Friday, December 14, 2012

Wheels Within Wheels: Corporate Largesse Meets the Lizard

I’m sure you’ve all heard of those large lizards lurking in the New York City subway tunnels. You know, Amy gets a cute little pet lizard, feeds it for several months—lettuce, grubs, flies, whatever lizards eat—and it grows, and grows, and gets a little too big. So Mommy and Daddy flush it and it ends up Underground. Where it grows and grows until it becomes So Huge it becomes the Stuff of Legend.


In this story the role of The Lizard is played by graffiti, which, as is well known, also came up from the subways of New York City and has become the stuff of legend. Writing on the walls all over the world, six continents no less—but penguins don’t do graffiti. Too cold down there. Survival takes 110% of their time and effort.


As for Corporate Largesse, that’s played by Johnson & Johnson, the bandage and baby lotion company. At least that’s how I think of them, because that’s what I remember from my childhood, in which there was no graffiti—too early in time. But there were lizards, small ones, living near the creek over there, that one too.

But J & J is more than band aids and baby oil. Here’s the first paragraph in its Wikipedia entry:
Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) is an American multinational medical devices, pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods manufacturer founded in 1886. Its common stock is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the company is listed among the Fortune 500.
Translation: J&J is huge, baby, huge! A corporate leviathan. The stuff of legend.

So just how’d the lizard meet the corporate leviathan? That guy, in the middle:


His name is Michael and he’s an artist who does these amazing portraits. He’s the one who got those other two hooked up with Corporate Largesse, that is, Johnson & Johnson. They’re sons of The Lizard, that is, they’re graffiti writers. The one on the left is Element-Tree while the one on the right is Pawn. They hang out with the Villain, that is, the Green Villain. And the Villain is curated by Cloy Pi (check out the video on this page). Now, Cloy Pi has a friend, who is also a friend of Michael’s, the guy in the middle of the photo. Remember him?

So this is one of those friend of a friend deals. It’s the way of the world.

But what’s Michael have to with Johnson & Johnson? Frankly, I don’t quite know. But it’s through TED. TED? Well, I tell you, when dealing with these friends of friends of friends situations, where some of those friends are human beings and some are corporate bodies, well, the connections just get out of control. Wheels within wheels. If you’re curious, use your google-fu and start tracking them down. But I’ll give you a hint or two.

TED is an acronym for Technology, Education, Design. It’s an upscale idea-fest started some years ago by a guy named Saul Wurman, who sold it to a guy named Chris Anderson about ten years ago. And Chris turned TED into many TEDs and added a franchise operation. So there are TED events all over the world (the web’s got a bunch of videos from some of them). TEDx events are franchises, independently run, but run to TED specs.


And, you know what? TED is no stranger to The Lizard. In 2011 the TED Prize (google it, remember?) was awarded to JR. And JR is a street artist known for the huge portrait photos of just plain folks that he’s put on walls ‘round the world. Street Art, is of course, one of The Lizard’s most distinguished children.

So anyhow—we’re getting close—Johnson & Johnson has been running its own TEDx events (check out the video). And it ran one at the Liberty Science Center this past Wednesday.


Wednesday morning I was in a meeting with Cloy Pi and June Jones, head of the Morris Canal CDC in Jersey City, and Cloy told us how he got this call at 12:30 that morning asking him if he could arrange for writers to do a mural over at the Liberty Science Center (LSC). That very day, that is, Wednesday, just minutes away. So he set his wheels in motion and in short order arranged for Element-Tree and Pawn to do the mural.

After the meeting with June, Cloy and I rolled over to the LSC where Element-Tree was already at work. G—son of a panther—had hung two 4 by 8 sheets of plywood on the chain link fence that’s guarding the construction site in the LSC parking lot. Pawn was on the way from Brooklyn and . . . well, you don’t really need the blow-by-blow details. It’s just more wheels within wheels.


Let’s just say that two more 4by8s were procured and hung and Pawn joined Element-Tree on mural duty. I came back around 4:30 or so and started shooting flicks. By the time the mural was done it was dark, so I didn’t get any flicks of the finished piece. I came back bright and early Thursday morning to flick it ... and it was gone!


What happened?

We figured it would hang on that fence for months, until construction was completed. I flicked this sculpture


as compensation and went home. Emailed the news to G and Cloy and, well . . . As I said, you don’t need to know the details. It turns out that the Johnson & Johnson people took the mural to their corporate museum. After all, they paid for it. You know the deal, the patron owns the artist’s work.


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