more. Maybe not be an anarchist state, you know. I still believe in some kind of government, but like make things like school free, healthcare, things that are essential. Like rights, human beings...
You said you liked comic books as a kid. If Poster Boy were a superhero, what would he look like?
Oh man, I think automatically, V for Vendetta stuff or like Batman.
What would he look like? What would he wear, Poster Boy?
The image that’s in my mind is this guy with a black jacket, jeans, a pair of red Converse and a fedora hat and a bandana covering his face—cause that’s like a couple pictures I saw that sticks in my head. Poster Boy is a New York thing. No, like, fancy clothes but still with a rough edge in a way, fucking like James Dean cool and then the bandana, like a vigilante, like an outlaw.
So I think that’s how I pictured it.
Anything else you want to make sure people understand?
Just that, in the spirit of Poster Boy, to understand that there are things out there that are not right and probably always will be things that are not right, and you have to decide your level of involvement and how you have to change that. I’ve decided that as a human being, as Henry Matyjewicz, as an artist, as a citizen, as an American. I understand what I can do and what I want to do and my involvement; and I think people should do that too and not be afraid to get arrested because that fear is why were are in this predicament—this moral predicament— in the first place, you know. You need to stop being scared and being empowered and thinking you can make a difference.
You feel like you’re this lone person that can’t make a difference, can’t do something about it, and you’re scared and you’re alone. But if you feel empowered and know that even a little bit can make a difference, then you feel empowered and not fearful, then you accept things like getting in trouble, jail, death… Poster Boy doesn’t want to hurt anybody.
He’s trying to bring awareness and letting people decide whether it’s art or not.
Poster Boy and Aakash Nihalani rework Monet, Smells of Appropriation and Publicity Stunt
This seems to be the only commentary I've found on the PosterBoy, MoMA mashup that happened a few days ago at the Atlantic/Pacific train station in NYC. Mr. Gould's initial response to the MoMA installation is expected, yes it's clearly a publicity stunt and yes it is equivalent to an advertisement in every way. That said, it is expected PosterBoy would find his way to this station to call attention to this fact by treating the work the same way he has treated advertising throughout the subway system.
Mr. Gould's final remark about the connection between PosterBoy and Doug Jaeger turning this into a publicity stunt instead of a well guided attempt to continue along an artistic trajectory set nearly a year ago by PosterBoy, does not sit well with me. On some levels I agree that this wreaks of a partnership where both parties are clear about what they will gain from the stunt and are taking advantage of an opportunity. On another level I am aware of more of the back story than I think Mr. Gould is, and thus realize what an amazing opportunity for PosterBoy this was. The Atlantic/Pacific station is heavily trafficked and nearly impossible to hit. Without Doug Jaeger's participation this project probably could not have happened.
So as an artist, PosterBoy is in a strange position. By doing the project he is able to continue his work in an interesting way by leveling MoMA's art advertising stunt and thus comparing it to the regular advertising you see. He is also able to draw attention to his project on an unprecedented level, thus gaining momentum for what he hopes will be a strong investigation into who controls public communication in the public environment. The only thing he has to do is team up with someone involved with the MoMA project. Remember MoMA had nothing to do with this stunt.
And so the question remains. Does aiding a PR firm while moving his own ideas forward become caustic to his project as a whole?
My initial reaction to the MOMA installation at Atlantic Ave. was mixed. I concede that people are inundated with advertising, and this was an opportunity to offer people something more cultured. Still, the motivation seemed a little suspect. Seeing Poster Boy and Aakash Nihalani, however, remix the works made me very excited about the installation. While the public display makes the work vulnerable to vandalism, it also provides for the images to be appropriated and enter the larger cultural dialogue. It, therefore, brings a new life to the pieces and provides for more social commentary.
C/O Doug Jaeger
What I don't quite understand in this story is whyDoug Jaeger, the advertising brains behind the original campaign, was photographed participating in the vandalism? The move reduces Poster Boy's street art to a publicity stunt. This makes the project seem calculated and doesn't bode well for the MoMA or Poster Boy.
