Ned Vena
CONTROL                         SEGS
March 22 - April 3, 2016


The image is always the same: Spiderman’s eye, reflecting, within its glossy black gaze, a stylized graffiti skyline of New York City. The artist is always the same: 20s or 30s, paint-stained, streetwear adorned, diligently practicing his craft right there on the sidewalk. The narrative in tourists’ heads is always the same: “Who is this urban DaVinci, this slum savant? Could he be a genius yet to be discovered, humbly peddling his paintings, just trying to make an honest living? You know, they say graffiti IS art – and wow the skill this takes; he’s really good, I mean this is a piece of street history, right?” The answer is always the same: No.  

The “Spiderman Eye Graffiti Skyline,” which, for brevity, we’ll call “SEGS,” is a visual meme of incredible popularity and mysterious, unknown origin. What we do know is that there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of artists replicating SEGS in cities across the globe. The majority are sold on the street, often with the artist making new iterations right in front of enamored tourists’ eyes, taking requests pertaining to Spiderman’s subjective view of a city: Has 9/11 happened in Spiderman’s eye yet? Towers or no towers? Other SEGS are mass produced by New Jersey-based companies; ones with dubious names like “Art & Music, LLC,” only to be peddled by “artists” who look the part, complete with “Wild Style” emblazoned trucker hats. To the tourists: “I painted these SEGS at home, but if you like I can write ‘STACY’ in bubble letters on a hat for your daughter, just like mine.” Then he takes your money for a piece of authentic street art and gives your daughter a hug, making you feel both the danger and the acceptance of a ‘street artist’ hugging your little angel, and making him feel Stacy’s tits pressed a little too close to his chest.

What we also know: the original artist of the SEGS image is lost, replaced by copies, imposters even – much like the skyline in Spiderman’s eye; that confused Spiderman, for whom 9/11 perpetually occurs and is erased and re-occurs in blinks; that impotent, frozen Spiderman who can only watch the Sisyphean process of a city rebuilding or reliving disaster, helpless in the face of a tourist’s subjectivity, wherein fate is decided with a $20 bill to a con-man playing a struggling artist. “Before 9/11, After 9/11, Towers, No Towers.” That constantly reproduced Spiderman, pimped out by the ghost of graffiti culture, the Spiderman too weak to save the city’s skyline but who’s already conquered an entire creative outlet of an underclass. You can almost see a tear forming in the corner of Spiderman’s big black eye. 

But fuck that. There’s fucking YouTube tutorials on making these bullshit SEGS; tourists can’t get enough of this shit, and half of them are probably assembled by track-marked arms in a factory in Patterson, New Jersey by junkies who used to go All-City in whatever shit-hole they grew up in, selling out their culture to tourists for a half a bundle of dope a day (the stamp branding the tiny white folds- “Venom”- Spiderman’s enemy). They wouldn’t be the first junkies to do so. Is SAMO the first SEGS? Does Fab Five Freddy own “Art & Music, LLC?” The image is always the same, the artist is always the same, the tourists and their narratives the same, tourists in galleries saying that the painting means whatever the fuck they want because they are the ones buying: Towers or no towers? Graffiti painting after graffiti painting, Spiderman after Spiderman, hustled into a basement in Chinatown like so many counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags, like so many counterfeit works of graffiti “art.” Stacy stands in her Wild Style trucker hat in the gallery surrounded by 1000 eyes of Spiderman staring at her with a city rebuilt and destroyed over and over within every eye that meets hers and she thinks back to an uncomfortable hug from an artist on the street where he pushed against her tits a little too tight. She asks the price of one of the paintings – one where strangely only one Twin Tower marks the skyline. “YOU COULD NEVER PAY ENOUGH,” the gallerist scowls.