A walk on the wild side of art


Five years ago, art scholars David Carrier and Joachim Pissarro had an inspiration while dining at a now-shuttered bistro in New York. They were drawn to a piece of wall art at Le Boeuf à la Mode; it wasn’t an undiscovered masterpiece but a reinterpretation of a 1797 French painting of a bull adorned in a headdress — a visual pun on the popular beef stew dish le boeuf à la mode, loosely translated as fashionably dressed beef.

“We started to realize that when we opened our eyes we’d find this art everywhere, but we’re trained not to look at it as art in the typical sense,” said Carrier, author of several books on art history and a former art professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and the Cleveland Institute of Art.

That epicurean moment became the genesis for their new book, “Wild Art” (Phaidon). They coined the phrase to define the vast array of art created beyond the confines of the established art world. “We wanted wild art to be looked at the same way as wild animals versus domestic or wild plants versus domesticated,” Carrier said.

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Each of the 10 chapters contains around 50 works focusing on a specific genre such as street art, food art, minuscule art, ice and sand sculptures and wild architecture. There’s a portrait of actor Kevin Bacon crafted with bacon, a spectacular fireworks display at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the Wall Street bull statue yarn-bombed in pink and purple.

“We are not talking about outsider art,” said Pissarro, a professor of art history at Hunter College in New York. “We are talking about people that are not part of the mainstream art world but have reached a certain degree of fame inside their own worlds and make a living out of it.”

For instance, retired Atlantic City, N.J., fireman John Gowdy, well known for his ornate and meticulously detailed sand sculptures of mythical sea figures, achieved acclaim not only by winning contests but also through commissions from big corporations.

With the exception of body art, most wild art has a short life span. Sand and ice sculptures are victims to the elements, and deceptive 3-D anamorphic pavement chalk art regrettably fades away.

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“We discovered early on that there’s no difference in kind and principal between wild art and the art world,” said Carrier. “The barriers between the two worlds are at times thin and porous but still remain.”

Lines were blurred with the groundbreaking 2011 exhibit “Art in the Streets” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the authors noted. The first major U.S. museum to survey graffiti and street art brought the genre to the mainstream.

“Wild art has no class distinction. It’s pure, simple, direct and unsophisticated,” Pissarro said. “When you attend a performance by skateboarder Christian Hosoi, you don’t feel like part of a selected public. It’s just as fascinating, spectacular and heart-wrenching. It grabs you by the guts. It’s out there in the open, and you don’t have to pay for it. It’s not intimidating.”