The Famous Naess Gallery Raid of 2012

Last evening I stopped by the paint Spot to get some varnish (20% off, by the way).  I’m going to be using a lot of it for the series of bit portraits I’m doing for a show in October.  The Paint Spot has been my main place to go for art supplies forever.  More recently the Naess Gallery at the Paint Spot has become a place to add to my exhibition list: a number of my chalk pieces were hung there as part of The Sketch in 2010.

Last evening I was a strange combination of observant and dense.  I noticed that long faces had replaced the staff’s usual joviality, that they seemed somehow distracted and that K. F. Seemed uncharacteristically on edge.  I also noticed a number of men wearing surgical gloves working with extreme care in the gallery space.  I thought the fastidiousness remarkable for setting up a gallery show.

The degree of my density suddenly became evident to me when I got home and caught up on my TwitFace feeds:

The Naess Gallery had been raided by the Cops!

Here’s my understanding of what went down:

The Naess Gallery arranged/agreed to display works by street artist DP.  All well and good. Personally, I kind of liked the works, from the glimpses I had as Edmonton’s Finest carried them about.  A bit monochromatic, but . . .

It seems that some of the stencilled images have also showed up in the past – without property owners’ permission – on various structures.  So, the EPS followed up on reports that these images were in the show, got a judge to issue a warrant, and sent some of the constables around to collect the evidence.  All of it.  The whole show.

Whether the seizure of every piece was warranted (sorry for the pun) rather than just of the pieces that had been allegedly duplicated on property without permission I don’t have an opinion.  I expect that is an issue which will be addressed as the wheels of justice grind.  I do, however, have some other opinions rising out of the show and the siezure:

DP, if no one else, should have expected the police to act.  Graffiti has been deemed a problem in Edmonton, deemed so both by the police and at least some portion of the public.  The white-washing of the Rollie Miles mural a month or so ago did not go over well, particularly with rapper Cadence Weapon, Miles’ grandson.  Tagging and unsolicited street art costs small businesses huge amounts of money every year in Edmonton.  DP putting images that he’d (Daft Punk is a “he”, right?) already unwelcomely and illegally installed elsewhere into a legal gallery show was either a foolish or intentional invitation to the police to act.  The police very graciously accepted the invitation.

I have no problem with seeing street art as legitimate public art.  I do have a problem with property damage. Painting someone’s home, garage or place of business without permission is both illegal and very rude.  I don’t care if you’re the new Michelangelo: if the owner of the wall doesn’t like your nocturnally installed Last Judgement, you’re in the wrong, Buonerotti, and the local Swiss Guard should be after you with their pikes.  I don’t respect you and I don’t respect your art.  I say that as someone who has displayed work in the same gallery DP caused to be raided and as someone who has done legal street art – check out my Capitoline Wolf the next time you have Calzone at Battista’s — it may be crap and you may not like it, but it’s legal crap you don’t like.

Street art, even when illegally and rudely installed is one thing.  Tagging is something quite other and totally illegitimate.  At a time when the Canadian Arts Community is campaigning for resale royalties to be legislated – a legal affirmation of artists’ property rights —  it would be beyond hypocritical to stand up for street artists’ violation of non-artists’ property rights.  And tagging isn’t even aesthetically pleasing.

I am a working artist.  I don’t want my art tagged.  I don’t want my house tagged.  And, I don’t want a DP work stencilled on my garage.  In fact, I’m intending to paint something I want on my garage.  If I wanted a DP work, I would try to contact DP and buy or commission a piece I liked.  Identically, I don’t want some British guy to leave a shark in a tank on my lawn or some American to stand a Piss Christ in my garden.  If some guy knocked on my door and offered to give me a free Tom Thomson I’d say “Right.  Now pull the other.  Found a few tubes of Prussian Blue, did you?”

“What’s my feeling about what the Paint Spot raid should spur?” I hear you not asking.  I don’t care whether you want my opinion or not: I’m going to spray it in your eyes anyway, just like all those other legitimate artists.

Street artists should realize that they are better off if they ask permission and go through the same sort of proposal/commission process the rest of us legitimate artists go through.  Java Jive gave such a commission for the west exterior wall of their Coffee Factory a number of years ago.  It’s not my cup of chai, but I respect the work, the artist and the patron.   If street artists don’t pursue legitimacy , they’re not seen as free-spirited guerilla artists – they’re just taggers with more paint in their bag.  Gallery operators should continue to welcome and encourage street artists of quality, but they should require the artists to not display any work which has in the past been illegally installed – if only for the protection of the gallery.  And, legitimate artists, street and otherwise, should speak out and strongly discourage taggers, no matter how big their paint sack, from continuing the illegal side of their work.

I’m sure many will disagree with my opinions.  I’ll be sure to warn Battista to watch out for the Tagging Army of artists.  I don’t expect The Paint Spot’s walls will long be immune from the spray bomb of vengeance either.  A manifesto I read online made clear in no uncertain and certainly no grammatical terms that the street art community of Edmonton was about to rise up against their persecution (they actually said “prosecution”).

