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Posts Tagged ‘the spectrum of offensive tee-shirts’

Last week I discovered the wonders of the movie Downtown 81, a semi-autobiographical film about the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, who’s just living the life in “post-punk” downtown New York. The tale made me nostalgic for the “good old days” of new york that i wasn’t even a part of — though through no fault of my own. (i –rationally — blame my parents for not being extremely young parents and birthing me at the precise right time in history for me to come to new york and chill with all those cool folks.)

here’s the trailer for the movie, which was produced and finished about 20 years after it was filmed. because the audio for Basquiat’s dialogue was lost, Saul Williams (yes, the awesome spoken word poet) did the voice overs of his voice. the shots of the Lower East Side are awesome. not to mention how awesome it is to see the Basquiat himself; he’s always been a sort of enigma for me.

but since i had seen this movie, he’d been on my mind a bit, remembering when i had first seen his work in person at the brooklyn museum, among other things…

so it was eerily timely that the other day, while walking downtown (to a very different downtown than that of the 80s, through the commercial soho of today), to see for myself the much anticipated new Topshop (which is so massive and overwhelming that it deserves its own post), and on the way down Broadway I stopped in Uniqlo, and saw Basquiat’s images all around me. Everywhere! I’m not sure if I ought to have been excited, but I have to be honest. I was a little horrified. Seriously? Basquiat? A champion of counter-culture, he’s always somehow represented an ability to go against the grain of the neatly rows of mass-produced and folded tee-shirts, all perfectly divided to small-medium-large. His work is now being mass-produced for Uniqlo?

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Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a dumpster-diving freegan with a plot of land to grow all my own vegetables. I have, in fact, bough clothing from this same establishment. But it bothers me, has me thinking about Basquiat, and then thinking about the walls of tee-shirts, made in who-knows-where and in who-knows-what kind of conditions. I can’t help but think that Basquiat wouldn’t have chosen to be a part of this. But is it really right to let it bother me so much? It is recognizing the work of a very talented artist. As the Uniqlo website says, in describing their UT project:

UNIQLO is continuing it’s ongoing contribution towards a credible youth culture with the return of the UT project; a collection of over 700 unique t-shirt designs by artists and designers from all genres and aesthetics.

Hold up. What is a “credible youth culture?” Does the fact that Uniqlo is producing this youth culture make it credible? Does the commercialization of the art lend credibility to the art itself? How does this make sense?

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I’m all for making art available for all people, even making it useable in every-day life. I have seen some very talented artists create clothing, and prints for tee-shirts, and Basquiat definitely does belongs among the everyday, not just in the “high art” arenas. But there is nothing “unique” about these tee-shirts, though I suppose in the spectrum of offensive tee-shirts (think any offensive spring break tee shirt, or pretty much any shirt that you can buy on st. mark’s place) it doesn’t even rank. it is a nice looking shirt, i’ll admit it. but i mean like, just think about it. you’re trying to impress a guy/girl, and he/she is like “nice shirt,” and you’re like “yeah, i bought it at uniqlo.” wouldn’t it be that much cooler to say, “yeah, i made it myself on this press that i keep this art space in bushwick that i rent with a couple of other young/hip/incredibly attractive artistic types. no big deal.” i’m just saying.

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