Walking 21st street between Park avenue south and 5th avenue, I came across some graffiti. Sprayed directly on the city street these vandals has audaciously stenciled their messages directly onto our public space.
Graffiti can often be seen at the lower edge of outdoor billboards as artists attempt to reuse the prime real estate the advertising industry has paid handsomely for. This image in particular works nicely, the play on who is watching who as well as the complete erasure of the movies opening dates as well as other pertinent information transforms the ad into a unified piece. Courtesy of, REVOK at revok1.com-RIME at jerseyjoeart.com-AUGOR at augsdraws.com
City Newsstands Seek Special Treatment on Outdoor Advertising
This compelling press release was sent to me from the wonderful people over at SCRUB. Like Ban Billboard Blight in LA, SCRUB is a voice for Philadelphia's public space. Through community organization and mobilization, they attempt to keep the outdoor advertising industry and the special interest groups which accompany it in line. Obviously this is quite a task and this post from them is a great example of how they motivate public awareness of issues that often would fly under the radar and yet would be responsible for the complete alteration and function of Philadelphia's public spaces. How issues like this are not more openly debated and made aware to the public is beyond me. You have to tip your hat to people who are so concerned with their public space that they make it their personal mission to do what the city government should be doing for them.
For Immediate Release Contact: Mary Tracy 215-731-1796
Philadelphia - Transforming Philadelphia's newstands into illuminated, ad-covered, video streaming, digitalized kiosks is an idea being promoted by the Newsstand Association of Philadelphia. City Council's Streets and Services Committee will hold a public hearing on the newsstand legislation, Bill 090015, on Wednesday, February 25th at 10 o'clock, Council Chambers, Room 400. The Bill, if passed, would dramatically alter the public face of Center City by exempting newsstand owners from prohibitions on non-accessory outdoor advertising signs that have been in place for over two decades.
By carving out one special interest group, newsstand owners, for an exception to outdoor advertising restrictions, City Council will have opened the floodgates to others who will want "equal treatment" under the law. Sign laws that have prevented the expansion of outdoor advertising will be challengeable. Anyone from food stand operators and street vendors to building owners and other small businesses may justifiably seek to make similar profits from erecting non-accessory signs.
There is no compelling public good served by granting customized zoning to newsstands. It will come at the expense of a deteriorating visual experience for us all and the demise of Philadelphia's model sign ordinance which has kept our City free from wall-wraps, guerrilla advertising campaigns and other types of advertising intrusions in the public space.
Please contact members of the Streets andServices Committee regardingBill No. 090015. Or, come in person to the hearing on February 25, 2009 at 10:00 in City Council Chambers, Room 400 and voice your opinion.
To testify contact Councilman DiCicco's office to be put on the list. (See contact info below). If you cannot attend, SCRUB will be happy to submit your testimony or letter at the hearing. Please email us email@example.com or fax 215-732 -5725.
Here are the phone numbers of Council Members serving on the Streets and Services Committee:
This photo is a simulation to show non-accessory advertising on a newstand as proposed under Bill 090015 which includes a six inch advertising banner on the top, and a 28 square foot (7x4) illuminated advertising sign below. A streaming video advertising panel and digitalized banner would be placed on sidewalk side (not shown)
A summary of advertising permitted on newstands under Bill 090015:
-A 24 inch wide video monitor with streaming video advertising -A six inch band of advertising signage placed around the top of each newsstand covering all four sides of the newsstand; the side facing sidewalk can be digital and illuminated -One large, illuminated, poster sized signs (7x4 feet) facing the street side A logo or sponsorship type sign placed on the grating with the approval of the Art Commission -An Illuminated sign (18 x 36 inches ) on each of the newsstand's two sides facing the street and sidewalk.
Ill read this book and get back to you on it, but until then I like this quote the NY Times got in an interview with the author.
“I’m not trying to make an argument that graffiti is art and not vandalism,” Professor Snyder said in a phone interview. “I hope I’ve made it clear that it’s both.”
By linking the two words art and vandalism through graffiti, the meaning of vandalism is transformed. Vandalism can no longer only be considered wanton destruction and must now be viewed in regards to what its artistic and activist intentions might be. This bodes well for all those moments of civil disobedience we have been tracking lately through this site and should be considered when arguing what we are doing here is merely destroying private property.
Espo/Stephen J. PowersThe graffiti writer Espo created a satirical advertisement about quality-of-life crimes at Bedford Avenue and South Fifth Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 1996.
Gregory J. Snyder, a Baruch College sociologist, spent years hanging out with graffiti writers, earning their trust and conducting scores of interviews.
The new book based on his studies, “Graffiti Lives: Beyond the Tag in New York’s Urban Underground,” reveals that he became more than an observer in that decade and a half: On very few occasions he wrote graffiti himself, scrawling his tag perhaps seven times.
Graffiti writers, the book argues, cannot be understood merely as practitioners of vandalism and social disorder, but also as members of a diverse subculture who, in many cases, have used their experiences to build legitimate careers.
It was as a graduate student at the New School that Professor Snyder built relationships with graffiti writers, carrying around a hardbound sketchbook. At the bottom of each page he wrote a word, which he then asked graffiti writers to represent visually in the space above.
Professor Snyder, 40, argues that while graffiti culture emerged around the same time as hip-hop, in the early 1970s, graffiti in fact comes from a variety of cultural sources:
Whatever their class, race, ethnicity, religion, or age, writers define themselves not by what they look like, or what language they speak, or what clothes they wear, but by what they do. Their identities are as writers first, and as members of ethnic, religious, and other subgroups second.
He adds, “In its purest form, graffiti is a democratic art form that revels in the American Dream.”
The book, just published by New York University Press, argues that graffiti culture has, in some ways, been uniquely democratic. “What is lost sometimes in the cacophony of the debate over whether graffiti is art or vandalism is that when it’s art, it is free art,” he writes. “You don’t need money, or special knowledge, or the right outfit, or a car, or an ID to see it. This is why the graffiti subculture has inspired such a diversity of young people.”
Even so, Professor Snyder notes that graffiti has been associated with crime and disorder ever since the social scientists George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson introduced their “broken windows theory,” which holds that low-level and petty crimes, if not addressed, create an atmosphere conducive to more serious and violent crimes.
While some scholars have questioned the theory’s validity, Professor Snyder acknowledges that it has become highly influential. It was embraced by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor, and by Raymond W. Kelly, the former and current police commissioner.
“I’m not trying to make an argument that graffiti is art and not vandalism,” Professor Snyder said in a phone interview. “I hope I’ve made it clear that it’s both.”
For many New Yorkers who lived through the period, the word graffiti connotes the giant murals that covered subway cars and stations from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s.
A 1971 article in The New York Times, “‘Taki 183’ Spawns Pen Pals,” took note of the fairly new phenomenon. MayorsJohn V. Lindsay and Edward I. Koch, among others, made the train graffiti a key target. Graffiti came to be “construed as an urban problem,” a point Joe Austin, a historian at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, made in “Taking the Train: How Graffiti Art Became an Urban Crisis in New York City” (Columbia University Press, 2001).
Gregory J. SnyderThe clothing store Yellow Rat Bastard, in SoHo, has encouraged graffiti taggers to leave their marks.
The era of subway graffiti “officially came to a close in 1989, when city officials began refusing to put painted trains into service,” Professor Snyder writes. But efforts to crack down continue. In 2006, the City Council passed a law banning the sale of graffiti instruments — including aerosol paint and broad-tipped markers — to anyone under 21. The law was later challenged for being too broad.
A provocative map in the book points out that unlike other “quality of life” crimes, graffiti does not tend to be focused in poor neighborhoods with high rates of violent crime. Professor Snyder writes:
Graffiti writers write in order to get fame and respect for their deeds, and therefore they write in places where their work is more likely to be seen by their intended demographic. It is not the amount of disorder that determines a good spot to write graffiti, but the number of potential viewers and the unlikelihood that the graffiti will be painted over. These spots tends to be where young people from all over the city are likely to congregate, and thus the East Village, the Lower East Side, and SoHo are the places where most of the illegal New York City graffiti can be found. These are not poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods.
Indeed, he adds, “Despite all of the negativity associated with graffiti, it remains one of SoHo’s selling points, literally.”
Still, Professor Snyder does not deny that graffiti culture is filled with confrontation. “Beef results in crossing out other writers’ names, going over pieces, lots of stories about violence, and sometimes actual violence,” he writes.
“Contemporary post-subway graffiti,” he writes, takes three forms: the tag, a writer’s signature, rendered in marker or paint; the throw-up (or “fill-in”), usually painted with an outline color and a fill-in color; and the piece (short for masterpiece), a colorful mural.
KezamA “piece,” or large work, of graffiti created with the property owner’s permission, by Kezam, a writer from Australia who lives in Brooklyn and is a graduate student in sociology at Yale.
In contrast to the dangerous environments in graffiti’s beginnings — the old Amtrak tunnel from 72nd to 125th Streets under Riverside Drive, for example — large graffiti works today are often produced legally, in broad daylight, on storefronts or in public parks with the consent of property owners or nonprofit groups.
In another step forward, “Many writers have taken their illegal youthful pursuits and turned them into legal adult careers,” Professor Snyder says.
One of the most fleshed-out characters in the book is Espo, a graffiti writer Professor Snyder met in 1996. As editor and publisher of On the Go magazine, which was dedicated to graffiti culture, Espo produced a satirical billboard in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with a subversive slogan: “Greetings from Espoland, Where the Quality of Life Is Offensive.”
Espo was eventually embraced by property owners who saw his style — with large, neat letters, quite separate from the spray-painted bold colors and complicated letter styles that are more common in graffiti — as a useful ornamentation for their storefronts.
That did not go over well with the Giuliani administration, however, which had Mr. Powers arrested in December 1999 for his previous illegal graffiti writing. Eventually, he pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal mischief.
Espo was not the only graffiti writer to go legit: Others went to college; started magazines, Web sites and real estate businesses; opened tattoo parlors; and pursued careers in art and marketing.
“These kids refused the meager options presented to them by the larger society, and instead perfected extremely risky cultural pursuits,” Professor Snyder writes. “Their success in this form eventually opened up other opportunities, and today those efforts are paying off, literally.”
Espo/Stephen J. PowersThe graffiti writer Espo revealed his identity, Stephen J. Powers, in 1999 and has become an exhibited artist. His 2007 work, “8-Day Week,” was exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.
I guess the cat's out of the bag on this one so I might as well post it here too. This interactive piece was done by Joe Bernstien, and Ben Piven on the fine art of Subvertising. In it I install another weaving piece and Steve Lambert gives a brief explanation of his Ad Art Firefox hack. Thanks again to both of those guys for taking interest in our projects.
I'm pretty sure these are being done legally, especially since Shep was arrested in Boston not too long ago on the night of his opening at the ICA. Either way his work is beautiful and provides a wonderful contrast to the advertising seen in some of these images.
In an effort to bring MoMA's permanent collection to the people and raise awareness for the museum, the Atlantic/Pacific train station has been overtaken by some 58 well known artists like Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Man Ray. It's a wonderful project and inspiring to see public space used for artwork instead of advertising. The work may not itself redefine the way public space is used but if for one moment the project can make you think of the possibilities for a newly imagined public culture, it serves a wonderful purpose. I also think you might see some things change in this station in the not so far future, so keep your eyes on it and I will report back soon.
I received the following email from the person responsible for the valentines day gift that took place in less than a week ago. I replaced the wiki link he sent with one translated by babelfish so you can read for yourself what Affichage Libre is. I wasn't aware of France's dedication to open public communication. Basically they reserve a certain amount of space in public depending on the population density.
"In theory, these sites of posting in various forms (panel, pillar-shaped billboard, wall…) must be reserved for associations or any person wanting to pass a free non-profit-making or commercial advertisement. Certain communes reserve panels by type of posting by distinguishing these three categories: political posting of expression, associative posting, free expression. Unfortunately, a big number of these spaces of freedom (especially in the great agglomerations) are used by advertisers of spectacles or more or less commercial demonstrations, which removes the free character of these free means of communication."
An interesting idea even if it doesn't fully work. At least they recognize the need for public communication alongside all of the commercial messages.
This was translated by a good friend from the original French email.
Hello! On the occasion of Valentine's Day I asked the couples amongst my circle of friends if I could take pictures of them while they were kissing. For a few months I've been using the "free posting boards" as a means of free expression (wikipedia); these panels are unique to France, they exist in all our cities in formats of various sizes and accessibility which varies according to local policy. I have the good fortune to live and work in Mulhouse, my city possesses a number of large "affichage libre", I try to put them to good use, and I invite you to do the same (as you will see…). You can see all of my collages on my website. I dedicate this series of collages to all lovers, couples or otherwise, because the important thing is to love. Thank you to all couples that agreed to participate in my little game. A hearty hello from Alsace!
In a typical move to introduce more advertising under the guise of necessity, London has moved forward to install bomb-proof garbage cans in their financial district complete with digital advertising screens. This reminds me of the New York Times article written about how phone kiosks served better as ads than as operational phones. The language used to justify moving 465 non-ad holding payphones to curb locations where they are allowed to carry ad content, is strikingly similar.
"Phone companies say the pay phones are still necessary, noting that during 9/11 and the 2003 blackout, people lined up to use them."
This article also reminded of our very own garbage cans in Times Square which were prefabricated by the Times Square BID with panels to hold four ads. The language they use to justify more advertising content uses the language of fear to it's advantage here as well.
Trash Bin Signage
"The Alliance has mounted posters on area trash bins encouraging people to report unattended packages to the authorities ("If you see something, say something.")"
By re imagining these venues' usefulness as products of terrorist control, the advertising industry is able to distract you from what's really happening, your city is becoming a consumer thoroughfare equipped with the proper signage to bring you to the proper purchase. Don't let language fool you, it's the ads they are after.
Central London's financial district will begin installing bomb-proof recycling bins from next year, the company responsible for the product said Monday.
The bins, which cost around 30,000 pounds each to produce and install, will also feature news and weather information on LCD screens that are part of the bins.
"From a blast technology side, it's just something that should be there," said Brian James, the chief operating officer of Media Metrica, the company providing the product.
"You don't expect to get into an accident, but you make sure you have seat belts," he told AFP.
Media Metrica will fund the production, installation and maintenance of the bins after signing a 15-year contract with the City of London, the local authority that administers the capital's financial district.
James said the company was in talks with potential corporate sponsors, and expected to finalise those arrangements by the end of March 2009, with the bins being installed by the end of next year in around 100 locations.
"It's a pretty expensive product to produce, because as you can imagine, the blast technology is basically military technology," he said. "It's very expensive to put in."
The screens on the units will feature light-sensitive technology that will ensure that they automatically brighten or dim, depending on the strength of light at the time, and James said he expected they would be powered using green technology.
The bins themselves, which were extensively tested in the American state of New Mexico, are made of a steel composite produced using "blast-intelligent technology" that would absorb the force and fire of any potential explosion.
James said that while the company would be interested in installing the recycling bins on London Underground stations, it was more focused on discussions with other major cities such as New York, Singapore and Tokyo.
There are a very small number of garbage bins in the City of London. Most were removed in the early to mid-1990s after Irish Republican Army attacks in the capital over fears that bombs could be concealed in them.
Other public areas regarded as sensitive, such as footpaths outside parliament and civil service buildings, also lack garbage bins.
Sign Company Charged With Criminal Violations Wants City Held in Contempt of Court
Since when do we allow the outdoor advertising industry to set the rules? The sad part about this post from Ban Billboard Blight is that this isn't even really about fire safety. The myriad other reasonsresidents of the city have provided for not wanting gigantic consumer messages broadcast over their horizons have gone unheard. This is about the citizens demanding outdoor advertising be controlled and being dismissed at all levels. The fact that they are able to use fire safety as a reason to warrant removing this billboard, and even that is incapable of bringing this supergraphic down, is testament to LA's inability to control its outdoor advertising industry. Cities are not about making money, they are not audience for commercial messages. Cities are about the people who occupy them, and the health of all those individuals. If the residents feel threatened, overwhelmed, or are upset with aspects of that cities organization, they have the right to demand its correction.
