By Paton Miller
A week has passed since the opening of “Beyond The Streets on Paper” and I’m sitting in the green room of the Southampton Arts Center interviewing Amanda Bessette, president of “Beyond The Streets.”
The conversation brought up Banksy, the internationally-known graffiti master and man of mystery who participated in the first exhibition back in 2011.
So, I ask Amanda, you know the true identity of Banksy? Amanda, all 5’4” of her, gives me an enigmatic smile and shrugs her shoulders; but her eyes say something different, like I know and you never will. I’d have better luck breaking into Fort Knox. But more about Banksy later on.
I strongly urge anyone interested in art, especially art that’s vital, what’s happening now, political, and full of social satire, to go to the Southampton Arts Center and see “Beyond The Streets on Paper.” A vast number of people have seen the series of exhibitions that started in 2011, all from the brain and seemingly limitless energy of a graffiti artist from that hotbed of graffiti art, Bethesda, Maryland, Roger Gastman.
In 2011, Gastman and art impresario Jeffrey Deitch teamed up and mounted an exhibition titled “Art In The Streets” which was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Los Angeles where Gastman has lived for decades. The show was seen by over 220,000 people breaking all previous and current attendance records.
From this major success talks began with the Brooklyn Art Museum (BAM) to bring “Art In The Streets” to Brooklyn. Due to what was described to me as internal politics, BAM passed on the exhibition. Not one to be dissuaded, Gastman pivoted and found, in 2018, a Chinese factory space in Los Angeles, over 40,000 square feet, and mounted an exhibition there with more than 100 artists, which drew an audience of over 100,000 viewers.
Keeping the ball rolling, in 2019, “Beyond The Streets,” found in Brooklyn a newly constructed building with about 100,000 square feet of exhibition space and this time, an audience of 150,000 viewers attended.
Clearly Gastman and his collaborators are tapping into something very relevant to today’s zeitgeist.
Not to be held back from a worldwide pandemic, Gastman and his crew mounted a virtual exhibition that went viral, no pun intended, and brought art to people in their homes, providing food for thought during the crisis we’ve all been through.
Gastman found time during this enormous run of exhibitions to create two magazines — While You Were Sleeping in 1996, and Swindle, 2006, started with renown graffiti artist Shepard Fairey.
In 2020, Tom Dunn, executive director of SAC, called Gastman proposing the show now currently in the Southampton Arts Center. The scope and logistics in this show is very impressive. I know something of this after having curated six exhibitions at SAC each with about 30 artists. “Beyond” at SAC has about 100 artist and some 500 works. This is prodigious cat herding, and I salute Tom Dunn, Gastman, and the team at “Beyond.”
Back to Banksy. In the inaugural exhibition with Deitch, “Art in The Streets,” Banksy participated. Gastman also collaborated on the film about Banksy, “Exit through The Gift Shop.” This is as good as it gets in terms of graffiti street cred. Banksy is a master of marketing never having divulged his true identity. He is a graffiti commando who applies his stenciled images on walls, mostly at night, throughout the world. People chop off sections of their buildings to own a Banksy. These chunks are literally sections of buildings weighing hundreds of pounds.
This works on paper exhibition at SAC is extraordinary. The work interfaces with issues happening exactly now in our times. The Perez Brothers, twins from California, exhibit drawings in sepia and ink capturing scenes from the Chicano culture of Southern California. Shepard Fairey has an entire wall of works — an impressive wall of talent and vision. Daze, an artist who first exhibited with Basquiat and Keith Haring is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and many other museums, making the jump from illegal wall tagging to the upscale art world.
That brings up a certain irony. Banksy started out as an undercover wall tagging enigma, and he’s still an enigma, and I salute him for that, and he has been embraced by the art world elite.
In an attempt to have the last laugh, you might remember a few years ago when a piece of Banksy’s sold at auction for the price of a small Taj Mahal and a confederate of Banksy in the auction’s audience pushed “power” and the piece was sent through a shredder hidden at the base of the painting. The crowd stared in disbelief as the image just purchased was reduced to thin strips. But the last laugh was with the establishment, as it was carefully pieced back together and became even more famous and valuable now being the “shredded” Banksy.
These talented rebels, often with spray paint, are going to have a very hard time staying rebellious and not becoming members of exactly what they’ve been rebelling against, the fat cat establishment.
Speaking of “Fat Cats,” in the back room at SAC, on the right as you walk in, find Tony the Fat Tiger on a drawn box of cereal by Ron English. Besides being hilarious, it is spot on with a very “large” problem we face today.
“Beyond The Streets on Paper,” curated by Evan Pricco and Kim Stephens, runs July 17 to August 18, 2021, at the Southampton Arts Center, 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton. For more information visit southamptonartscenter.org. The show remains on view through August 28.