5 Pointz Graffiti: Taking Art to the Streets Outside of P.S.1.


P.S.1. As Seen From 5 Pointz Roof


The Scene at P.S.1.


Bamboo by nArchitect



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5 Points Rear Façade


Green Futon/Red Heart


Loading Dock


Bank of Windows


Dumpster Diving at Five Pointz




Window (Closed)


Window (Open) View of Manhattan from 5 Pointz

For art seekers not in the fashionably “in” crowd, a trip out to P.S.1. on a Saturday afternoon in the summertime can be a daunting, but requisite pilgrimage, even if you are just looking for an excuse to party or get out of the city for a fresh perspective. Our excuse was to view the photos of Ryan McGinley, as well as those by William Gedney & Christopher Wool, but we ended up being most inspired by something outside of the grounds of P.S.1 altogether...

By infusing his envious free-loving lifestyle into his work, and taking pictures of his skinny, hip and often naked and well-endowed friends, Ryan McGinley has found a sure-fire recipe for success that has launched him from skinny-dipping for Vice magazine to diving in with Olympian swimmers for Sunday's NY Times Magazine. His photos capture a dreamy voyeuristic quality that let you vicariously live in his shoes (or lack of shoes) and fumble around in “nature” with other free-spirited nubile nymphs.

William Gedney & Christopher Wool's photos are also voyeuristic, but for the most part are devoid of people and represent stark nocturnal urban landscapes—scenes that Larry Clark described as, “… things that you see all the time, but you've never seen photographed.” Perhaps more interesting than the work itself was the reaction to the work—the faces of the bubbly scenesters as they sobered up in the face of serious “art” like they had stumbled into a morgue instead of a nightclub. “Ew, depressing,” I heard one victim say, shielding her dog inside her Prada bag.

The single most notable piece was Phoebe Washburn's “Seconds of Something,” in which, like some sort of obsessive-compulsive packrat, she gathered mass quantities of recycled materials and jury-rigged them together into a large topographic ramp that haphazardly enveloped the entire room. The found bundles of newspapers were loosely color-coded per the days of the week, and encased in corrugated packing carton to form contours. The overall feel was that of a warped larger-than-life model of an archaeological dig from the information age—the “layered detritus” or sedimentary stratum of datum represented by the unreadable but implicitly information-packed newsprint. Not that it was visually stunning, but the knowledge of how the materials were gathered and what they represented in previous incarnations, and how even the materials used to transport and assemble the work itself were themselves used in the piece, was enough to stir the imagination to project your own interpretations.

The “Curious Crystals” exhibit, curated by Bob Nikas, contained a seeming mish-mash of many (36) disparate artists, supposedly bound together under a common goal of “encountering many strange beautiful objects and bringing them back for others to examine.” Of course there were those who felt “examine” meant they were allowed or even obligated to grope and fondle the artwork as if to validate that they saw it.  The exhibit achieved its goal, but the wonder behind the “Wunderkammer” was more wonder of what these random, and not necessarily even interesting objects had to do with anything except that by virtue of them being in the exhibit put them on a pedestal to classify them as “curious crystal” craftwork. Lumping them together also runs the risk of conveniently stereotyping them en masse. If you wander the streets outside, you are bound to encounter just as curious and interesting objects in their natural setting, and while they do not carry the label of “art,” if you set your mind to it, anything and everything can be a curiosity. If that's what the viewer is supposed to walk away with, then the exhibit succeeded.

Perhaps it was the throngs of tipsy pose-striking hipsters that flocked to P.S.1. for “Warm Up 2004” that infused such skeptical cynicism. There were more people outside at the party than inside the museum. They came to be seen in lawn chairs on imported sand or to lounge in the concrete bleachers overlooking the external dance floor, waiting for someone to dance, or perhaps to sight someone “famous” (the likes of Björk had been rumored to show up in previous years). Regardless, we needed fresh air. The tranquil live bamboo installation (by nArchitects) was a fresh relief, but it was wasn't long before it was overrun with “nature seekers” inspired, perhaps, by Ryan McGinley.

Stepping outside the gates of the compound, we noticed a warehouse across the street laced with graffiti that was more inviting than P.S.1, especially considering the long line in front of P.S.1. just to fork over $8 to stand in another line all over again to buy beer. We ventured further away from the racket, admiring the graffiti along the walls, when we noticed an open doorway. We wound our way up a dark stairwell crammed full of beautiful graffiti. It was like coming across an archaeological site—a cave full of primitive glyphs. Spiraling up the stairs and emerging on the rooftop was reminiscent of the epiphany in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy emerges in Munchkinland and her black & white world is suddenly flipped inside out to color. Every remotely accessible wall, floor, ceiling, chimney, nook and cranny was chocked full of a graphic display of expression, all beneath a brilliant open sky.

From an evolutionary perspective, graffiti (tags in particular) are an interesting phenomena. Not just in the obvious analogy to wolves and cats marking their territory with their “spray,” but if we have evolved as a society to the point where Darwin's theory of evolution no longer applies at a genetic level, it still exists on a level of “memes,” or parcels of information which we feel compelled to propagate. Graffiti is the compulsive act of leaving your mark in the existing meme bank of the world.  But more than this, it's simply a way to beautify and impart meaning on what could otherwise be considered a stark and oppressive landscape. Whether you like it or not, it is art by the masses, for the masses.

So who's behind this seemingly anonymous scrum of aerosol plumage? The writing's on the wall—a consortium of sorts called 5 Pointz, evidently spawned after the infamous Fun House closed down due to a tenant-landlord dispute. The Website and 5 Pointz walls will tell you that the likes of Topaz, Nic 1, Meres and other graffiti artists are behind the curtain. But as far as who is pulling the trigger of the spray cans, it's a collective and ephemeral effort. Graffiti artists are invited from all the boroughs (hence the name) and also from around the world to hone their art in these proving grounds. And while there are some loose guidelines posted as to who can paint what where, the enforcement is seemingly based on common decency and mutual respect. According to the Website, there are over 600 works, but it's hard to quantify what a “work” is. Pieces often overlap or are painted over, continuously morphing into something altogether different and transitory. The whole building is a fleeting piece of art of the collective unconscious, and where the boundaries lay is hard to decipher, as it is seemingly engulfing neighboring structures. And it's the scribblings between the lines that are also fascinating—coexisting and morphing with natural erosion in a harsh landscape subjected to the elements.

From the 5 Pointz roof there is a fantastic view of the New York City skyline, and also of P.S.1 as seen from the outside. Previous summers at P.S.1. you could venture up to their rooftop for a look back at the city, but even that is a thing of the past now. The irony is that the best view to be had at P.S.1. is across the street at 5 Pointz, and it's free and always open.

~Derek White

   More graffiti TEXTures in SleepingFish 0.5


P.S.1: http://www.ps1.org/

Five Pointz: http://5ptz.com/

Ryan McGinley:  http://www.artnet.com/Magazine/features/honigman/honigman6-21-04.asp

Christopher Wool: http://artnet.com/ag/fulltextsearch.asp?searchstring=Christopher+Wool

William Gendey: http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/gedney/

Phoebe Washburn: http://www.ps1.org/cut/press/washburn.html

Rooftop Detail


Rooftop Wall Detail





Rooftop View


View Down on Rooftop

Anonymous Graffiti Artist #1


DAGE OTB COD and FLY DMS at work


Anonymous #3 Preparing Canvas


© 2004 by Derek White and Jessica Fanzo.