The New Insiders

At Brooklyn's Ad Hoc, street artists throw off their hoods and try working in a gallery

There are significant deviations, too. Lister, an Australian street artist whose washed-out palette, restless lines, and cubist tendencies sometimes remind you of cartoonist William Stieg, has constructed a small knobby sculpture of wooden parts, painted all black. A kind of minimalist and introspective folk piece, it would never be noticed on the street. Old-timer Richard Hambleton, notorious in the '70s and '80s for his murder outlines and painted shadows that startled even the savviest New Yorkers, presents a lush dark-green landscape (part of his "Beautiful Painting" series) that's Chinese in form but abstract at the edges with thickly applied enamel; Hambleton has been working on this style for over a decade, but he's been so reclusive that it seems like a radical shift. For his part, De Feo has fashioned a frightening bust of himself that resembles an African mask, entirely built (don't tell FDNY) from Black Cat firecrackers, with a central fuse emerging from the top. Clearly, De Feo is eager to destroy the Flower Guy typecasting.

With a couple of exceptions, the show does a similar thing for the artists it features—breaking down that barrier between the public persona (monikers and attitudes) and the sensitive artist behind it. But, in general, the distinctions that street art has implied over the years—defiance versus compliance, underground versus commercial, avenger versus guardian—don't seem to mean much anymore. These days, what goes up on the side of a building is often less a protest against "the system" than just another means for expression—and a pretty good way of getting serious attention. Taught in schools, launching lucrative careers in design, and fetching high prices at galleries, street art is edging closer to the mainstream, if it hasn't already arrived.

True, some people are uneasy about that. Aiko, a very successful stencil artist (and former member of Faile, the street-art collective) who's starting a jewelry line, specifically created a number of small, less expensive paintings for the show to preserve some connection—as gallery director Andrew Ford describes it—to the idea of art for everybody. For better or for worse, that might be as close as today's art rebels come to rebellion.

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