February 28, 2005 - Museum Het Domein - Barry Mcgee
February 28, 2005

Barry Mcgee

Barry Mcgee
Things are really getting better

January 22-March 5, 2005

Museum Het Domein Sittard 
Kapittelstraat 6
PO BOX 230 NL 6130
AE Sittard
T. 0031 46 4513460
F. 0031 46 4529111
info [​at​] hetdomein.nl 


From 22 January to 28 March Museum Het Domein is presenting the first European museum exhibition by Californian artist Barry McGee (born in San Francisco in 1966). The artist has compiled a publication with the same title to accompany the exhibition.

Barry McGee became involved in San Francisco’s graffiti world in the mid-1980s, while still an 18-year-old high school student. There he found an immense stage and an even larger audience for his ‘illegal’ creations, long before he made his entrance into the art world. Since then, under the name ‘Twist’, he has left his signature (or ‘tag’ as it is known among graffiti artists) all over the world. After studying painting and graphic art at The San Francisco Art Institute, he has developed – alongside his illegal street art – a body of work that is entirely interwoven with graffiti, yet is separate from it. He finds his inspiration in chaotic city life, which is dominated by the most diverse images, from advertising posters and signs to political propaganda and the slogans opposing it. He is also utterly fascinated by the contrast and tension between inner cities and suburbs, between well-to-do neighbourhoods and slums. In his museum work McGee specifically tries to emphasise what is individual and hand-crafted in an impersonal urban landscape increasingly crowded with corporate logos, trademarks and advertisements.

Over the years, McGee has developed a number of elements which recur in varying combinations in all his installations. To begin with, there are panels covered with colourful geometric patterns which adorn the walls in great abundance and leave a shimmering sensation on the retina. His installations are also populated by large numbers of unwholesome-looking men with faces drawn in a style that was formerly cartoon-like and is now almost psychedelic. The faces, made up of fine pencil or ballpoint lines, have gaping mouths, glistening long hair and grotesque bags under their eyes.

Recently, overturned car wrecks have started to appear in his exhibitions, as dying machines just barely able to flash their lights and emit a last puff of exhaust. Like the wax figures of youths doing illegal or improper things in corners or cubicles, they add to the feeling of excitement, of unexpected and alienating events, of vitality and illegality that typifies the graffiti world. Another new element is the use of robots: sawn-off silhouettes of McGee characters whose monotonous motions depict the act of graffiti-spraying. Their mechanical stiffness, however, makes it quite clear that this is not reality, but a museum version of it.

McGee makes abundant use of the various elements in his installations, often adding more new drawings, panels covered with geometric patterns and so forth on the spot. These are then grouped or bundled into large clusters, or sometimes even piled up, like the television sets showing animated versions of his work. McGee always starts with unpredictable chaos, which allows chance, time pressures and decisions by assistants to play as important a part in the creation of the installations as the artist’s own ideas and dexterity. This may well be as close as he can get to the working methods of the graffiti artist. In any case he wouldn’t want it any other way.

Barry McGee has previously exhibited in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1998) and the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (2000), at Deitch Projects in New York (1999 and 2001), the 49th Biennale in Venice (2001), the Fondazione Prada in Milan (2002), the Deste Foundation in Athens (2004), John Kaldor Projects in Melbourne (2004) and elsewhere. His tags can also be found in public spaces in most of the cities where he has exhibited.

The publication Things are really getting better is a 178 page full-colour picture book, including images of the exhibition in Museum Het Domein and older works. Order the book by sending an email to info@hetdomein.nl., ISBN 90-75883-005.

Museum Het Domein
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