Ugly New Buildings

Dan Witz is an amazingly detail oriented street artist who is a master at optical illusion, creating 2D images and placing them in public spaces so that they appear to be 3D. Often, changes in scale or color are the only way to know they aren’t real. But his latest project, Ugly New Buildings, really plays up on the illusionary factor.

There are many more at his site as well as a statement about the project and its title.



Filed under DIY urbanism, Elsewheres, folk art, Imaging, public art, public space

24 responses to “Ugly New Buildings

  1. Very cool – thanks for bringing this to attention. Personally, I think the subtlety of this work easily trumps more well known (lowbrow) artists, such as Julian Beever…

  2. justforview

    Beavers work is amazing, but having never seen it in person I have this suspicion that it only works in photos.

  3. That may be – I’ve never seen any in person either. I kind of assumed that the correct proportions of the drawings could only be seen from standing in a certain spot (when in person), but in the photos, it does seem that the camera is shooting from an angle slightly higher than that of a human head, so you might be right.

  4. Bill Landeck

    Anything called art ,that originates from uninvited and unwanted damage to someone else’s property is really just theft. What’s being taken is the victims right to enjoy their property, as they would like it to be. Someone please explain to me how vandalizing property with paint is anything other than self promotion on the victim’s dime. Why do you promote an activity that creates anger, frustration and expense for property owners targeted by vandals?

  5. justforview

    Bill, those are valid points. You are right that damage to others property is wrong. I don’t know that I would consider it theft, but you have that right. There are clearly two sides to this. I see your point, but happen to disagree. I don’t think, especially in an urban environment, that personal property rights can be held as sacred and unalienable as is often assumed.

    If you would have read the description of the project you would have seen that this, and much of other street art, is a response to something. It happens for a reason and it is usually not self promotion. The artist isn’t asking for anything and doesn’t really benefit from doing this. It is simply a whimsical critique on everyday affairs. Maybe this is a promotion of himself through his ideas, but what other means is there for such public dialog to occur? Is there no place for dissent, no place for public dialog? Increasingly these opportunities are being taken away through the privatization of public realm. The public and community forums, where views are discussed and decision made, now happen online (such as this), in private business organizations or neighborhood associations, and boardrooms. These exclusive public forums elicits some drastic responses from those that are excluded or just don’t want to be included.

    The boundary between private and public space is more fluid to some than others. I think this example, and your view represent possible extremes.

  6. Bill

    When a tagger scrawls their moniker on a building it is all about self promotion in the tagger world; bragging rights is another way to say it. Once one does it, then someone else wants that recognition and does one bigger or in a more prominent space. As for their intended reaction for the property owner, the idea is to anger and frustrate them with a screw you we’ll do what we want and you can’t stop us. That doesn’t seem like a worthwhile way to get others to respect your point of view.

    As far as describing it as theft ,what’s being stolen is the right to determine what will and won’t happen with property an individual owns. If we are to have no property rights, then that leaves the door open for a complete stranger, (who’s concept of private is less stringent than yours), to walk up to you, carve their name on your forehead and your option, is to stand there, and let them express themselves. That is the extreme that your reasoning promotes. The extreme I promote is that you should treat others and their property as if they had a right to enjoy it without uninvited vandalism and all of the negativity that promotes.

    If as you say, the vandal isn’t asking for anything and doesn’t really benefit from it, then I would have to say there is no point in doing it, wouldn’t you agree?

  7. justforview

    As someone with first hand experience in the world of graffiti I want to point out a few things from my perspective. First, there are some important distinctions between tagging, graffiti art and street art, which are largely based on the intention of the individual. To call it all tagging is as inaccurate as it is to call it all art.

    Secondly, not all of tagging is as aggressive as it seems. I have been told this before so I get your point and understand it is the majority’s view. But, within the various cultures of graffiti, this includes tagging, bombing, piecing and to a lesser extent street art, there are understood codes of conduct. This isn’t really enforceable, and there are discrepancies and divisions, but like any social system there are expectations of behavior and a certain extent of repercussions for those that choose to act outside of the norm. Those who are acting in isolation and are not educated to this code of conduct can’t follow it. Further marginalizing these activities disables these codes of conduct from being understood and respected. Most will see this as nonsense I know. But trust me it is true.

