Art for activism’s sake

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If you’ve been oblivious to the many attention-grabbing efforts on campus (the chalked stairs in Hamilton are a nice touch), you may not have heard about the SCEG/Postcrypt gallery show going on right now, “Expanding Perspectives: West Harlem,” which opened Friday in the basement of St. Paul’s and features art by both Columbia students and members of the greater community. Together with the lavish Robert Moses show in Wallach (more on that later), the exhibition forms one half of a complementary duo of timely campus happenings that expound on unique angles regarding Manhattanville expansion– the human and the historical– with extraordinary effects.


Bwog stopped by the gallery during Friday night’s opening, which was abuzz with organizers, friends, artists, and critics (we noticed an august gentleman perambulating with an electronic critique notebook). The event, of course, wasn’t just about the pieces, many of which are stunning, but rather the things people were saying about them. On one work, entitled, “Semiotics, Smoked Fish, and Scotch Tape,” gallery-goers were actually encouraged to write personal messages in black Sharpie, resulting in notes like, “A place of beauty, strive, and strength. I love Harlem, it’s in my blood and veins,” mingled with personal tags and other comments.


After observing three female dancers performing a dirge-like routine with an orange electrical cord, we managed to get some photos before our camera battery blinkered out. Then, cool kids that we are, we chatted briefly with Sophie, who’s been doing some of the wheatpaste art you see around campus, about her work. “It’s just a character that I draw,” she said, about her forlorn, blight-affected owls. “When I started, I didn’t know what I was doing. I found a wheatpaste recipe online… It’s just newsprint and Sharpie markers.” And famous, mind you.


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  1. Sigh

    The thing about this show is that almost everything in it sucks.

    I'm sorry! I wanted to like it! I went in with a positive attitude, even though there were 400,000 people there and it's approximately 135 degrees in Postcrypt!

    I mean, "Shattered Glass" was pretty cool, and a couple of the photos were good, but most of this stuff was worse than student work, even.

    One in the corner was a photo with two friggin' strips of tinfoil across it. The motif of "going under" as this view will be "going under" a bunch of buildings -- WTF was that?

  2. are you serious?  

    I went to the show and actually enjoyed alot of the art on display. I mean, yeah, some of the stuff was questionable, but overall I thought -- and the audience seemed to think -- very positively of it.

    Bravo SKEG and Postcrypt for this approach to the Manhattanville issue. We need more of this sort of activism as opposed to plain old poster protests on campus.

    • wirc  

      I'd much rather if the curators had asked for or accepted dissenting works. This is just a clever technique that groups like SCEG need to sway uninterested and uniformed students, by completely obfuscating the real issues with opinions expressed in art.

      • hmm  

        I believe the show was open to all angles of artistic representation. Perhaps they didn't recieve any pieces representing dissent, which -- if indeed was the case -- is saying something.

        • it was "open"  

          but they made it clear in the language of the request for submissions what angle they were looking for. Plus, most of the artists were already aligned with the group beforehand, and they just asked around.

  3. props  

    props to postcrypt for organizing a show with a very slim budget that actually deals with what we are doing with manhattanville, unlike the strategically planned show in wallach, for instance ....

    • Hillary Ballon  

      had been planning the show for a few years. They don't just throw this together to indoctrinate students. Why do you think Columbia is some kind of Machiavellian genius that plays everyone? As far as I can tell they've screwed up every PR move.

  4. PInk  

    I didn't think the show was that bad, especially considering the limited budget and the sensitive nature of the subject. It's just really good when people actually do something other than like, flyering or protesting on the steps.

    There were like, four camera crews there, but the only video I've seen so far is from CTV News. It's at:

    Where's the J-school's footage?

  5. yeah  

    ctv news had a story on this on sunday

  6. fried chicken  

    resting on a silk pillow? with a long paragraph next to it explaining what it meant? come on.

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