The Pennsylvania company charged with criminal violations of building and fire codes for covering windows of a West L.A. office building with a huge supergraphic advertising sign has asked a federal judge to hold the city in contempt of court. The company, World Wide Rush, claims that a 2008 injunction barring the city from forcing the removal of a supergraphic from a blank wall of the building also precludes any action against the second, much larger supergraphic that city officials say presents a hazard to the tenants in the event of a fire.
The company claims that its ”business and its business relationship will be irreparably damaged” if the city proceeds with prosecution. The injunction granted last summer barred the city from forcing World Wide Rush to remove a multi-story supergraphic ad for a Fox TV program affixed to one end of the 5-story office building at 10801 National Blvd. The judge in the case ruled that the city couldn’t ban the ad because it had allowed legal exceptions for similar supergraphics in special sign districts and specific plan areas in Hollywood and downtown.
In January of this year, a second supergraphic went up, this one stretching across all the windows on the longer wall of the building. When an order to take it down was ignored, the city attorney filed multiple criminal charges against World Wide Rush and the building owner.
The company is seeking the contempt of court order on the grounds that the injunction applied to the original supergraphic on the blank wall also precludes the city from taking any action to force removal of the supergraphic signs covering the building’s windows. The injunction states that the city cannot enforce its ban on “off-site” advertising signs at the address, but adds that “The City may inspect and verify Plaintiffs’ signs to ensure that they have been constructed according to applicable code provisions to ensure the safe construction of signs.”
In affadavits filed with the court, the company claims that the supergraphic sign meets the city’s standards for fireproof materials. The company also claims that no office tenants are put at risk by the material covering windows because the windows do not open. However, fire officials have said that firefighters might need to break through fixed windows to rescue people, or allow smoke to escape, and that the sign material could pose a hazard by impeding them.
The criminal complaints against World Wide Rush and the building owners are scheduled for hearing in L.A. County Superior Court on Feb. 26.
I'm not positive these are advertising structures, but I'm so sure I won't take the time to care. This is the kind of uplifting and personal messages you get instead of advertising when you allow the public access to its visual environment on all levels. To those responsible for this, thank you for a beautiful takeover.
Recently PosterBoy and myself were asked to appear on the Brian Lehrer Live TV show, broadcast over the CUNY cable network. After having been approached by the producer, it became apparent they were interested in the politics of the activist artwork we both make. They made it abundantly clear that they wanted to discuss the social ramifications of work which challenged the current system of public space usage through social deviance and illegal activity.
Obviously we were very excited for this opportunity and agreed to a Wednesday evening appearance on 02-11-09. After talking to PosterBoy, I explained to the producers that he would need his face blurred out and his voice manipulated in order to retain anonymity. (This was especially necessary given Henry Matyjewicz's recent arrest) Things seemed fine, and both of us looked forward to having a forum to openly discuss our work with someone known for attacking critical cultural and social issues.
Tuesday morning I received this email...
I just got off the phone with the President of the CUNY television station, and I have some bad news. After thinking about the face blurring question he decided he is worried about legal ramifications for CUNY with having you guys on the air at all.
When we went deeper, he was too worried about the concept of what might happen, and he mentioned a few CUNY rules and regulations that I was not aware of. While I don't agree with his decision, it doesn't look like a battle that I can win right now, so we are going to have to cancel this Wednesday's interview.
Good luck with all that you guys do. I will be in touch next week when I've had a chance to take my case to the right authorities in person.
The rest of this post is made with all due respect to Brian Lehrer and the rest of the crew.
I was obviously a little upset at the opportunity passing before us to present our case in a respected public forum. I thought highly of the show for wanting to discuss what I think to be a very interesting and important public space issue. It struck me as odd that they would cancel, sure that they had over the years entertained other guests who were involved in illegal activities, both activist as well as less socially motivated crimes.
