Artist Duo Slapped With Lifetime Ban From the Whitney for Guerilla Painting Show

Apostrophe has already set its sights on the next museum.

Ki Smith and Sei Smith.
Photo: Courtesy of Instagram.

Unorthodox spaces are seductive grounds for Sei and Ki Smith.

The brothers have been tinkering with pop-up shows in New York City subways since they founded Apostrophe art group back in 2012. But on a recent Friday, amidst the reliable pandemonium of pay-as-you-wish night, the brothers installed a guerrilla art show in the Whitney Museum of American Art‘s stairwell. And there it stayed for 40 minutes.

“It was a way to play with the architecture of the site,” Ki Smith told artnet News in a phone conversation, “which I feel sometimes overshadows the programming itself.”

On Friday, March 11, the brothers, along with the 12 painters that comprise their ongoing guerrilla group called Base 12, installed the paintings against the glass panels overlooking the Hudson River. According to Smith, the process took all of one minute, since they used suction cups equipped with hooks to mount the works.

Base 12 guerrilla art show.<br />Photo: Courtesy of YouTube.

Base 12 guerrilla art show.
Photo: Courtesy of YouTube.

They clarify that the unauthorized show wasn’t a protest of the institution. “The way we’re hanging these shows is avoiding vandalism laws,” Smith explained. “I’ve read these laws quite carefully, and there are things you can and cannot do, and there are a lot of gray areas.”

Instead, their focus—albeit soaked in mischief—is driven by a commendable objective. “I think these shows are really important to put the excitement back in viewing the art,” Smith said. “People are so accustomed to these stale galleries with free, cheap wine—and this is putting the focus back on the art. It’s saying wait, we’re making something here.”

One spectator, Smith recounted with amusement, could not comprehend the idea of the unauthorized show. After Smith explained the nature of the intervention, she brushed it off and said “the Whitney did it.”

“It’s just exploring different sites, contexts, and receptions, and exploring the viewers since the viewers are what activated the sites,” Smith explained. “And they were having these real, normal, classic museum interactions with the paintings.”

Base 12 guerrilla art show.<br>Photo: Courtesy of YouTube.

Base 12 guerrilla art show.
Photo: Courtesy of YouTube.

Once security caught wind, the various artists took their pieces and exited. The brothers, on the other hand, were caught red-handed with two paintings. Smith said that museum authorities considered opening a case against them, but ultimately decided to let the brothers leave—with a lifetime ban.

For what it’s worth, Apostrophe’s ventures are labors of love. Smith disclosed that their projects are generally self-funded (supplemented by the occasional dumpster dive). But a precedent of financial self-reliance might be subject to change.

In addition to organizing fundraisers and music events for income, the duo are collaborating with Coney Island to work on a number of murals in Luna Park. They also aren’t complaining about surprise sponsors like Tokyo-based designers CRUCE & Co. which recently sent the artists some much-appreciated promotional apparel.

Given their ambitious plans, the brothers will need all the monetary help they can get. Smith said that he and his brother intend to fly their artists out for shows in Istanbul, Barcelona, and London sometime down the line. Until then, the group is undeterred by the ban, saying they plan no less than two more guerrilla pop-ups in museums, three shows in New York City’s subways, and another three shows in parks.

“Painting is not dead,” Smith said. “Painting has been here for thousands of years and we’ll be here for thousands of years, but the way you showcase it can be contemporary.”

The artists of Base 12 are Alana Dee Haynes, Ryan Bock, Bruno Smith, Caslon Bevington, Sei Smith, James Rubio, Charlie Hudson, Max Kolter, James Reyes, Julia Powers, The Love Child, and Morell Cutler.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics