File spoon-archives/avant-garde.archive/avant-garde_1996/96-11-03.013, message 20

Date: Wed, 11 Sep 1996 09:18:11 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: The New Protection Racket: Art Police in NYC (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 10 Sep 1996 11:16:20 -0700
From: barrett john erickson <>
Subject: The New Protection Racket: Art Police in NYC

[The following text may be reprinted and freely distributed
only if unedited, and with proper attribution.]

The New Protection Racket:  Art Police in NYC

"Poetry should be made by all." (Ducasse)

Let's be clear:

There is no shock of discovery when we read that the police
are routinely rounding up "street artists" in New York City,
confiscating their work (which the city then auctions off),
and charging them with a violation of a city vendor
licensing ordinance (as many as 300 arrests since 1993 by
the latest account -- see  


Nor is it surprising that the artists return for more
official abuse.  As distasteful a surrender to the
"marketplace" as such street vending may be, it is often the
least compromising way for an individual to negotiate
economic imperative.  

The concept of requiring government sanction (license) to
exhibit art in public spaces, however, is totally abhorrent
and continuing reports of blatantly militaristic government
enforcement of POWER's vested interest in defining all
creative work as "commodity" and city streets as a
restricted commercial domain fill us with rage.


Governments protect the status quo, the routine injustices
of imposed hierarchy, building prisons to segregate those
who refuse to surrender their creative autonomy.  They are
the armed "enforcers," the "hit men," who demand obedience
and payment of taxes to secure the "privilege" of acting
"freely" within the walls they erect.

Governments serve POWER by restricting the range of
permissible action to that which does not threaten the
existing order.

Today POWER is primarily economic.  It is systemic, not
possessed by individuals, governments or mega-multi-national
corporations, but a pervasive, disembodied, implosive
dynamic of accumulation, dominion and control.  Its field of
illusion is the "competitive marketplace," and its modus
operandi the transformation of desire into a malleable
"demand" for the counterfeit currency of "commodities."

POWER attempts to appropriate, enslave, manipulate and
seduce art into the service of banality, or quietly smother
it in obscurity.  But the creative dynamic will not be
controlled.  It is a dispersively expansive infectious agent
which defies all dominion.


Existing in every truly creative act, from the scientific
inversions of Ilya Prigogine, to the anonymous escapes of
the "criminally insane" from institutions of imprisonment
and torture,  art permeates our lives.  But this truth is
suppressed because _real_ art (as opposed to the vacant
scribblings of monkeys or the synthetic confections hanging
on corporate walls) is dangerous.  It threatens the common
illusions which support POWER, the "common sense" with which
it intimidates, the hysterical psychosis of "sacrifice for
the common good."  Art screams "Nothing 'common' should
escape attack.  Accept no authority; pursue your desire."  

Committing _real_ art can get us arrested, even killed, but
there is no _life_ without it.  

Art -- poetry, metaphor -- is at the very core of our
existence.  It will not be ignored, and it will not
surrender it to the merchants and taxidermists -- the
foundations, museums, galleries and schools which preserve
and honor hierarchy.  Art so robust as to have survived
entombment in such toxic institutional atmosphere belongs
with the outlaws in brilliant, liberated streets, where the
creative dynamic is free to expand without opposition, where
it can breathe and propagate a contagious revolution of

Art should be made by all, everywhere, but most emphatically
in the streets.


September 1996, by the following participants in the
SurreaList e-mail group:

Barrett John Erickson  (US)
Pierre Petiot  (NL)
Michael Betancourt  (US)
William Dubin  (US)
Alan Gullette  (US)
Frank Antonsen  (DK)
Stuart Inman  (UK)

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