The Urban Phenomenon of “Post No Bills”

“Julien nouveau vide grenier — Avenue de la Marne, Biarritz, 7 man 1998" by Jacques Villeglé. Photo taken by Ethan Gresko

By Ethan Gresko

If you walk through Manhattan on any given day, below the scaffolding on a forest green wall you’ll find stamped in white lettering the phrase, “Post No Bills.” It’s a warning that the construction walls must remain unmarked by the posters and advertisements that decorate urban walls around them.

At the Neuberger Museum of Art, the theater gallery welcomes these forbidden mediums of art in the installation, “Post No Bills: Public Walls as Studio and Source.” Nine international artists invite viewers to look upon their colorful urban inspirations, work called a phenomenon by curator Avis Larson of the Neuberger. The installation is open until Dec. 23.

“There’s this idea that the wall is really important to them and I think it’s interesting that these artists are from all over the world and have the same inspiration,” Larson said. “They’re looking at walls in different countries and finding the same inspirations.”

"Asmali Mescit MH, Pera, Istanbul, Turkey 2014,” “West Liberty Street and Whitaker Street, Savannah, Georgia 1991," “106th Street and Park Avenue, Spanish harlem, New York 2003" by José Parlá. Photo by Ethan Gresko
“Asmali Mescit MH, Pera, Istanbul, Turkey 2014,” “West Liberty Street and Whitaker Street, Savannah, Georgia 1991,” “106th Street and Park Avenue, Spanish harlem, New York 2003″ by José Parlá. Photo by Ethan Gresko

Artists on display in Post no Bills are BLU (Bologna, Italy), Mark Bradford (Los Angeles), Burhan Dogançay (Istanbul), José Carlos Martinat (Lima, Peru), José Parlá (Brooklyn), JR (Paris), Robin Rhode (Berlin and Johannesburg), Vhils (Lisbon, Portugal), and Jacques Villeglé (Paris).

These artists root their works in contemporary archaeology, implementing in their art the histories that are gathered by layered posters, covered graffiti, or the texture of weathered walls.

“In five days a wall in a city can change so much, because people keep adding to it, so there’s this quick history that is added. For me the archaeology is about this idea of excavating and digging and seeing what the hidden memories are,” Larson said.

Some of these “archaeologists” use the term in the literal sense by cutting out areas of layered poster and simply gluing it onto canvas. Others, like Parlá, recreate actual walls by layering paper, plaster, and paint on wooden frames. Artists, as archaeologists, bring the walls from street to studio in order to turn a visitor of the gallery to a passerby on a street, looking upon the urban walls, and keeping the history of the walls alive.

“Post No Bills” acts as a narrative of the international history the artists preserve in their work. As the artists are inspired to base their work on urban walls and the posters or graffiti that are decorated on them, they are also inspired to share the art on the walls that is so easily passed by, overlooked, or covered up on a daily basis. The artists are “all really into this idea of layering and hidden memories and hidden history that people just keep covering up,” Larson said.

“28 Millimeters; Women Are Heroes, Action in Phnom Penh, Old Station Habitations, Cambodia, 2009” by JR. Photo taken by Ethan Gresko

All of the works in the exhibition are united by this history, yet different in some aspects. Some artists, like Bradford, layer paper with varnish and twine and then sand into it. There’s also several mediums in which the art is delivered, including the three animated pieces by Rhode, BLU, and Vhils, and photographs by JR.

The exhibition is a journey through history around the world, and a stroll through urban streets altogether.

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