Last night, curators Marc and Sara Schiller unleashed the gods of street art on the white walls of a Jonathan LeVine pop-up gallery in Chelsea, New York. Art world VIPs and press people edged into the multi-roomed gallery for the show "10 Years of Wooster Collective: 2003-2013."
In 2001, the Schillers founded the Wooster Collective—named after a street in New York's SoHo neighborhood—in an effort to capture the thriving street art movement in downtown Manhattan. 10 years ago, in 2003, they expanded the collective to encompass brazen graffiti, subversive installations, and other unapologetic public art that popped up across the world.
And all the big names in street art were there. Upon entering the gallery, two striking women by Swoon appear wheat-pasted on wooden doors. The main room is an overpowering combination of street art stars, including a black-and-white graphic by The London Police, delicate and gritty silkscreens by FAILE, Zevs' silver drips streaming down the Gucci logo, a cute Invader alien hanging discreetly over the doorway, and (because, what would be a street art show without him?) a wall of canvases by the LA graffiti king, Shepard Fairey.
The gallery gives a taste of everyone who's anyone in street art, from JR's enormous photographs to Olek's crocheted skeleton, and the curators are quoted in the press release saying, "Street art has become the catalyst for people of all cultural and economic backgrounds to challenge the system and express themselves without any filter.” But what does Dan Witz's image of a Guantanamo prisoner, Mark Jenkins' hooded figures, or TurstoCorp's biting street signs mean once they are taken off the street? While there is something to be said about blurring the lines between street art and fine art—similar to the shifting divisions between rap and fine art sparked by Jay Z's "Picasso Baby" performance— what happens when they are taken out of their original context?
At the same time, Wooster Collective is partially responsible for introducing the larger art world to street art in the first place. Marc and Sara Schiller have been giving the medium of street art the attention it deserves since 2006, when they hosted the exhibition "11 Spring" at an abandoned building in downtown NYC. Their work as the Wooster Collective has been instrumental in the movement and documentation of street art for the last 10 years, to the point where it's hard to imagine what the culture would be without them.
In a brick stairway at the back of the pop-up that looked more like a dungeon than a gallery, hangs an illuminated work by Judith Supine that seems to fit in perfectly. A giant woman's head is suspended from the ceiling. From her earlobes, hang earrings of nude bodies with obscured faces. The powerful work is captivating, beautiful, and uncomfortable, just as (street or fine) art should be.
"10 Years of Wooster Collective" is on view at 525 W. 22nd Street in New York from August 7-24. After the opening from 7-9pm tonight, there will be an after party at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.