    There are innumerable motivations for practicing graffiti and, at least in its modern day form, is born out a youth culture that had few resources and many problems as well as increasing commercialization and advertising in public space. It is a response to this as much as an appropriation of the language that corporate advertising brought about. It, along with other forms of expression that were developed simultaneously, empowered people to assert themselves when and where they were overlooked. It gave them an identity of there own to counter others who were increasingly trying to tell them who they were, or were never going to be. I think some of these same instincts still hold true today.

    This means that the problems have never really been dealt with. That might be the real problem. If so maybe the solution isn’t to hold kids accountable for actions that they felt were necessary just to be seen and heard. I agree it is not communicating beyond the group of people who accepts it as appropriate behavior. But that group is growing and will continue to grow more and more aggressive the more it is suppressed. Unless go fully military state style.

    People already risk their lives for graffiti. Maybe the solution lies in addressing why they are doing this. In my experience it was because there are were/ are no outlets for expression on the terms that I could/ would participate.

    You are right that taken to an extreme we might have people carving each others faces, but somehow that hasn’t happened. So it is safe to assume that there is some reasoning with regards to what is appropriate.

    The negativity that vandalism promotes is relative to your perception of it. If you, like me, saw some value in it then it would not promote negativity, but possibility and experiences that could be considered informative to the type of society that we live in, the problems that are left unaddressed by market forces, by government intervention and the majority held social values.

    Maybe graffiti isn’t as big a problem as it is perceived to be. Many people who turned to these activities have proven that it can be empowering. Not just in terms of an identity counter to that which dominates, but in terms of developing skills, character, careers and so much more. There are numerous examples of people who have started writing graffiti that have developed into successful artist, entrepreneurs, scholars and more. If asked, I would bet none regret it, and none would be were they are now if they hadn’t gone through what graffiti taught them.

    These are the benefits. This is why people do graffiti. It is not just to piss you off. I would never risk my life to piss you off. Don’t flatter yourself.

    ArtCrimes Interview, articles and research page
    Crimes of Style, Jeff Ferrell’s a criminologist, well an anarchist one, but still.

  8. Hmm, I’m not sure that noting something is the same as promoting it. This work is interesting as one neighbor’s apt critique of an ongoing situation, and a rather whimsical and accessible one at that. This is street art, not graffiti; there is a difference. You may not agree with the motive or method, but this is not just random mischief [although it is a form of mischief, and that’s one interesting aspect of the work].

    Bill, your forehead-carving example is pure hyperbole but, as long as you’re pushing the issues out toward the extremes, Stephen Powers, a.k.a. ESPO, received a Fulbright to work on [legal] murals with inner-city kids in Belfast and Dublin. Issues of voice and agency, particularly among adolescents, are ever-present, and I think Powers offers an inspiring example to young people who feel unheard and disenfranchised by what they see around them:

    Still Painting Messages on Buildings, but No Longer a Vandal

  9. Bill

    The vast majority of graffiti out there is done by taggers. It is not art, it is nothing more than immature one upsmanship. It offers nothing of value to the world and it creates victims where none need to exist. What you call street art, emanates from this crucible of pointless expression. If you would like to take a walk with me around my neighborhood I can show you thousands of examples of pointless crime not one example of what you might define as street art.

    As for the contention that graffiti isn’t the problem it’s perceived to be, I can tell you as fact that my home has been tagged well over 200 times in the 16 years I’ve lived here, and it is exactly the problem I think it is. It has cost me hundreds of hours spent cleaning; and has not only damaged and devalued my property, but has also done the same to others who live in my neighborhood. We are not the government, we are not corporations, and we have done nothing to harm the perpetrators, yet we are their targets. It seems absurd to condone this blight, based on the eventual, “success”, of a tiny percentage of those involved in this crime.

    Visual, noting something with a positive spin is the same as promoting it.

