Barry McGee

Urban Messages
July 1998

Barry McGee’s residency brought the artist together with Minneapolis teenagers in a variety of activities intended to give expression to the energies of youth. Because his work is heavily influenced by “street art,” it seems only fitting that one of his residency activities sent teens into the streets to wage a guerrilla marketing campaign for his 1998 exhibition Regards, Barry McGee. Working with the twelve members of the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC), he created a sticker that was placed in public spots around the city. The project echoed many of the issues surrounding street art in general and McGee’s work in particular: the use of public property as a venue for public discourse, the “interruption” that graffiti represents in the cityscape, and the underground network of communication that it nurtures.

WACTAC made further connections by creating a radio advertisement for the exhibition featuring the members’ own voices blending and overlapping, reproducing sonically the layering and accumulation of images that marks McGee’s work. They also asked the artist to teach a class to area teenagers. The result was Urban Messages, a series of workshops on painting, street art, and media literacy. Participants displayed their creations at a nearby exhibition space called the Soap Factory, and later shared their knowledge with others by leading tours of Regards, Barry McGee at the Walker’s annual Student Open House event.

McGee’s residency exemplified his passion for street art as a medium of expression for a younger generation as well as the energizing effect this unsanctioned art form has on youth culture. While society may view graffiti with a wary eye, as McGee says, “Kids are so into it. . . .

Artist's Statement

"My work explores the sometimes humorous ills of contemporary city life. I combine graffiti, drawings, and found objects together to create installations that try to capture the overload of the senses that one might feel walking down the street of any one of our fine American cities."—Barry McGee