press release

On Thursday 11 April, in its space at Via Fogazzaro 36, the Fondazione Prada will inaugurate the first exhibition in Italy devoted to the American artist Barry McGee (San Francisco, 1966), who has created an impressive new installation for the space, linked to the theme of the regeneration of urban culture and subculture.

McGee's artistic career began in the 1980s, when he was active in the streets of San Francisco producing works that he signed with the pseudonym "Twist".

Since then the artist has always regarded the city as the ideal space for his intervention. The city is seen as the non-place where everything happens, where a wide variety of ideas and lifestyles are mixed together, drawing their strength from this amalgamation, and where the contrast between the centre and the periphery, between the wealthy districts and the slums, is even more striking.

In an age in which such cities as Mexico City, Los Angeles, Lagos and São Paulo continue to sprawl outwards and explode demographically, the historic vision of the city, focused on its centre, is making way for a peripheral vision that includes the suburban areas, an environment in which an eclectic, radical artistic language is developing, involving new forms of identity.

It is a trans-urban dimension that, with its hybridization, is transforming the modalities of creation, making them more dynamic and, at the same time, unstable and transitory. McGee's first works simply involved painting on walls and shutters, but he soon began to use waste materials, such as wrecked cars, empty bottles, discarded signs, broken cartons, abandoned bicycles, old sheet metal and any object or fragment attesting to the alienation, the precariousness and resignation of the city-dwellers: "I use anything near me... I'll paint on anything,"* says the artist, whose work reflects "the melancholia, humour and sensory overload of urban street life." In his works, which are characterized by acid romanticism, with its nocturnal overtones, originating from a desire to conquer life, a variety of influences come into play, ranging from Mexican mural painting, tramp art and the graffiti artists of the 1970s and 1980s to the poets of the beat generation, and also the transgressive and erotic culture of the comics.

McGee shared his interests and the sites for his works with other artists, such as Margaret Kilgallen and Chris Johanson, who carried out situationist operations involving the visual recycling of urban waste materials, and he soon became a leading figure in the alternative milieu of street art in San Francisco.

Recently he has collaborated with Stephen Powers/ESPO and Todd James/REAS on the realization of complex installations, the best known of which is Street Market (New York, 2000). Although he has maintained his own independent identity and has continued to work in the urban environment, he has now begun to exhibit his works in the official venues of the art world, such as galleries and museums: "I may choose to look at different things and paint in different settings, but I'm not trying to be 'underground' or any of those dumb trappings society tries to label people. Once it has been labelled, it can be marked as a 'trend'."* McGee studied painting and printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute, graduating in 1991. In 1993 he had his first solo exhibition at the Museu Lasar Segall in São Paulo and in 1998 he exhibited his works at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

In 1998 one of his installations was acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and in 2001 he took part in the 49th Venice Biennale.

McGee's project for the Fondazione Prada space consists of a huge installation that leads the public into a chaotic scene emanating a sense of unease, where dramatic presences - such as overturned trucks, as if they were in a road accident or abandoned in the wrecker's yard - contrast with lighter, fluctuating figures painted on huge metallic or monochrome walls. On the occasion of the exhibition, Fondazione Prada is publishing an artist's book, comprising assemblages of photographs taken by McGee in the streets of the American cities where he realizes his works, designed to create a dialogue between his own personal writing and the public dimension, consisting of urban landscapes with their vestiges of industry. In addition, the volume contains an interview with McGee by Germano Celant, a biography of the artist and a bibliography relating to his activity.

* from an interview with Barry McGee conducted by Susie Kalil, in Hoss, catalogue of the exhibition at the Rice Art Gallery, Houston, 1999.


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Barry McGee