Monday, July 13, 2015

#GVM004: The Demolition Chronicles

Here's another working paper, a major statement about contemporary graffiti and its (potential) role in transforming our cities. It's a collection of posts about Green Villian's Demolotion Exhibition at the now empty and about to be demolished Pep Boys store in the Newport are of Jersey City, NJ. URL's, abstract, contents, and introduction below:
Abstract: This document describes a major graffiti exhibition involving 100 artists producing 28,000 square feet of graffiti on the interior and exterior walls of a Pep Boys store in Jersey City. The building has been sold to developers, who will demolish it in mid-summer 2015. Topics include: history of the project, stylistic and thematic analysis of the art, and social context of the exhibition.


Introduction: GVM004 Rises, Falls, Resonates – 2
OK to Destroy: Jersey City’s Graffiti Jam of April 2015 – 13
SP One, What’s he thinking?–  24
Graffiti: From Art Crimes to Family Day – 26
Green Villain Karma: Urban Buddhism in Jersey City – 29
Good Grief! War Boys in the Promised Land – 31
Study in Pink and Silver: Why Not Call It an Installation? – 35
Demolition Exhibition @ #GVM004: Graffiti at the Transition from Industrial to Informatic Culture – 38
Some Styles at the Demolition Exhibition – 40
Sacred Animal Beyond Category: Super-Dope in Layers – 46
Even Heather Mac Donald’s Welcome to Tag-Up at the Demolition Exhibition – 48
Appendix 1: Time Line – 60
Appendix 2: Is it Art? – 60
Appendix 3: Graffing the Future: Is the next phase of human cultural evolution being inscribed on walls by graffiti writers and street artists? – 62
Appendix 4: Sharks in Formaldehyde: New York’s Met and the People Who Made It – 65

Introduction: GVM004 Rises, Falls, Resonates


Let’s begin at the beginning. I am a thinker, writer, musician, and photographer. For the past few years I’ve been functioning as senior advisor to Green Villain, LLC. I have no business card with such a title on it and likely never will. Nor, for that matter, does Green Villain have an org chart, official or unofficial. Not yet. Green Villain is the business of Greg Edgell and assorted associates, as the project requires. Greg is an event producer, DJ, has a record label, and wrangles graffiti writers and street artists on projects large and small.

The Demolition Exhibition has been our largest project so far. This paper is preliminary and partial documentation of it. The bulk of it consists of blog posts that I wrote while the project was unfolding. This introduction is new.

First I run through the history of the project. Then list media coverage, Green Villain’s online documentation, say a word about each of the posts in the rest of the document, list the artists involved, and conclude with a note about the title.

How It Happened

The demolition exhibition just happened. No, it didn’t grow up out of the ground all by itself, but it didn’t arise through the execution of a specific plan of action – at least no plan more specific than “use graffiti for the public good”. Rather, each step of the way we just took advantage of opportunities that appeared before us, with Greg (aka Green Villain) doing the heavy lifting and me providing advice and encouragement at every step.

On the public good, several years ago I’d written a report, Jersey City: From a Skatepark to the World, and shown it to a number of people, including Greg. More immediately, last Spring (2014) Greg decided to install murals wherever he could wrangle walls in Jersey City, New York City, and elsewhere. He’d drive around looking for likely walls and, when he spotted one, he’d find out who owned the property. Then he’d cut deals. The Pep Boys in the Newport area of Jersey City was the 4th deal he landed, hence the designation “GVM004”–Green Villain Mural number 4.

That store’s rear wall, which faces the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, has three layers of graffiti on it.. Starting in mid-August, Jurne, Curve, Twigs, and Esteam of the TGE crew laid down the first layer:


At the beginning of October Loser, Distort, Acro and Ntel of the AIDS – Alone in Deep Space – crew went to work on the second layer:



We vaguely knew that the site was in play and ownership was likely to change in the future, which would mean the demise of GVM004. But who cares? That’s just how graffiti is. It’s always being painted over, buffed, or eroded by the weather.

In late January of 2015 the building was acquired by Forest City Enterprises and G&S Investors. Things were beginning to move and in March the AIDS crew put up the third layer. Loser, Acro, Distort, Snow, Yoder, Eluder, Dutch, Dzel, Nark & Werds went to work, going over the work they’d just completed:


Then we got the word; the building would be demolished in a couple of months. The art would be gone sooner than we’d expected. Not good. But not really bad either. Remember? – Graffiti? – Ephemeral. Just a fact.

