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Re:Public -- Exhibiting the Street: A Maze at Factory Fresh

A Maze
Celso, Infinity, Stikman, LAII & Cbeauty
Factory Fresh - 1053 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn NY
14 November - 2 December 2008

One of the biggest obstacles for street artists trying to make a living is the transition from street to the gallery context. It may be considered inauthentic to restrain your creativity to the confines of a commercial gallery system, but an artist (street or otherwise) has to make a living. Sometimes it works, like Judith Supine's flawless transition with his Dirt Mansion show at English Kills earlier this year. Other times is doesn't; think London street art gallery Lazarides' New York exhibit in October at the corner of Bowery and Houston. The former relied on and succeeded with a zest for experimentation and over-the-top theatrics while the latter -- even though the venue had been long established as a "street art" gallery -- relied on an a gritty, industrial exterior to communicate a "street" vibe or framework to the exhibition -- and it failed. Treating the street as mere ornament doesn't do justice to the art but I'm guessing that most artists (and galleries) who do are too blinded by dollars, euros or yen to really give a shit.

The latest batch of artists to focus on street to gallery experimentation is a group showing at Bushwick's Factory Fresh. Some of them belong to the Endless Love Crew who had a show earlier this year called Post No Bills which was mounted on scaffolding in Long Island City. They seem eager to try something new and A Maze, their new exhibition, succeeds at recreating the energy of the street in the Flushing Avenue space.

The center piece of their show is an eight-foot-tall maze made out of original art -- it was created by Celso & Infinity. In the back room there is another wall that is more limited in size and scale, feeling like a cubicle divider or some architectural partition that works to interrupt visitor sightlines and distract, remix and frustrate whatever the view--a familiar experience to looking at art in the streets.

Even though Ad Hoc is widely believed to be the go-to gallery for Brooklyn's street art scene, Factory Fresh does a much better job of tailoring its space to the aesthetics and issues prevalent in street artwork. No other gallery recreates the experience of the street in such a visual and gallery-appropriate way by utilizing convex mirrors and an outdoor space that flows easily into the rooms. The convex mirrors in the corners and on the ceiling of Factory Fresh (more were added for this show by Celso & Stikman) mimics a feeling prevalent in our surveillance-heavy culture -- someone is always watching. "A Maze" ups the ante with CCTV domes at the corners of the art labyrinth. The rooms break up into narrow alleys that don't allow you to step back and look at the works so much as see them in fragments. You get a sense that you're wading through an ocean of lines that feels temperamental and energetic. Aspects of the installation seem to look back to a particular type of 1960s interactive art, the environment or installation.

In the backyard, Infinity has placed a cactus-like sculpture squarely in the middle of the space. It is a dark, ominous object and at night all its texture and details disappear to reveal a strikingly beautiful silhouette and shadow that dominates the space.

Stylistically there are some new things on display. Celso's brushwork is looser and freer than ever before and the results are fluid and vibrant, like the large The Book of Hours (2008). Infinity has a few pieces (not always the most prominently displayed) that reveal a more layered and precise line than anything you would spot by him on the street. Under the Kitchen Sink is scratchy and frenetic and may be the best small work in the show.

If the transition to the gallery is difficult for some street artists, it's also very telling in regards to how they choose to make that leap. Stikman has long been a fixture on the scene and Celso often refers to him as a "shaman" of sorts, but it wasn't until this show that I realized why. While Stikman's work often feels paleolithic and totemic, here he seems to grapple with the history of western art -- from the Renaissance to the 20th Century. Frames abound and he even marks up a Picasso by stenciling his distinctive totem on a work named after a Picasso lover and muse, Dora Maar. I started to wonder if his figure, which always lacks detail, was a type of shadow -- in the Jungian sense. In other words, I wondered if it might be a projection of his repressed and denied unconscious. His medium-sized black work, Glow, is the most obvious example as its composed of layer upon layer of cut material, revealing and concealing details in what feels like an elaborate rouse. Something is being unveiled but we're not sure of what.

LAII's works are less revelatory but give the other works a great context. His art, like the work of Keith Haring -- to whom LAII was a protege and collaborator -- is a strong transition from graffiti to street art. He is a child of the 1980s and a certain gestural freedom in his work speaks to the era's tribal obsession. His artworks can be dizzying to look at and stubbornly resistant to any form of conventional narrative. It's brash and can appear aggressive.

If I had to venture a guess about the future march of street art into the gallery system I would say that this small and ambitious show is onto something.

As an FYI, glimpses of the "A Maze" show have also cropped up on Art Lovers New York, BushwickBK, C-Monster, Celso's Flickstream, Soho Journal, GammaBlog, Luna Park's Flickrstream and the Village Voice.

You can also find an interview with Infinity on Brooklyn Street Art.