The 50 Most Political Art Pieces of the Past 15 Years

18. Showpaper Box Drop by Various, 2010

In an age of unlimited and instantaneous communication, we're apt to take the First Amendment for granted, particularly that part about a free press. But in 2010, a group of Brooklyn artists, printers, and activists took the limits of that provision to a logical end. A crew at the single-page newspaper Showpaper commandeered 12 street-style newspaper boxes. Then, Brooklyn artist Andrew Shirley commissioned a group of street artists to paint them, goading the infamous street artist Adam Cost out of retirement. After that, the boxes were dropped around the city to distribute the free paper. Though some of them were stolen or disappeared in minutes, many still remain on the streets, filled by volunteers each week with copies of Showpaper. While the entire project reaffirmed the agency of the individual in the right to free expression, it also became a public artwork of illuminating proportion. "I've always thought of graffiti as a tattoo on the skin of the city," Charlie Ahearn, director of the NYC graffiti opus Wild Style, told me at a 2010 showing of all 12 boxes. "But these, these are something more important. When you think about newspaper boxes, they are things that don't belong on the street to begin with. These ones in particular are special-more like artistic barnacles on the surface of the city."

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