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Barry McGee

February 6, 2000 - June 4, 2000

close Barry McGee
Installation view at the Hammer Museum.
2000

Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

Barry McGee’s antipathy for the culture of advertising and mass-produced commodities leads him to seek forms of creative expression and communication that directly involve the hand, such as graffiti “writing,” sign painting, murals, and installations of found objects. His art evokes traces of human presence by drawing inspiration from street life and its surrounding folk culture in order to confront the absurdities of daily urban life.

About the Exhibition

By Claudine Isé

 

Barry McGee’s wall paintings, drawings, and mixed-media installations confront the ills and absurdities of everyday urban life. His antipathy for the culture of advertising and mass-produced commodities leads McGee to seek forms of creative expression and communication that directly involve the hand, such as graffiti “writing,” sign painting, murals, and installations of found objects that have personal meaning for the artist and his friends. Drawing energy and inspiration from street life, graffiti, punk and hard-core music, and the folk culture of tramps, train hoppers, and latter-day transients, McGee makes art that evokes traces of human presence.

 

Not unlike the boozily melancholic music of Tom Waits, McGee’s art conjures the humor and pain experienced by the anonymous hard-luck case who’s lost everything yet still manages to muster a lopsided smile. His signature icon is a cartoonish male figure whose unshaven face, droopy eyes, gap teeth, and doleful expression recall the iconography of the Depression-era Bowery bum, while also bringing to mind the transient, homeless population that exists in every major American city today. Sometimes McGee paints different versions of this icon onto dozens of empty glass liquor bottles. The men appear to be trapped inside, their half-grinning, half-grimacing expressions both funny and poignant. McGee’s installations often include framed snapshots of homeless men, reminding us of those who haven’t benefited from the current economic boom: witness the outstretched Styrofoam cup, gripped with trembling fingers, or the tattered cardboard placard upon which the words “Hungry. Anything will help” are scrawled in black marking pen. The transient, “tagged” by his own hand, pleads as much for recognition as he does for loose change. More

 

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