  10. Bill, the original post’s so-called positive spin called Witz “an amazingly detail oriented street artist who is a master at optical illusion.” Those qualities are embedded in the work and don’t even refer to its larger context or to the artist’s intention.

    This is not graffiti; these are not tags, and some of the distinctions have already been pointed out. Your refusal to acknowledge the information given is disrespectful. Your line of reasoning is poisoning the well and conflating the issues. If your goal is to attack graffiti, then this is perhaps not the most appropriate forum or audience. If you’re willing to actively debate the issues and nuances, then that’s what I think this post was intended to do.

    Lastly, it is not true that graffiti is “not art” and “offers nothing of value.” Realize that these statements represent your value judgments, not ultimate truths. Yours may be the prevailing view, but it is only one view. It would behoove you to realize that and to engage in open dialogue from that acknowledged vantage point.

  11. justforview

    I value this work and will defend it for a number of reasons even though that is not what this post was intended to do.

    Showing good examples of street art raises the bar for what can be created locally. I choose to showcase work that avoids some of the aggression and stigma of graffiti proper, or improper depending on how you look at it. This should allow people to see that not all graffiti is the same and that there are alternatives that can come about when a creative culture is well cultivated.

    This should be relevant to many as a form of cultural education. One of the things that cities have done, and need to become better at, is breeding tolerance. Those that do are witnessing remarkably successful social and economic progress.

    While there are some major things that can attract and retain the creative minds there are also minor, overlooked aspects. These are often more powerful in appealing to and speaking the language of those that places like Cincinnati are courting.

  12. Bill

    Visual, I recognize that Witz is a very talented person and should have no trouble getting permission to do his painting just about anywhere. That said, he still does his painting uninvited and in violation of someone else’s rights.

    If I am understanding what’s not being said; graffiti is a battle waged by anarchists, who don’t think people should have ownership of anything. That is the only reasoning I can come up with to explain what is being said in defense of graffiti; and Witz’s work at this point still qualifies. If this is not accurate please explain what graffiti is supposed to accomplish.
    Talking nuance at this point doesn’t mean much if there isn’t consensus on the big picture. Do you think people have the right to enjoy their property without having it altered without their permission? If not why not?

    “Your refusal to acknowledge the information given is disrespectful.”
    I don’t think it is disrespectful to disagree with a point of view, or am I to consider your opinion/information as an absolute truth?

  13. Bill, I was referring to the lack of acknowledgement of the information shared; that’s disrespectful. Respectful disagreement is healthy and welcome, and allows everyone to learn.

    The work in question is street art, not graffiti. I take your point to be that it has some qualities in common with graffiti, but the two are not the same. That’s one nuance that I think matters here. This work is a pointed critique of what’s going on in Witz’s neighborhood, and I don’t see how an artist commission would allow him to make the same statement. He’s attacking changes to his neighborhood. Conceptually, that should be enacted on those buildings without the owners’ permission.

    If Witz were working in my neighborhood, I think his work would make me laugh and also consider the point he’s making. I would probably agree with him. It’s not that no one should own anything, or that property owners are evil. It’s that, when change happens around you and you don’t get to participate, and don’t feel like it will benefit you, you feel a loss of emotional connection and ownership over your microcosm. That’s what I think he’s reacting against.

    Sure, private property is private, but it has a public life as well. The way I see it, I’m subjected to other people’s choices all the time — their taste in architecture or house paint, their billboards, their lawns, etc. These things may belong to other people, but they’re a part of my experience as well; some of it is visual pollution; some of it I enjoy. Given that, I appreciate the annotations of graffiti and street art in my environment. They don’t come from some higher place but represent one-to-one communication. They hold a lot more meaning and enjoyment for me than do a lot of the things in my environment to which I’m subjected.

  14. Bill

    ” One of the things that cities have done, and need to become better at, is breeding tolerance.”

    Please be a little more specific, tolerance of what, and by whom?

  15. justforview


  16. Bill

    I am trying to understand your point of view.

