Exclusive | Barry McGee: Tagging

A mannequin tagging on Barry McGee’s “Untitled” (1999/2012). Production still from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Bob Elfstrom. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Bob Elfstrom.

A mannequin tagging on Barry McGee’s “Untitled” (1999/2012). Production still from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Bob Elfstrom.
© Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Bob Elfstrom.

“That’s immediately how I gauge how healthy a city is—by the amount of tags. It’s in direct competition with advertising.”

Filmed in 2012, this new Exclusive follows artist Barry McGee through his self-titled retrospective exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA). McGee, who became interested in tagging while growing up in San Francisco, describes the excitement of putting up new tags and the rush of getting away with it. Alongside his ongoing and intimate involvement with street culture, McGee has maintained an active studio practice, which he describes as being “completely different.” These two disparate ways of making—and showing—work meet in Barry McGee, which has traveled to the East Coast and opens today at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Boston.

Prominently featured in the BAM/PFA exhibition were animatronic mannequins that appeared to be tagging different areas of the museum’s concrete walls. In one instance, the figures were stacked on each other’s shoulders, suggesting the great lengths required when McGee and his friends sought to reach high up the sides of buildings and freeway overpasses. But these sculptures, McGee explains, are meant to illustrate something more real—an act that can only truly exist outside.

Artist Barry McGee. Production still from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Bob Elfstrom.

Artist Barry McGee. Production still from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Bob Elfstrom.

The distinction McGee makes between what is illustration and what is “real” is central to how he’s organized his retrospective and previous exhibitions. In an unseen segment of Art21’s Exclusive interview, he talks about this vis-à-vis large tags that he painted on BAM/PFA’s exterior:

“I know how it works with the street: you have the maximum amount of exposure that you’ll ever get. Going indoors is like marching backwards. I’ve tried over the last ten years to do more things on a museum’s façade or outside, still in the public view. But I have varying degrees of success with that because it’s all kind of fake, or they become illustrations of what the real thing is…The whole exhibition is more of a guidebook.”

Click play and take the tour:

Barry McGee is on view at ICA Boston through September 2, 2013.

Contributor
Ian Forster is Art21's associate producer. He joined the staff in October 2009, first working on William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible and subsequently Season 6 of Art in the Twenty-First Century. In addition to his work on Art21′s broadcast programming for PBS, Forster oversees the Web video series Exclusive and Artist to Artist and is deeply involved with New York Close Up.
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