We decided to go for the whole building, make a party of it: CELEBRATE! Greg made the deal and it was on. He put the word out among writers he’d worked with over the years and guys started rolling in and getting up all over the Newport Pep Boys. I took photos of things as they moved along and Greg planned an open graffiti jam for April 25. Writers painted on all sides of the building, DJs played music, and the public could see it all.


People walked around the building, drove their cars around it, took flicks, and posed for flicks. Who knows how many graffiti-backed selfies got committed that day? A good time was had by all.

Then it was over.

But it wasn’t. It seems the world had something to say about it.

One of the executives at Forest City was struck by the quality of the graffiti and contacted Greg about it to complement him and the artists. Greg got back to him: How about you let us do the inside? He cut that deal on May 1st. Now we had 16,000 square feet of interior wall space to add to the 12,000 square feet we’d covered on the exterior.

Well, WE didn’t have to do the art. 100 artists did it. Greg managed the whole thing and I took flicks and gave advice. Every now and then we had a few beers.

Meanwhile, Greg had been talking with people at Google about photographing the whole building, inside and out, with their Trekker technology, which they’d developed for Street View. It was a bit of a rush to get things, if not finished, at least get the wall space filled for the Trekker shoot on June 13. That went fine, though we learned that there’s at least a six-month backlog of work getting that imagery processed. Distance information from laser scanners has to be combined with the image information so as to produce a smooth 3D projection of the imagery.


But you see what’s going on, don’t you? Photography became central to graffiti culture back in the 1970s as writers photographed the subway cars they’d ‘bombed’ (a graffiti culture term of art that has nothing to do with explosives), knowing that sooner or later their nights of work would be gone. When the Internet went live in the mid-1990s, graffiti took flight with it, first at Art Crimes and then everywhere. Green Villain’s just taking it to the next level.

This brings us to the Demolition Exhibition proper – I think that name popped out at about the time of the Google shoot. Should we print up 500 brochures or 1000? Greg asked me. We had no idea how many would show up on opening day, June 27, or how many would show up during the following week until July 5, when we had to close it down to make way for the actual demolition.

Well, if we only print up 500 and we need more, I said, we’re screwed. But if we print up 1000 and we have some left over, no harm done. We ended up printing 2000 and still ran out. The opening party was a success despite the rain and people kept coming by during the following week. Lots of people posed for lots of pictures and lots of people – kids and adults – rode rings around the place on skate boards, scooters, and bikes.

It’s still not over, of course. When the building is actually demolished we’ll be taking photos of that. Even then it won’t be over. We’ve still got to get it all on line.

And whatever else comes up as the project evolves.


Selected Media Coverage

Before the Internet rolled around “media” meant print media – newspapers and magazines – and broadcast media – television and radio. Those media haven’t disappeared, of course, but they now post their material online. Here’s some of that coverage.

General News

Wall Street Journal
Corinne Ramey, Graffiti Artists and Developers Draw an Alliance, June 26, 2017

The Jersey Journal
Rebecca Panico, Graffiti artists take over closed Downtown Jersey City shop slated for redevelopment, Apr. 26

Steven Rodas, Former auto shop in Jersey City transformed into 'mecca of graffiti', June, 28, 2015

Jen Maxfield, Empty Auto Shop in Jersey City Transformed into Art Gallery For Graffiti, June 29, 2015

News 12
Exhibition brings graffiti art to Jersey City, July 1, 2015

Andrew Ramos, Abandoned Jersey City Pep Boys Turned into Graffiti Paradise, June 29, 2015

Graffiti & Street Art

12 Oz Prophets
Chester Copperpot, Green Villain #GVM004, May 7,2015

Chester Copperpot , Green Villain Creates Week-Long Graffiti Exhibition at Pep Boys Store in Jersey City, June 11, 2015

Animal New York
Bucky Turco, Abandoned Pep Boys Station Transformed in Graffiti Group Show: “Demolition Exhibition”, June 24, 2015

Street Art NYC
Lois Stavsky, Artists Convert Former Jersey City Shop into a Graffiti Mecca: SP.ONE, Mr. Mustart, Distort, ERA, Mr. Abillity, Chopla, Pomer, Clarence Rich, Paws 21, Optimo Primo, AIDS Crew and more, May 5, 2015

Lois Stavsky, Green Villain’s Demolition Exhibition Converts Former Jersey City Shop into a Graffiti Wonderland: Wane, Doves, Curve, Mr. Mustart, Evikt, Jahan, Mes, Themo, Distoart, Kingbee, Era, Goomba, Stay One & more – , July 1, 2015

• • •

Green Villain Live Graffiti at Pep Boys, April 29, 2015

Snap Mamas
Leslie, Catch Me if You Can, April 28, 2015

The Roosevelts
Joe Cucci, Jersey City Street Artists Transform an Abandoned Building into a Local 5 Pointz, Apr 29, 2015

Ongoing Documentation


The line between documentation and media coverage is, of course, fuzzy, if only because media coverage IS documentation. THIS is documentation that’s happened and will happen independently of what the media have done or will do. It’s what Green Villain is doing; it’s part of our process.

