Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Epiphany about Graffitied/Defaced Architecture

I’m going to start off by saying, controversially, that I am an artistic conservative who instinctively views graffiti superimposed over older art or architecture as defacement.

Coming from New York City (yes I include this in many of my responses, but it’s true, it is my point of reference for life) and also Stanford, what is grand and beautiful is kept grand and beautiful. You don’t see graffiti on the Empire State building. You don’t see graffiti on the Brooklyn Bridge. You don’t see graffiti on (most) walls of Central Park. You don’t see graffiti on the Main Quad. You don’t see graffiti on the trees lining Lake Lag. You do see graffiti on subways. You see graffiti under overpasses. You see graffiti in parks. Generally, in my experience, I link graffiti to areas in NY where I don’t feel very safe. Areas where I’ll walk by in sweatpants and still be catcalled “Eh, chinita!”

Never in my life have I seen architecture that is both grand and graffitied, but that is what Natalia showed me today. Natalia took me to a WWII memorial by the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, in the Trocadero Area. When she proposed the idea to me, I was immediately enthusiastic because she exudes a much more hip vibe than I do and I knew she would have something interesting to show.

I’ve never seen any thing quite like it before. I’ll begin to describe it by saying that the site consists of a long rectangular pool surrounded by tall walls and colonnades. Heroic scenes from Greek mythology protrude in bas-relief from the massive walls that surrounded me. I saw sea monsters, muses, chariots, horses, maybe even Poseidon. The style was modern, Neoclassical, and Art-Deco all in one. It was large and grand, but to be honest, not terribly interesting. It’s the kind of thing you just sort of look at and go; nothing really catches your eye.

Superimposed on all of that were things that rendered the character of the site completely different. There was graffiti everywhere -- over the walls, over the sculptures lining the pool. Natalia had been here before, and she said that would typically be skateboarders here, and that the place had a cool vibe. There were no skateboarders today because it was raining.

I muttered something about all the graffiti and how it defaced everything. Natalia responded, “That’s exactly it; is this defacement?”

After she said that, I looked at the site again with fresh eyes. I started to kind of like the graffiti drawings, especially the multicolored graffiti on the female nudes by the edge of the pool. It started to remind me of the colorful Tinguely fountain by the Pompidou Center.

And then I started thinking—maybe this makes it a whole lot more interesting, to have so much color on what is normally just grey stone. The funny thing is, this graffiti the work of many artists. Many people came here over the many years, with different colors of spraypaint, and added their own unique touch… and over time it all added up. Who knows, it’s probably still being added to as we speak. In a way, it’s a slowly augmenting collage. It’s a work in progress, always.

I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge after the Ghosts of Christmas were through with him. What? Graffiti can ADD to a space? From now on, I’ll try to remember to do a double take and ask, “Is this defacement?” And you know what, maybe there is graffiti in all those places (the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, etc) and I’ve just turned a blind eye to it my whole life. O_o ... I’ll have to look again.

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