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A Movement Defaced: Queer Street Art Fights for Legitimacy 

Wednesday, Jun 15 2011
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Pixelstud also mined his own life for his art. As a child, he was an avid user of Lego blocks, which he now paints with, using their ridged edges as a kind of brush to help create the dotted effects in his art.

In the end, "queer street art" is a label that — like any label, including "art" — only hints at the depth and diversity underneath it. Some of the images in the exhibit or on its Facebook page are clichéd and even sophomoric. The outline of a penis spray-painted on a wall, or a similar image on a sidewalk? While Novy says they make a social statement ("It's not necessarily a cock as much as it is a male image"), the phalluses seem inconsequential. But an image of gay priests necking under the words "Opus Gay" — the name of a gay rights group in Spain that put up the work — challenges passersby to confront their feelings about a host of issues, including homosexuality and the celibacy of the clergy. The image may not persuade people to change their minds on the subject, but the artists in "A History of Queer Street Art" say challenging people's views is all they can ask for.

"People walk around and they're inundated with all kinds of imagery — predominantly advertising," Colla says. "By posting something in the street, maybe two people are walking, and instead of one of them saying, 'Hey, you seen the new iPhone?,' they see the poster and they talk about Proposition 8. I don't think the poster changes minds. I think the conversation can."

At the June 4 opening, people drank wine, ate hors d'oeuvres, and walked up to Novy to congratulate him. Wearing a ski mask that hid his face, he told gallerygoers about the three years' work that went into "A History of Queer Street Art." He says it will travel to Los Angeles and London after it concludes its run at SOMArts on June 25. Plastic sleeves cover the most valuable art, in case someone tries to deface the work. That's how it is in the world of queer street art. Like other street art, it's susceptible to altering by strangers. On the street, it often disappears overnight — stolen, covered by competing art, or simply painted over. Behind a gallery's doors, it can live forever, legal and legitimate. But is its ability to shock and move diluted when people are directed to the work rather than having it take them by total surprise?

About The Author

Jonathan Curiel

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