Everhart explores the art and culture of skateboarding
Meaning scratched into the surface or scribble, the word graffiti traces its roots (beyond the evident Italian) back to the ancient Greek graphein, meaning to write or draw — think graphite or graphic. What we have come to consider an art form — the provocative urban street art more so than say gang territorial “tagging,” — is literally thousands of years old. It’s certainly much older than skateboarding, which couldn’t evolve until its wheels had smooth roads and pavement to traverse, but the aesthetic is just as much a part of an urban counterculture the Everhart Museum hopes you will explore in its new exhibit. Curated by the Everhart’s own staff, Sidewalk Surfing opens Friday and will remain on display though the rest of the year.
The exhibit, curator Nezka Pfeifer confirmed, is intended to appeal to all ages. We may tend to associate skateboarding with pre-vehicular adolescents, if only because after a certain age it’s just dangerous to ollie over a rail, but some of the world’s most famous skateboarders are nearing middle age, e.g. Z-boys Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva are 55 years-old; Tony Hawk is in his mid 40s; and even cable staple Ron Dyrdek (Ridiculousness, Fantasy Factory) just turned 39. On the other end, one of the latest trends sees teen girls on long boards, used for transportation more than tricks.
Sidewalk Surfing sprouted a couple of years ago. The museum had initially looked at taking in a traveling show and when logistics proved an issue, the exhibits committee proposed they do a skateboard themed show anyway.
“Would it have been easier to take in a traveling show? Yeah. But I think we are able to do even more with what we’ve been able to include,” the curator offered. “Not only do we have vintage skateboards … there is also art work — quite a bit of photography, sculpture, art on decks and film installation.”
Artist Kris Kanaly of Oklahama City began work on the special temporary installation at the museum on Monday.
“Graffiti is just one of the forms his art takes,” said Pfeifer. “He’s doing the title wall for the show as well as a graffiti/ramp installation and is also contributing a sort of composite piece that he’s painted on old and broken skateboards.”
It’s one of many pieces in the exhibit in which artists use skateboards as the actual substrate on which they create, she said.
Vintage boards were borrowed from the only skateboarding museum in the U.S., Skatelab (www.skatelab.com) in Simi Valley, California and The Strong (www.thestrong.org), a museum in Rochester, N.Y. which houses a museum of play among other divisions. “They have a huge toy collection and they have a specific collection targeted to skateboarding,” said Pfeifer. “We have some historic scooters from them.” (Think that scene in Back to the Future when Marty rips the top off the scooter.) A friend of Dino DeNaples loaned pieces from the ’80s and ’90s, she added.
“The message of the show is very much about the community and creativity of skateboarding. Obviously there are a lot of counterculture elements and a lot of people tend to see skateboarders as vandals in reality, but I think they’re just appropriating physical space and interpreting it in their own way within the element of time, and marking it perhaps, but also testing themselves and challenging themselves to manipulate the skateboard, which is such a simple tool but it enables them to use the elements of physics to do new things,” Pfeifer explained.
The graffiti element is obviously very much a part of skateboarding’s visual material culture, she added, describing it as a popular art which just like any other kind of art or music is sometimes more successful. “(Graffiti) is about commentary on the human condition,” she said. “To disregard it as vandalism and garbage, and whatever negative connotations people have to throw at it, is completely discounting and invalidating something that is an important labor,” continued Pfeifer. “People who don’t necessarily have the access to express themselves in a political forum or an open forum … they do it this way.”
Let’s not forget that changing context has transformed street art from negligible to “commercial” in recent decades. Jean-Michel Basquiat went from “SAMO” to sensation (posthumously netting more than $10 million each for individual paintings) thanks to Andy Warhol’s stamp of approval. Beautiful Losers artist Shephard Fairy is one of America’s most identifiable artists since his Obama “Hope” portrait and Banksy’s critics call him a sell-out.
“In its best form, any kind of art opens your mind to be willing to look at new things, ideally with a wider lens, to train you to understand that you can’t make snap judgements about what you think you see. there’s always a deeper level, there’s always a deeper meaning, there are always more layers to the story.”
The Art Never Stops
In addition to a number of member shows, this month’s First Friday Scranton art walk boasts a marathon event sponsored by The Vintage Theater on Spruce Street scheduled to begin when the other exhibits close at 9 p.m. and continue with non-stop programming, including music, poetry, theater, comedy and art for 24 hours until 9 p.m. Saturday. Musicians scheduled to play include Bill Spager, Rachel Clark, Cait Hawk, Raf of Silhouette Lies, Ed Cuozzo of A Social State, Dace Brown, Katie Kelly, Doc Chicken Anja Daniel, and Sarah Yzkanin. Literary offerings will come from Brian Fanelli, Ali Pica, and the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers Collective.
Visual artists participating including Gerry Stankiewicz, Pat Weibel, Ted Michalowski, Heidi Van Leuven, Allison La Russa, and Constance Denchy. Comedy sets are expected from Simone Daniel, Kevin Lepka, Joseph Bryan, Matt Serniak, and Unorganized Business with the Among the harder to categorize offerings are hugs from Mandy Boyle and tarot and astrological readings by Michelle Moran. Open slots are available. Also find games including video games, costume contests, prizes, movies and more. Admission is free of charge although donations will be accepted and are encouraged. A potluck breakfast (8 a.m.) and dinner will be served on Saturday but long-term participants/spectators are encouraged to bring drinks and snacks. The Vintage Theater is located at 326 Spruce Street in Scranton. Call 589-0271 for more information or visit the venue’s Facebook page.