  17. justforview

    That doesn’t appear to be the case. In response to your first comment I acknowledged that you had valid points, effectively agreeing with you on the big picture. From that point on attempts have been made to explain the differences between various forms of graffiti, why it is useful as public dialog that isn’t afforded elsewhere, and many other aspects that more or less diverge from the original post.

    Relying on abstract extremes of carving faces and outright anarchy doesn’t suggest to me that you are making any attempt to understand anyone else’s point of view or see street art as anything but vandalism. This isn’t an attempt at understanding, but an effort to use this space as your soapbox. Which is not too far from what I think graffiti and street art does.

    I don’t need to be an anarchist to think that every law and value isn’t an ultimate right. This is democracy not anarchism.

    In regards to tolerance, I would hope that in the context of the discussion that would be clear. But in order to give you more fodder for your argument I can elaborate.

    Personal property rights are a privilege that is afforded by our socially constructed democracy. Aside from denouncing this entire system I am simply saying that is not without flaws. Which is a democratic right. An over reliance on property rights can put individual and private interest ahead of community interest. Street art is often a signifier of community values, and while they may differ from yours they emerge from a need. Recognizing that your values are not the only ones and that being mindful of other’s may afford opportunities of mutual understanding that benefit the public interest.

    So I think you should be more tolerant of others values and recognize the rigidity of yours is not others problem as much as the looseness of others shouldn’t simply be your burden. If there is a war waged there will be a winner and a loser, but if both sides make an effort to be tolerant of each other’s needs a cooperative solution can emerge. Rather than taking up arms and waging a war of extremist value the diversity of community values and find ways to use it to your advantage.

  18. Bill

    “This isn’t an attempt at understanding, but an effort to use this space as your soapbox. Which is not too far from what I think graffiti and street art does.”
    The difference is that I haven’t victimized anyone by damaging their property, to say what I have to say. Anyone who is smart enough to have something worthwhile to say, should be smart enough to to find a way to say it, without victimizing someone else. For example, they can tattoo their message on their body, they can paint a sign and carry it around, they can say it on a blog. There are many tolerable ways to to make a statement; and those who choose a method like graffiti marginalize whatever message they are trying to convey. Earlier I was chided for being disrespectful; I think graffiti is a much more aggressive form of disrespect; yet you chose to support it.

    “This is democracy not anarchism.”
    In a democracy the majority opinion is supposed to prevail. It’s my understanding that the majority think graffiti (whether it’s street art, political slogans or adolescents spraying their moniker on anything that can’t get out of their way), placed on someone else’s property without permission is wrong. it’s OK for you to disagree with this, but if you are to operate within the confines of your argument you need to admit that graffiti, is more akin to guerilla warfare than anything else.

  19. justforview

    It is simple to argue points pulled out of context. The reference to democracy is related to your attempt to move this dialog and to place my value system at extremes and not graffiti per se.

    As I have said, your being victimized is relative to your values, others relative to theirs. You are fortunate to have majority support and to operate in a system that doesn’t always account for cooperative consensus building. When it does it is still faulted for being exclusive.

    The system isn’t perfect, its pretty good, but it is also recognized by a significant number of people as a flawed process. While valuing participation and involvement it doesn’t always provide those opportunities. When these channels don’t work voices don’t just go away. People are forced to develop tactics from the resources available to them.

    So the next logical step is what you might call guerrilla warfare, which is defined as “the use of hit-and-run tactics by small, mobile groups of irregular forces operating in territory controlled by a hostile, regular force.” This is appropriate for graffiti, sure. Shouldn’t there be an attempt to understand why mobile groups of irregular forces feel there is a hostile occupation, and to try to settle conflict rather than escalate it?

    But aren’t armed militias operating in similar mode? You’ve supported some “draconian” measures as a back up plan for supporting your values, why can’t you see others reliance on similar, though far less violent tactics?

    Other forms of guerrilla warfare being waged in our cities include guerrilla gardening, guerrilla architecture and many other tactics. These are all the result of a failure for the public sector or market interventions to meet physical and social demands. These aren’t all viewed as violent and are sometimes justified given the lack adequate channels of participation. Maybe participation isn’t a privilege, but a necessity.

