“A-I is talking to CAY 161. That is the famous Cay from 161 Street, there at the beginning with TAKI 183 and JUNIOR, as famous in the world of wall and subway graffiti as Giotto may have been when his name first circulated through the circuits of those workshops which led from Masaccio through Piero della Francesca to Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael,” wrote Norman Mailer in 1973, of the graffiti scene in NYC that he observed and wrote about in the infamous essay (with photos by Jon Naar) "The Faith of Graffiti."
And though we are a long cry away from the tumultuous ’70s of New York (and the risk of police beatings for loosing a little paint in the air), there’s no denying the often startlingly and occasionally visceral power of large-scale outdoor murals (even for those who don’t identify as enthusiasts).
Low cost (relatively) and high impact, in this fair-to-middlin’ part of the 21st century, murals executed by specialists in the genre have become developers’ wet dreams. They say “art” but they don’t say “artists,” which is exactly how Americans like it (and fast tracks the gentrification/rent hike process). According to a 2003 statistic in the study “Investing in Creativity: A Study for the Support Structure for U.S. Artists,” 96 percent of Americans valued art in their lives, while only 27 percent valued artists.
However, no community that wants to position itself as a leader in the arts can realistically expect to do so sans artists; a painted desert is still arid, after all. So when an institution like the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens reaches out to local artists, that’s notable. Of course, this isn’t the first time the museum has engaged with the Jax-based arts community—Lift: Contemporary Expression of the African American Experience 2017, Our Shared Past 2014, and the Folio Weekly Invitational Artist Exhibition 2012 all held a mirror up to the city.
Now, however, artists are holding a mirror to the Cummer. Dustin Harewood, Shaun Thurston and Mark “Cent” Ferreira have been working together to paint the fence that currently borders the land where the Woman’s Club of Jacksonville once stood. It's a gesture that recalls Fred Wilson's seminal 1993 work, Mining the Museum at the Maryland Historical Society, but is less loaded. The project is called On The Fence, and has been enthusiastically received by the community. The Club was demolished in 2016 because of an insurmountable Formosan subterranean termite infestation.
Depicted on the fence are highlights from the museum’s collection. The works range from an old crone to Augusta Savage’s The Diving Boy, Paulus Bor’s Allegory of Avarice, and William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Day Dreams (among others).
Holly Keris, the museum’s acting director, says, “We all agreed this blank canvas was the perfect complement to the Weaver Community Sculpture Garden, with both areas functioning as publicly accessible exhibition spaces even when the museum itself is closed. When the trio decided to select multiple works of art from the museum’s galleries for inspiration, we were all excited about providing that level of connection between historic works of art and contemporary experiences.”
Perhaps the most visible exterior display since the lamentable Seward Johnson sculpture that towered over Riverside Avenue in 2005, this impermanent display seeks to situate the Cummer within a more contemporary conversation, through an artistic medium that has historical holds in risk, bravura and speed–plus the added bonus of a virtuoso display of talent.
Ferreira says, “It has been fun bringing an old collection back to life and making it more accessible.” Thurston agrees, adding, “We wanted to pick a little of everything–ancient to more modern. No matter when something was made, and the differences between time, artists are still dealing with the same human emotions. That’s the connector.”
We’re just wickedly wondering if, from among the treasures, a tiny, hungry Coptotermes formosanus will make an appearance... (we tease).