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John Fekner  New York, NY

* All images used with permission. Please do not distribute without first contacting the artist.

About John

In August 1980, Don Leicht and I collaborated on a project for the People’s Convention held at Charlotte Street in the South Bronx. Our work addressed the needs of the immediate Black and Latino communities, as well as addressing the concerns of Native American Indians. This alternative convention coincided with the National Convention of the Democratic Party being held at Madison Square Garden. Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan stood amidst the rubble on August 5th, 1980, promising to rebuild the area.

The six spray painted stenciled messages included Decay, Broken Promises, Falsas Promesas, Last Hope, Broken Treaties and Save Our School. Our work transversely complemented each other with two different and distinct approaches. The stencils are succinct, urgent, and dramatic in size and scope. Don’s Birdfeeders are small scaled and intimate painted sculptures for the children of the neighborhood. Local residents, young and old, helped us on our collaboration. Assisting us as well were Stefan Eins and William Scott, who along with Joe Lewis, were all directors of Fashion Moda at the time.

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8 reactions displayed

"Wonderful. I've always loved deserted buildings pictures, feels so chernobyl-ish"

"As a student of John Fekner, I was encouraged to understand and use technology and think across disciplines. I was encouraged to make work that embraced technology.As a mentor, he taught me about the significance of public art, outreach, and the obligation that an Artist has to his community. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study with this prolific artist and later teach with him."

"Any artist that can do something that can make you take a second out of your routine of life and make you think for a moment of the obvious surrounds that you dont quite see or choose to ignore gets 5 stars in my book."

"To the sceptic above,Obviously you are not knowledgable in the history of Fekner's work. Fekner stencilled "Last Hope" with the residents living in that building who asked for that particular stencil to be painted on their building as they felt they were not getting any attention from NYC govenmental agencies. They were the occupants in the last building in that area at the time. Since then, the building is now officially renamed "New Hope" and is quite active.Also FYI: New York Times art critic John Russell wrote?¦Fekner is an artist who works not only in New York but with New York. The city in its more disinherited aspects is the raw material with which he has been working ever since he got a studio space in P.S. 1 in Long Island City in 1976 and learned to regard the huge dilapidated building as "an elderly person who has acutely perceived his experience of life." He went on to work outdoors in Queens and in the Bronx in ways that gave point and urgency to places long sunk in despair. With a word or two (Decay, for instance, or Broken Promises), he brought an element of street theater into disaster areas. With a single stenciled phrase (Wheels Over Indian Trails, for instance) he mingled present with past on the side of the Pulaski Bridge near the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. What in other hands might have been vandalism had a salutary effect. People in desolate parts of the city saw more, felt more, thought more and came out of their sceptic, I would suggest you spend your own time doing something productive with your own work..or do research before you reacte and criticize, pointing a wrong finger at someone who is trying to help better the world.You can read about this artist's projects and his intentions in his book entitled Danger Live Artists. Peace,Stefan"

"A bit trite and obvious, no? These spaces are quite clearly sites of decay and broken promises. What I find more interesting is how are they also sites of community rebirth and spaces for action. That sense of empowerment is stifled by such words--they are words that stigmatize a community and further reinforce the degradation, rather than inspire community action or chancge.I'd rather see a garden that can feed a community transform the first site than blunt statements that add more gloom and label the community as "broken" and poor."If I lived in that building as a child, knowing it said "last hope" on the outside, I would be completely embarrassed to live in that building. Such a statement erases the agency of the people living in that building. Who is he to say that these people have one last hope? How pessimistic and how presumptious to think that poor people can't be creative and make opportunities for themselves, despite their challenging situations?I think these photos are more about trying to make an evocative point than actually addressing the needs of a marginalized and impoverished community."

"Well,The first time I met John was when came to Sweden to exhibit at Anders Tornberg Gallery i October 1979. It was a major show presenting pieces from his series Wall Blood Series which he did at PS! in New York. I still have one large piece and two smaller rusty pieces in my home in Malmö..But I first noticed John when I saw an add in Art Forum Dec. issue 1978, showing one of his stencil pieces placed on a waste container near 25 st. & 50 ave.,under the Long Island Expressway. L.I.C., saying INDUSTRIAL FOSSIL. John this project: Stencils Throughout Queens, N. Y. and it was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.So when I and Lars Vilks prepared out out door show TIME FUSE ATTITUDES at Kullaberg, in the south of Sweden, we invited John to take part among other conceptual artists. And he sent us a lovely piece of work: FROM AN INDUSTRIAL STREET IN QUEENS ?? TO A FOOTPATH IN SWEDEN JUNE 1979, which performed on the high clips of Kullaberg. In order to the whole work you had to climb about 75 meters. In the catalogue for TIME FUSE ATITTUDES I reproduced the INDUSTRIAL FOSSIL picture. After me had met personally, John and I started to talk about publishing an artistÂ's books with his stecil works. That piece was published in 500 copies in Malmö, Sweden 1982 by my press Wedgepress & Cheese. It includes almost every stencil piece had done 1978 - 1980. Though we had do the book over the sea using ordinary post and mail, we worked it ou. And I, and many with me interetsed in artistsÂ'books, consider JohnÂ's a minor classic.In that piece there are many pictures worth mentioning, but must point a couple of them:Page 25: SEPT 1958 sprayed at double metal door at the backside of the Town Hall in Lund. The funny thing with this image is that a town maintainer did repaint the doors , but left Johns intact.Page 27: A CRATE, specially design by John for transporting his pieces Lund in 1979. That crate is now in the collection of The Archive Museum, Lund. (And a friend of ours also have similar crate in her collection, she told just a week ago.)Pages 28-29: These are the ones showing JohnÂ's piece for Time Fuse Attitudes 1979. Page 33: Ronald Regan, in front of JohnÂ's DECAY, during his electing campaign in Bronx 1980, showing the contraditions between given and broken promises.Page 35. WHEELS OVER INDIAN TRAILS stenciled in large letters on the outside a concrete rack of a highway, where a bus is passing. John also did a show at Galerie St Petri, Lund Sweden during his visit in 1979. And Jean Sellem, Edition Sellem, published a small brochure NO TV with some of his works critisizing that media.When John and Don Leicht visited Sweden, I took them up to the cliffs of Kullaberg, so they could see what was left of the outdoor show, JohnÂ's piece was still there, in the fall of 1979. The other works were all ready destroyed by some stupid pepole during the show in July and August.And I give John 5 stars!Leif ErikssonArtists & publisherWedgepress & Cheese,The Swedish Archives of ArtistsÂ'BooksMalmö August, 18, 2007"

"FYI: Fekner was already in the streets when he painted Itchychoo Park in hugh letters across the front of a parkhouse roof in Jackson Heights, Queens in the late sixties...I remember him as a handball player in that park around 84th or 85th st."

"That's amazing. I had no idea John was involved in this aspect of art. Having had him as a professor for a video course I was aware of his digital skills, but this really caught me off guard."

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