This got me to thinking about whether or not they would allow a landlord or outdoor advertising company executive on the show that had been involved with illegal outdoor advertising. I looked back into their history and couldn't find any specific examples but guests have definitely come and gone with controversy. I came to the conclusion that they probably would not have legal issues bringing on a executive or landlord, despite that guest being responsible for illegally putting up advertising images in our public space.
What is the difference between the two guests, and why would one have "legal ramifications for CUNY" that the other would not? It couldn't actually be the nature of the crime. If that was the case, one would think PosterBoy and I would be more readily accepted onto the show given that our crimes are meant to promote open discussion of another larger illegal issue in our city, while the crimes of the outdoor advertising industry were crimes committed in an effort to take advantage of the public for personal gain. Clearly the criminal behavior we promote has at its heart less criminal intent.
What could be the difference between us and them in the eyes of the President of the CUNY television station? I started thinking of other people I have been compared to over the years, street artists, graffiti artists, urban pranksters. The terms kept flowing and I soon arrived at a term often used to blanket large swaths of critical outdoor visual activity, Vandals. It became abundantly clear that we were not being allowed on the show not because of our label as criminals, but rather because we were painted as social deviants.
And herein lies the problem. Somehow in a strange manipulation of the facts, the severity of the crimes committed by individuals and those by large outdoor advertising companies, have been switched. The activist, or vandal, whatever you would like to call him or her, takes the brunt of the legal responsibility for illegal usage of the public environment, while those responsible for much larger crimes seem to hide in broad daylight.
In fact this same situation has played itself out for years, criminalizing petty crimes while casting a blind eye on more traditional illegal activities perpetrated by the the outdoor advertising industry in the city of New York. I hate to continually refer to the same post over and over again, but The Anti Advertising Agency's post on the anti-vandal squad resonates to well. With 3,786 graffiti arrests in 2007, and not a single outdoor advertising perpetrator arrested, the city is telling us what kind of visual pollution it sees as criminal, despite what the laws may be. This is obvious without even considering the amazing feat undertaken by the NYPD to reveal the identity of these deviants, compared with the incredible ease needed to catch those responsible for outdoor advertising.
So who is the Brian Lehrer show afraid of? Who would be upset enough to give legal troubles to a University because they entertained the socially minded mischief of a few public individuals? (I'm sure they are not that frightened by the actual legal ramifications but the fact that they are willing to entertain the possibility at all shows they don't want to take the risk of outing a very powerful industry in the city) I think the answer to this is relatively obvious and is yet another example of how outdoor advertising promotes a social environment which silences the individuals that live in that space.
Answer: The difference is obviously whose paying for that space in the public eye. In lay terms, money. But in the last few weeks there has been a lot of push-back to renew the debate.
In the last few weeks there has been a flurry of activity around the question of advertising’s role in our environment and who has the right to project messages to the masses.
New York City’s well-known metro ad-altering trickster Poster Boy was caught — but not really. Fact is, there are hundreds of poster boys out there and the police — who arrived at an art opening flagrantly advertising his appearance busted someone and claimed to have captured Mr. Poster Boy himself.
Police in Boston captured a more tangible suspect – Shepard Fairey — when they also arrived at his opening at the Institute of Contemporary Art where aretrospective is being shown in his honor.
In both cases the culprit is actually unknown. It’s anyone’s guess who put up the “obey” signs in Boston — Fairey has been around for so long and accrued such a following that any fledgling anti-addies with a library card or internet access could print out and slap up their own ‘obey’ signs. More obviously, Poster Boy is not one arrest-able citizen but many creative, albeit mischievous, metro-riders who are sick of seeing (on average) 5,000 ads per day… And started talking back.