Greg and I have both taken hundreds of photos of the project over its lifetime. So far. Greg also has time-lapse videos of some of the work and, as I’ve said, had arranged for a videographer to fly a drone around and through the building, shooting video as it goes. The same videographer will capture the demolition. We’d also arranged to have Google photograph the site using their Trekker technology, which they created for Street View.

What do we do with all this documentation? That’s obvious: put it on the web. Greg’s created a website for the project and you’ll find some photos there:
In time we’ll prepare an exhibit for the Green Villain site with Google’s Street Art Project:
I’ve got a Flickr album where I stash photos of the site:
I’ve posted many pieces online at my blog, New Savanna. Some of them are collected in this document, but those posts consisting entirely of photos are not included. You can find all of these posts here:
My posts on graffiti in general are here:
And then there’s social media, where everyone else can post their photos and videos:
The Posts

I originally wrote the posts as more-or-less individual stand-alone entities. There is no ongoing narrative or argument, but there is some repetition. I’ve not edited that out, but I have fixed some minor glitches here and there and made a few minor additions.

OK to Destroy: Jersey City’s Graffiti Jam of April 2015: This is an overview of the project as it stood at the end of April, before we’d had any plans of doing the interior. The photos are from the April 25th open jam, where people could come and see the artists paint.

SP One, What’s he thinking?: Two process shots and one final of a piece by SP ONE. It looks like he changed his mind about the design as he executed it.

Graffiti: From Art Crimes to Family Day: Family flicks from the April 25th open jam, a little project history, and some reflections on the ambiguous status of graffiti as vandalism and as, well, art.

Green Villain Karma: Urban Buddhism in Jersey City: Linking the all but deliberate transitory nature of graffiti with the deliberate transitory nature of Tibetan ritual sand mandalas.

Good Grief! War Boys in the Promised Land: Cartoon characters appeared in graffiti in the 1970s, characters from Peanuts among them. This post examines a mural that places Charlie Brown and friends in a war zone.

Study in Pink and Silver: Why Not Call It an Installation?: Sometime during the project Greg sprayed a corner of the service bay with pink paint. And then someone else added silver highlights.

Demolition Exhibition @ #GVM004: Graffiti at the Transition from Industrial to Informatic Culture: Reflections occasioned when two photographer-technicians from Google came by to photograph the site with Google’sTrekker camera.

Some Styles at the Demolition Exhibition: Brief notes pointing out stylistic features in nine pieces in the exhibition.

Sacred Animal Beyond Category: Super-Dope in Layers: Some comments on the placement of one of the last pieces painted, by an artist from Dubai. Shows how this particular wall developed over time.

Even Heather Mac Donald’s Welcome to Tag-Up at the Demolition Exhibition: An examination of tags and tagging and a contemplation of the radically interactive nature of the exhibition, where people were free to make their own marks, on canvases or even on the walls, and to ride around on skate boards, scooters, and BMX bikes.

Appendix 1: Time Line: From July 5, 2014, to July 5, 2015.

Appendix 2: Is it Art? That is, is there wide range of styles and quality?

Appendix 3: Graffing the Future: Is the next phase of human cultural evolution being inscribed on walls by graffiti writers and street artists?: What the title says, some things to think about when pondering the future.

Appendix 4: Sharks in Formaldehyde: New York’s Met and the People Who Made It: A review of Michael Gross, Rogues Gallery, which is about the founding of and behind-the-scenes scuttlebut about New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It gives you something to think about when pondering the quasi-criminal nature of some graffiti.

The Artists



A Note About the Title of this Document

As I’ve already explained, “GVM004” is the identifier Green Villain uses to designate this particular mural site. We’re now up to GVM022. The main title thus identifies the site, albeit in a somewhat cryptic way unless you know the code, which isn’t secret, of course. But neither is it common knowledge. When you stick a pound sign (#) in front of “GVM004” it becomes a hash tag, used to identify items in social media; hash-tagging started with Twitter. The presence of that hash tag in the title indicates that media are integral to the Demolition Exhibition and not secondary. As for the subtitle, “chronicle” is a bit anachronistic and implies an elevated tone that cuts ironically in some direction or another.


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