Chor Boogie’s Berlin Wall Section.
October 15th, 2010 by Jeffrey Pena
It wasn’t long ago that I saw Chor Boogie painting live as 50,000 people watched at the Electric Zoo Festival in Randall’s Island, New York.
Benny Bennassi and Axwell were bumping in the background. (Article here. ) Or, you might have heard stories of a San Francisco-based artist who stubbornly finished a 100-foot mural after being stabbed while painting in the marginal Tenderloin neighborhood. “The Color Therapy of Perception.” is a public mural commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission’s “Arts in Storefronts” project. An initiative with a mission to improve the street life of troubled areas. (Article here.) Jason Hailey, the artist’s birth name, has continued to grow exponentially. Last week, while at the Stroke Urban Art Fair in Berlin, Chor was given the opportunity to paint on a section of the Berlin Wall. Adding another zero to his viewers at Electric Zoo, Chor’s piece, “The Eyes of the Berlin Wall”, sold for 500,000 euro.
This is a big number for Chor Boogie, a self-taught artist who early in his life was afflicted by drug problems, homelessness and “too many trips to jail.” More exciting than the price is the historical significance of the piece. Graffiti on the Berlin wall has a long and tumultuous history. Since the 1980s, despite painting being prohibited, many artists attacked the Western side of the wall, taking back a freedom of expression that the government had banned. That western portion of the infamous wall earned it the name the “death strip”–implying the heavily guarded barrier which included a highly militarized system of guard towers, trenches and other defense architecture. The Berlin wall became a mecca for the most daring street artists around the world. The late Keith Haring paid the site a visited when he painted on the Berlin Wall at Brandenburg Gate in 1986. Many local writers tagged the wall as well, many of their pieces buffed within hours and restored back to the original neutral gray.
The 500,000 Euro price tag (roughly 700,000 USD) is a bench mark for Chor, bringing him into the realm of world recognition as the British Banksy, who has fetched as much as 288,000 pounds, roughly 600,000 USD. (Article here.) However, unlike Banksy, Chor is a spray paint traditionalist refusing to use any stencils and more contemporary methods of application–a commitment to the medium that Chor Boogie has prided himself in. “I’m a traditionalist when it comes to spray painting. I’m trying to get as many effects as possible out of the can”, Chor told me candidly on the NYC subway last month. Today, via phone he humbly shared, “like an oil painter uses his medium, I use mine. It’s about having a level of respect for the medium.”
The piece is also important as a social monument. Chor Boogie’s cannon for making the piece is comparable to the “eyes on the street” theories propagated by urbanist and writer Jane Jacobs. “The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind.” writes Jacobs in “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. Its also important as a comparison of the value of art. That is, Chor’s piece costed half the price of the price for the entire wall restoration in 2009, one million euro. It introduces the beautiful idea that in our social order, art is above preservation.
“The Color Therapy of Perception” San Francisco, CA.
Lastly, this piece is incredibly important because the Berlin wall changed a lot for painting and art history. Recently (January, 2006), Arthur Lubow, wrote about the impact impact of collapse of the Berlin wall in an article called “The New Leipzig School.” for the New York Times Magazine. (Article here.) Leipzig was a traditional painting school focusing on figuration and traditional ideas of painting such as learning to draw realistic perspectives and rules for composing paintings. This, at a time when the west had it’s eyes set on abstract painting which emphasized originality and expression over tradition. With the Berlin wall as a large screen, the school was almost captured in a style of painting that one might consider passe. However, with the fall of the Berlin wall, the painters in Leipzig started to introduce other elements of abstraction still holding onto figuration which was engrained into the school’s way of working. Stars such as Neo Rauch, Tilo Baumgartel, and Martin Eder were only able to produce this kind of work because of the fall of the Berlin wall.
Oddly enough, I see Chor’s piece as a nod to the academic artists that came out of the Leipzig school. His explosion of color and patterned abstractions, when mixed with a sense of realism in the figure introduced, are kin to the work of the artists who Lubow called “the young lions of the international art scene”. The traditionalist in Chor Boogie is still there –in his commitment to the can.