One cunning blogger is Boston put it well on Universal Hub when she/he wrote,
“The whole point of the ‘Obey’ campaign is that it’s viral; that Fairey himself has no control over who uses the images or where they’re placed.” — Cynic
And, predictably, there’s always the narrative of the peeved cop who wants to keep order and make a show of dragging the ‘bad guy’ in and set an example (or at least frighten the next generation of anti-addies). Instead, in both clunky cases, the police were regarded by the locals as brutes. Party poopers. And as for those young street artists — as one ICA patron put it,
“It makes him even more of a hero to me. The fact that he is arrestedfor his art shows that it is meaningful to him and he cares about what he is doing.” — Ginny Delany, 27 in the Boston Globe
The meaning of contributing to your environment — to change what you find wrong or unhealthy in your neighborhood — is the catapult for these “viral” images. And the active anti-ad, street art movement (not new, by any means) will further force the question, what are ads and what is graffiti?
Here’s a fitting answer by a couple of New York City artists:
Questions for L.A. City Candidates: Where Do You Stand On Billboard & Outdoor Advertising Issues?
Billboard and outdoor advertising activism takes many forms. Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight is by far the most interesting group I know of legally defending the city of Los Angeles from what has become an epidemic of outdoor signage and supergraphics.
Where do the 37 candidates for city offices in the March 3 primary election stand on billboard and outdoor advertising issues? We’ve submitted the following list of questions to the candidates for Mayor, City Attorney, Controller, and eight City Council seats. Check back before the election to see answers.
1. Do you consider the visual landscape of the city to be a public resource that should be managed to protect scenic vistas, architecture, and limit the exposure of citizens to outdoor advertisements for goods and services. If not, why?
2. Many cities in the country, including a number in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area, have banned off-site advertising signs (those advertising goods and services not available on that premises) without allowing any exceptions. Do you believe this kind of complete ban is desirable in Los Angeles? If not, why? If yes, how would you help achieve it?
3. In 2002, the City Council unanimously adopted a ban on off-site advertising signs, with exceptions allowed for sign supplemental use districts, specific plans, and approved development agreements. In 2008, a federal court judge enjoined the city from enforcing the off-site sign ban against numerous “supergraphic” signs covering entire walls of buildings, ruling that the exceptions give the city too much discretion to forbid signs at some locations and allow them at others. In order to stop the proliferation of these and other types of off-site advertising signs throughout the city, would you support making the ban enforceable by eliminating the three exceptions? If not, why?
4. Outside of downtown, most of the city’s commercial areas are composed of streets closely bordered by apartment houses and single-family homes. What measures would you support to protect residents in those apartments and homes from light trespass and views of billboards, supergraphic signs, and other commercial advertising located on adjacent commercial properties?
5. Opponents of digital signage have cited light pollution, excessive energy usage, and potentially negative effects on traffic and pedestrian safety as reasons to prohibit these signs. Do you support the ban on digital signage proposed in the sign code revisions now being considered by the City Planning Commission? If not, why?
6. Digital billboards have generated many complaints from residents affected in their homes and apartments by the intensity and changing levels of the light. There are approximately 100 digital billboards in the city now, but 877 have been permitted by terms of a 2006 lawsuit settlement. Do you favor legal action to stop further conversion of conventional billboards to digital, and the adoption of measures to mitigate the negative effects of the existing digital billboards on residential neighborhoods? If not, why?
7. Developers and architects are increasingly designing large-scale billboards and supergraphic signs into their commercial and mixed-use projects, claiming that the advertising revenue from these signs is needed in order to make the projects financially feasible. Do you think this a valid reason to approve amounts and types of signage not otherwise allowed by the city sign code?
8. It has been estimated that as many as a third of the billboards and other off-site advertising signs in the city have been erected without permits, or modified illegally. Do you support an increase in penalties sufficient to serve as a real deterrent to companies illegally putting up advertising signs, as well as measures to allow the city to recover a portion of the revenue earned by the sign companies and property owners during the time the sign was illegally posted?
9. Has your campaign accepted contributions from billboard and outdoor advertising companies or lobbyists and law firms representing sign and other companies seeking signage entitlements beyond that permitted by code? If your campaign has accepted contributions from billboard or outdoor advertising companies or lobbyists and law firms representing these interests, how can you assure the public that your position will not be influenced those contributions?
Go here for a list of candidates, many with contact information and summary of positions on varied issues. Scroll down to the City of Los Angeles. Tell them you want answers to the above questions and/or ask your own questions about signage issues.