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The Gallerist Who Graffiti’d ‘Guernica’

from the New York Times

When Artworks Collide

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

“Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?,” a group show at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in Chelsea, is the latest proof that you don’t have to be a museum to shake things up. It was organized by Gavin Brown, who has a downtown gallery of his own, and Urs Fischer, a Swiss artist he represents.

Demonically aerobic for brain and eye, the show conflates two exhibitions and several different times, styles, art markets and notions of transgression. Highly site specific, it may also be one of the last words in appropriation art, institutional critique and artistic intervention, not to mention postmodern photography and, especially, wallpaper.

The histories entwined here begin with Mr. Shafrazi, an infamous one-hit-wonder graffiti artist and longtime graffiti art dealer. In 1974 he spray-painted, in red, the words “Kill Lies All” on Picasso’s “Guernica,” then at the Museum of Modern Art (he meant to write “All Lies Kill”). By 1982 he had a SoHo gallery known for showing graffiti-related artists like Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Donald Baechler. In 2004 Mr. Shafrazi relocated to an austere second-floor gallery in Chelsea, putting up long-running shows and concentrating mostly on the resale market: not only the graffitists but also blue-chip works by Picasso, Picabia and Francis Bacon. In October he reprised his glory days with “Four Friends,” an echt-’80s exhibition of paintings and a few sculptures by Haring, Basquiat, Mr. Scharf and Mr. Baechler.

Mr. Brown and Mr. Fischer had been lobbying Mr. Shafrazi to let them organize a show at his gallery, and “Four Friends” only spurred their determination. “The show had been up for six months,” Mr. Brown said. “There needed to be an intervention.” About six weeks ago Mr. Shafrazi finally agreed; Mr. Brown and Mr. Fischer went to work.

The resulting exhibition is an adventure in juxtaposition and visual argumentation; either way it’s a far cry from the quiet contemplation of isolated art objects. Nothing escapes unimplicated or unmanipulated, least of all the show’s announcement: a picture of Mr. Shafrazi being arrested at MoMA in 1974.

[ click to read full review at the NY Times ]

Posted on May 17, 2008 by Editor

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