The East Gallery of the ICA seems in conflict with itself, its pristine white walls juxtaposed with ones that contain drawings of garbage and graffiti. This makeover is from the exhibit Street Level, which takes us from the business district of Boston to the cities of Los Angeles, New York and Miami, as well as Cape Town, South Africa, Berlin and Lima, to show us three different artists’ interpretation of the worlds they grew up in.
Artist Mark Bradford’s three large-scale topography maps hang on the walls in an oddly appealing way. Bradford, inspired by the streets of Los Angeles, created what looks like an aerial map of a city on a blanket. A closer look reveals that this representation is made of meticulously-placed fine bits of string that swirl around each other creating streets, buildings and sections in an unclean, but visually-pleasing way. The lay of the land includes different pieces of billboards, posters and advertisements, found by Bradford.
It becomes apparent that he is inspired by images of advertisements and youth culture. In a piece called Untitled (Shoe), Bradford shows layers upon layers of magazine ads and paper collage. From the layers, he cut the image of a sneaker, something that represents the effect of advertising to a youth culture that wear different brands of sneakers to represent status.
But Bradford isn’t the only artist in the gallery who uses items he found on the street. William Cordova’s work is comprised of collages and installations of discarded items strewn about the gallery. Each piece looks as though we are seeing through the eyes of a young Cordova, as he recreates his childhood, walking around in the streets of Peru. A collage of tiny tires adorns a wall in a way that resembles a scatterplot graph without a trend. More of Cordova’s collages reveal sneakers, monopoly houses, bottles, tires, trucks, lucky rabbits feet, knives and other random items that portray a visual poem of lonely and discarded items.
A golden canvas with a scene of a broken and rusting truck with detailed cotton-candy-colored-graffiti intricately scribbled on it titled Wholesellers, Retailers Bullshitters is the greeting at the very beginning of the gallery.
Cordova’s most powerful piece in the exhibit, however, is Oradores, Oradores, Oradores (p’a Audrea Jones, Ana Maria Rodriacute;guez y Betsy Tregar), in which 100 abandoned speakers are stacked upon one another. The structure looks as though it should be pulsating with music, but it stands in an eerie silence, urging the viewer to remember something that becomes clear only when one takes a walk around the structure. On the back of these speakers are names of Revolutionaries such as Chavez, Seale, Mao, Lee, among others.
Robin Rhode’s work is certainly the most matchless collection of the Boston art scene. His work combines many types of art, including guerilla street performance, stop animation, sketches and the transformation of public space. His canvases are the City walls and streets of Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa, and Berlin, Germany. He attempts to bring movement and illusion to these stone cold urban streets.
One set of photographs, Untitled, Dream Houses, depicts Rhode standing next to a wall as if he is going to catch a TV that is drawn on the top of the wall, falling from an unknown space. As your eye follows the series of pictures, the TV gets closer and closer to Rhode, and he eventually “catches” it. This happens over and over again in the series with different sketches of a car, a table and other household items, as if they were actual props.
Another picture series, Untitled, Yo Yo, shows Rhode twirling a yo-yo that bounces and spins and splits into several spinning circles. Rhode stands in front of the wall where the yo-yos are drawn and redrawn with chalk.
In yet another of the series, Rhode creates a skateboard half pipe out of chalk on the ground, and looks as though he is doing skateboard tricks up and down the single chalk line. A closer look however reveals the top of some on-lookers heads, which puts into perspective the fact that Rhode’s subject is lying flat on the ground, creating the illusion of riding a skateboard.
Rhode’s creative performances turned art pieces are like no other form of ordinary street theatre. They are extraordinary. The photographic record of his performances create art pieces that clearly set the bar for what today’s contemporary art should be.
Bringing a new meaning to the old saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Street Level is a relatable and seductive depiction of different urban lifestyles. In three very different ways, the innovative artists of Street Level act as the eyes of three blind mice, inventively bringing cities to us that some art patrons have never had the opportunity to see.