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Real Art Ways Unconcerned About Legalities Of Poster Boy's Exhibit

Poster Boy Show Transplanted From Trinity College To Arbor Street Venue


October 16, 2011

In September, Trinity College scuttled "Street Alchemy," a planned exhibit by New York-based street artist Poster Boy, because the raw materials used in his collages were stolen property. Poster Boy does not dispute this fact.

Will K. Wilkins, director of Real Art Ways, is aware of Trinity's concern and sees things differently.

"We show artists all the time. We don't ask them where the materials they get originate. That's just never a question we ask somebody, 'did you steal that paint?' or 'can we see a sales receipt for the work on the wall?' It doesn't even come up," Wilkins says. "Where an artist comes up with his material is not our concern."

So Wilkins took the cancelled Trinity exhibit, redubbed it "Street Alchemy 2.0" and will open it on Oct. 20 at Real Art Ways in Hartford. It is scheduled to run through Jan. 30, 2012.

"This guy has really been maltreated by the circumstances of having his work censored," Wilkins says. "I don't think whether it's censorship or not is predicated upon the reason Trinity did what they did. He had a show scheduled and they cancelled the exhibition. That's censorship, for whatever reason."

Poster Boy creates artworks by slicing up advertising billboards and reconfiguring them to cast ironic commentary on the object advertised, or on the advertising industry in general. The exhibit is centered on two altered billboards, one for State Farm Insurance and another for the National Guard. In an interview in September, Poster Boy said both "subvert the original intention of the ad.".

"State Farm makes light of the bad shape of the economy to sell insurance," Poster Boy said at that time. "The National Guard work reflects on the placement of that billboard in the inner city, where the people live who are most proven to be recruited."

(Real Art Ways' promotional texts praise the work: "The billboards in Street Alchemy 2.0 no long hold any power over consumers. We can laugh at their attempts to dupe us while relishing the clever and snide reconfigurations of Poster Boy's handiwork.")

Although the artist, in that interview and other interviews, identified himself as a member of a loose collective of guerrilla artists, evidence points to him as a solo artist, Henry Matyjewicz, a Hartford native and graduate of Manchester Community College.

Real Art Ways has a history of embracing artworks banned by other venues. Last year, the venue showed a video banned by Washington's National Portrait Gallery, David Wojnarowicz's "A Fire in My Belly." In 1999, it showed Tanya Butera's "Domesticated Pleasure," an exhibition about sex aids that was banned from the city's Pump House Gallery. In 1998, it accepted an exhibit of paintings by Connecticut state university students that was removed from the state Capitol. In 1996, it showed "Girls on the Beach,'' which was removed from the Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission after complaints by some workers that it was demeaning to women.

Trinity spokeswoman Michele Jacklin said in an interview in September that the cancellation, at the behest of Paul Mutone, vice president for finance and operations, was based solely on the legality issue. In an interview this week, Jacklin said that the point isn't whether the college possessed the artworks, but that they shouldn't be on site.

"An art exhibition that contains illegal materials should not be displayed on a college premises," she said. "We're not going to engage in a hair-splitting exercise over the definition of the word possession."

Wilkins acknowledged the controversy by planning a panel discussion on street art and censorship. The time, date and panelists are yet to be determined.

"The issues surrounding this case are multiple. First, it's a fundamental issue freedom of expression. There's also the issue of property and expression in the public realm, in other words, who owns what and why?" Wilkins says. "We're going to pull together a panel hopefully of people who disagree with each other."

Wilkins sees the property issue as a by-product of the times we live in.

"We live in a time where all kinds of borrowing, referencing issues have arisen regarding intellectual property rights in music and visual culture. There is all kinds of interplay and referencing," he says. "The question is, who has the intellectual property rights? It's an interesting issue."

"STREET ALCHEMY 2.0" opens Thursday, Oct. 20, at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor St. in Hartford, with a reception at 6 p.m., as part of Creative Cocktail Hour, which runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The show will be on display until Jan. 30, 2012. Details: http://www.realartways.org.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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