Put down your paintbrushes and pick up your scrub brushes, Edmonton.

Update, August 17, 2012:  Yesterday the Edmonton Police Service announced that over thirty-five charges had been laid against an individual partly as a result of the Naess Gallery Raid.  “Police investigated graffiti reports involving 35 locations and 10 complainants between June 2009 and July 2012. . . .”  It seems, contrary to DP’s public statement just after the raid, that in at least some cases DP was putting his art where it wasn’t wanted.

In a recent brief twitter conversation it was pointed out to me that there will always be an illegal aspect to street art.  I don’t deny that.  But there will always be an illegal aspect to lots of things.  Perhaps there will always be illegal drugs, but that doesn’t mean that there is somehow a moral equivalence between a meth lab operator and a pharmacists.   Some of us choose to encourage the creation of legal avenues for individuals to express themselves and/or to make a living.  As I said in that twitter conversation, to me, someone putting their paint on my garage without permission is just as criminal as smashing the window, no matter how fine his art is.  I’ve said to my neighbours, I don’t want some guy painting stuff on my garage — I want to paint stuff on my garage.

Update, August 19, 2012:  In light of ongoing frustration in trying to have a reasoned discussion the 140 character twitterverse, I’ve come up with a few questions which strike me as requiring  resolution in a discussion of Street Art’s place in Edmonton’s society at large.  I’ve put them into  post for August 19th, higher up in the archives.  I’m not certain of answers myself, but I hope the questions might help to focus discussion.

And, I’d like to give a shout-out to Foundmonton, which is doing a great job of seeking out and recording Edmonton’s street art.


Update, June 19, 2014:  The Wheels of Justice have ground slowly but, in the case of the Great Naess Gallery Raid of 2012, they’ve finished their work.  The artist pleaded guilty to sixteen counts and has been sentenced to restitution ($3660), the maximum amount of Community Service (240 hours) and eighteen months probation.  The Edmonton Journal‘s article about the sentencing has a few more details.

14 comments on “The Famous Naess Gallery Raid of 2012

  1. Ben Perry says:

    The sad thing, is much of Edmonton’s stance on graffiti stems from the view that the design is gang related. The truth of the matter, is that nearly all of Edmonton’s street art scene is young, working class adults growing up in a city that claims to nurture its young talent…and finding itself disenfranchised when discovering that the city’s only area dedicated to urban art expression in a legal avenue is at the exit of the train tunnel, in one of the worst areas of town. Over the years, many of the old “freewalls” in Edmonton have been eliminated…or officially ruled “out of bounds”. The group of young people that encompass Edmonton’s urban art scene have a sense of singularity and unity that many cities could only aspire to lay claim to. Sadly, every few years, a “clean sweep” rolls past and leaves young would-be artists caught up in a legal system rather than filing for grants and funding in the arts. I think a little bit more of an embracing stance towards public art and expression would result in fewer tax dollars wasted on removal, and less “renegade” taggers being bred by a system that one day tells them they are a treasure, and the next- finds them serving community service, and struggling to plan a future with a criminal record following them for years to come. Anonymity is bred by environmental influence in these cases…many of these amazing artists would rather stay hidden to avoid persecution then to share their talents as a proud representative of Alberta’s Artist community.
    I can think of five locations that would be wonderfully illustrated for free, and leave property owners with a bit more free time and money, and parents a bit less worried about the “shady” activities of their Seventeen year old kids.

    But I am biased. Having spent years in hiding…myself. Although having moved away from the stifling grey walls of Edmonton, I’ve found it easier to embrace my pen name, and my craft.

    Ben Perry aka eightbit wishing much prosperity to The Paint Spot would love to donate some of my work if it will help with anything…or just stop in and grab some pens next time im in town. @eightbitbenny

    • anhaga says:

      Thanks for that, eightbit. I agree, free walls should be increased. But on The understanding that painting elsewhere without owner’s permission would still be prosecuted.

  2. anhaga says:

    Kim Fjordbotten has been and is making great efforts to make Edmonton an even more welcoming home for the arts. Here’s her description of the raid and her feelings about it and the art: As well, here’s DP’s statement (linked from the Paint Spot page): He says there that he doesn’t go where he’s not wanted. Sadly, it seems that he neglected to ask whether he was wanted before a few of his installations.