    The concept of social sustainability suggests that there is a stock of human resources that go depleted and that cultural practices should be viewed as assets. Following this thinking, and admitting it conflicts to popular thinking, graffiti, especially those forms noted above, is undervalued. There should be innovative mechanisms for under resourced communities to utilize their resources in order to assert their participation on a system that hasn’t failed to include them. Sometimes this happens to victimize others, that’s unfortunate.

    But rather suppressing the voices of the unheard, maybe the majority who is empowered should demand that the system finds ways to account for the needs and desires of the unheard to participate.

    Many communities have developed very progressive strategies for dealing with graffiti and have seen the level of work, the code of conduct and much larger effects have all benefited these communities.

  20. Bill

    Well, at least you now you all but admit, that it ain’t art it’s war.

    ” The reference to democracy is related to your attempt to move this dialog and to place my value system at extremes and not graffiti per se.”
    Your value system seems to already be at a very undemocratic extreme; it is what it is and I don’t think I’ve had any effect on it at all.

    “So the next logical step is what you might call guerrilla warfare, which is defined as “the use of hit-and-run tactics by small, mobile groups of irregular forces operating in territory controlled by a hostile, regular force.” This is appropriate for graffiti, sure. Shouldn’t there be an attempt to understand why mobile groups of irregular forces feel there is a hostile occupation, and to try to settle conflict rather than escalate it?”
    So your argument that this is a democracy, is now; this is a democracy under attack by guerrilla warfare; and this warfare is supported by you. As for making an attempt to understand why guerilla groups of vandals, victimize other citizens of this country; how hard do I have to work to explain someone else’s inability to engage society in a reasonable manner. If one can’t get get others to support their point of view through peaceful dialogue then maybe there is not only a problem with their method but also their message.

    ” You’ve supported some “draconian” measures as a back up plan for supporting your values, why can’t you see others reliance on similar, though far less violent tactics?”
    The last time I checked sarcasm, taken out of context by the Beacon, was still a form of expression that created no victim.

  21. This particular art project is clever and impactful precisely because it’s masquerading as expected urban infrastructure. It is inserted into daily visual experience and, in that sense, you could call it a hit-and-run tactic, which is a quality it has in common with guerilla warfare. That and its ability to be art are not mutually exclusive.

    This is not a democracy under attack; it is a democracy with many voices — some are loud and supported; some are quiet and struggling for recognition. This is not warfare; it’s a form of dialogue.

    The problem with the method and/or message may very well exist on all sides. That is why, as has already been pointed out, some communities are changing their strategies to find progressive ways of including more voices in the democratic process.

    If you frame the situation as “warfare” and an “attack,” then you’ve already limited the possibilities to “defense” and “counterattack.” If, instead, you try to understand the situation from another point of view, you admit that there is value to that perspective even if you don’t happen to share it, and you can hope to come to a more inclusive, more democratic resolution that benefits more people. It takes confidence and courage to imagine possibilities beyond the norm, but it is possible, and there are communities that are doing just this.

  22. justforview

    Relative to your’s my values may be extreme and this discussion has brought out the more extreme opinions of mine, but I assure you I am as complex and varied in my beliefs as other rational people.

    What would appease you? Would you prefer I forgo my values for yours? Is that a world you want to live in?

    This space will continue to support the work of a diverse range of artist and activist who have found that public space is a forum for dialog that otherwise has no opportunity to be heard or where the message is relevant to my interests.

    If you don’t like it you are free to turn your head, or continue to wage your own war. While you haven’t changed my values your comments are taken for what they are worth. I respect your right to enjoy your property though feel differently about how you should go about doing that.

  23. Bill

    “What would appease you?”
    I would prefer that you not support activity that victimizes others.

    “I respect your right to enjoy your property though feel differently about how you should go about doing that.”
    I do appreciate that; however, if you mean I should enjoy the damage that others do to it, I can’t.

  24. justforview

    I appreciate you implying that this has some impact on what happens. I doubt that’s the case and still feel that my support of Dan Witz’s street art is less harmful than it is helpful, especially in relation to other media messages.

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