Late Friday afternoon(always a sneaky time of day in an academic building) people from University of North Dakota facilities painted over the famed Rich2 (aka King Rich) graffiti wall in O'Kelly Hall. UND's Integrated Studies Program had originally commissioned the work and it graced the entrance hall to the program.
Unfortunately, in an interesting example of attitudes toward control, "the administration" (with all of its pleasant ambiguity) reasserted their ownership over the wall (and their control over buildings) and slated it for renovation sometime last summer. Once it was clear that the wall would be destroyed the Provost commissioned Rich Patterson, a well-known graffiti artist from New York who earned an undergraduate and graduate degree at UND, to prepare a new work on canvass to hang in the place of this work. Ryan Stander covered these developments in the fall in his blog Axis of Access. They were picked up by bloggers elsewhere.
At the same time that cash-strapped universities all across the US are beginning to liquidate their art collections, UND has thought outside the box by beginning to destroy parts of their collection while commissioning new works. This might account for why visitors to the building have asked whether these projects are being funded "by stimulus money" noting how long the projects are taking to be completed and the dubious value of their contributions to campus life. They aren't being paid for by stimulus money and I am not sure that stimulus money was designed to pay for make-work projects. The parallel between the stimulus package and various New Deal programs is amusing, though, and suggests that some of our students are using historical knowledge in a critical way. We offered U.S. History 1920-1945 in the fall.
One of the great things about Rich's work is that, first, simple primer did almost nothing to cover it. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Rich when he was on campus, and he certainly understood the ephemeral quality of graffiti art. In fact, he told me that rarely would his works last a week on the trains of New York. So, in some ways the long life of the O'Kelly wall makes it an exceptional example of the medium.
His signature seems particularly resistant to erasure.
Even when we know that fresh paint will eventually cover the graffiti, it is clear that Rich knew how to make traces of his work last. He clever extended the design to the ceiling marking the acoustic tiles and the aluminum rails that support them.
Come over and visit the wall at O'Kelly when you have a chance. Its liminal state -- between visibility and erasure -- captures the ephemeral essence of the medium and evokes the ambivalent reception of the art itself.