    And here’s more on the raid:

  3. Ben Perry says:

    I fully agree about enforcing fines heavily as a reciprocate action to adding public walls. In my days of practicing under the radar, I made a point of establishing a set of rules to minimize collateral damage. And many of today’s urban artists have been more often employing methods that do in fact minimize property damage…wheat pasting a poster of an art piece on a porous wall is much less destructive than say spray painting directly onto the wall itself. Left on its own, the art will eventually peel off with the aid of the outdoor environment. Many artists in this scene will target higher foot traffic and visibility areas in commercial districts. Most of the artists in Edmonton that I associate with make a point of avoiding residential property altogether. The general aim, is for locations like dumpsters, mailboxes, adverts, and commercial business. No artist is going to feel good about himself knowing somebody’s grandmother has to scrub metallic spray-paint off of a stucco garage. And honestly, in my own opinion, hitting residences or personal property is more often the sign of REAL vandals, and crime. Carefully cut stencils are generally shunned by the NYC Graffiti culture that we have come to relate to gang activity. This is more indicative of guerrilla contemporary artists than criminals. Given the Nature of “Daft Punk” the “Criminal graffiti artist”s nature, I would be willing to speculate that this is not ONE singular artist at all. Daft-Punk uses many stencils commonly found on the internet, and a name that is shared with a very well known electronic music group. I think with a capable lawyer, the evidence could be very well proven fruitless, unless fingerprints or DNA are brought into play.
    I think the people behind the graffiti prevention movement in the city would benefit on objectively reading up on the history of the NYC graffiti scene, and then reading up on the Definition of street art, commonly of origin in the western USA.

    A pivotal step in understanding the problem, is actually trying to understand the problem. And a bit of anthropological research on this topic, will not find you bored by any means. Its a vibrant and often overlooked aspect of much of the music and pop-culture we see and absorb on a day to day. And it would make the police able to more quickly identify “problem” pieces that are indicative of gang activity.

    Some great reading on the history and culture behind graffiti and its roots:
    Its a fascinating read!

    Kim has been handling herself very admirably thus far. Although I am surprised to hear that she hadn’t had a lawyer on speed dial before the show was opened, let alone still had not sought council. The police frankly do not have much of a leg to stand on in this particular seizure. I question the validity of the reasoning behind the warrant itself. But then again… what do I know?

    • anhaga says:

      I was surprised as well that legal advice hadn’t been sought before.

      I saw a news piece a week or so ago about a street artist in California (I think it was California) who makes life-size painted cardboard cutouts of migrant workers and ties them to fences etc. I’m all for that sort of non-destructive, non-permanent street art.

      Gotta go for a while.

  4. Katie says:

    This is disappointing.
    We need to stop creating “classes” of art and just make art. Who cares at this point where it is or who wants it, it’s art. Most street artists do not paint on people’s homes, and a lot of them do ask businesses before they do paint.
    There are huge misconceptions about street art, having a public forum or some way to educate the public would be valuable.

    But to see one artist attack another, or for that matter an artist attack an art form? Well, then maybe we need to start asking ourselves what has art become.

    • anhaga says:

      I haven’t seen any one attacking the art or artist, but I for one would happily attack any suggestion that honest criticism is somehow out of bounds.

      • Ben Perry says:

        I agree fully. Especially on a subject that is so often overlooked, and pivotal to the future of Alberta’s Visual Arts scene in the years to follow!

    • anhaga says:

      “Who cares at this point where it is or who wants it, it’s art” right?

      “a man in a suit jacket and sunglasses strode up, held up a stencil against the work — one of nine Picassos at the Menil — and spray-painted in gold on the 1929 canvas.

      The suspect left an image of a bull and the word “Conquista” (conquest or conquer in Spanish) on the Picasso. . . .

      the man identified himself as an up-and-coming Mexican-American artist.”

      I agree, Katie, many in the public could stand some education about street art — and art in general. But it seems that at least some in the art world need some education, too.

      As for a public forum . . . we have one right here. And an excellent text book has already been assigned.

  5. michellefray says:

    Reblogged this on lovesexandart.

    • anhaga says:

      Thanks for the reblog, Michelle, but the link goes to “not found” 😦

      Paula Simons has weighed in on the raid with emphasis on what she sees as the heavy handedness of the EPS in response to what she describes as a “misdemeanor” (apparently forgetting that the term is not a part of Canadian jurisprudence). It’s something I specifically declined to comment on in my post, which was written the evening of the raid. Now I’ll say that I think I agree with Simons, with the proviso that I am not (nor is Simons) privy to the evidence presented to the judge who issued the warrant. We’re all judging the raid with incomplete knowledge. That’s why I tried to stick to the more general, and perhaps more difficult question of “How do we bring Street Art in from the cold without making it something other than Street Art?”

      • michellefray says:

        I reblogged too soon and realized that we have very different views on this raid. As I do have complete knowledge of the raid, and am a fan of the artist, and would love to see more freewalls in this city, and have been lending my hand to the DP artist crew in any and all ways I can during their efforts to raise some awareness about our cities lacking public art.

      • anhaga says:

        I’m not sure that we disagree. I too would love to see far more freewalls and far more public art including street art. And I quite like what I’ve seen of DP’s work. My whole point is that art shouldn’t be where it’s not wanted and the only way to ensure that is so is to ask permission. That’s all.

        And, I’m saddened that you only wanted to share my opinions when you felt you agreed with them. I’ve “approved” every comment here (that made it through WordPress’s spam filter)

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