Arts Desk

Occupy D.C.’s Portable Art Gallery

The U.S. Park Police make it hard to be a punk.

A guerrilla gallery of Occupy D.C. art assembled by Vestibule D.C. in McPherson Square got the official go-ahead from police following an exchange too brief for the word "standoff."

Vestibule organizers Josef Palermo, Joseph Orzal, and Adrian Parsons showed up shortly after noon on Friday with a plan to erect a temporary wooden structure in McPherson Square. (Stop me if you've heard this one before.) Park Police officers parked at McPherson Square immediately intercepted Palermo, asking him what he and about a dozen supporters were doing. Palermo said he intended to put up a temporary structure on the south lawn—the same place where more than 30 protesters were arrested after building a "People's Pentagon" in early December. Asked what sort of timeframe constituted "temporary," Palermo answered a week at least—causing the officer to say, at first, that it was a no-go.

While two officers called the situation in from their car, the Vestibule people hurriedly joined together the homemade gallery supports. About 20 minutes later—with the gallery completely built—two more Park Police officers arrived. Vestibule supporters directed the officers to speak to Parsons, even though he was at that point on day 22 of a hunger strike for D.C. voting rights. (He abandoned the hunger strike on New Year's Day). Perhaps Parsons had had the most experience with Park Police of anyone there, having been arrested by them during the #occubarn fracas. In any case, Parsons spoke with the officer in charge, who told the Vestibule folks that the south lawn needed to be maintained as an open space for such uses as the Occupy D.C. general assemblies. This, of course, inspired some laughs.

Nevertheless, the police said plainly that they wanted to accommodate the guerrilla gallery, but could it just go somewhere else? In turn, the guerrilla gallerists said, sure: why not. They moved it off the south lawn, but maintained the gallery in McPherson Square.

All's well that ends well, right? Perhaps—though Palermo says that Vestibule intends to organize some 15 of these pop-up galleries around the city. (Not all at once.) He declined to elaborate about where, saying there could be trouble with some of the locations. In its first iteration, at least, there was none.

As for the art, there's not enough there. Nearly every painting is a slogan—a direct expression of Occupy sensibilities. (For example, one painting reads, "OCCUΠ," with a subheading, "It Never Ends.") There are a few painted charts and graphs, too. An "Abolish the Fed!" sign-painting read enough like a Super Sloppy Double Dare graphic to seem very nearly ironic, but in context, it was the same sort of exaggeration that Ron Paul makes every day on the campaign trail.

The premise of the show is that D.C. street artists, working under Orzal, have interpreted graphically the mood on the Occupy street. In substance, though, the artworks read more like a mic check: The Occupy D.C. camp said things to the street artists, and the street artists said it right back.

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Comments

  1. #1

    What other kind of art do we think should be incorporated? I would love to see more sculptural pieces involved. I am so proud to see DC taking a stand and creatively protesting through such diverse modes. Well done, Vestibule.

  2. #2

    Not sure what you mean by "official" go-ahead. A couple of cops an official NPS policy does not make. Park Police have since returned and asked people to remove it entirely, threatened to arrest random people standing in the area near it, or simply asked that it be moved (and it has been moved twice). It's like Benny Hill runs their planning office.

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