Art, Schooled: Six Ideas for Taking Back Our Taxi Cab Tops

Art! Who goes there? Now: we do. In the first installment of our Sunday art column, Kelsey Keith's got a few ideas for some people who think they know what art's good for New York City's taxis.

At what point do we start dismissing bad art with smirks instead of a belligerent scoff? Maybe when Las Vegas-based sign companies try to get all "contemporary" and "high-brow" on 500 New York City taxi cabs. Like one's doing now.

The adorable initiative by uber flashy Show Media yielded a piece in this weekends NYT Arts section, and even the usually brief reporter Carol Vogel's drinking the ad/art Kool-Aid.

The mix of artists sounds like a bad walk-into-a-bar joke: a Jewish portraitist, Middle Eastern female video artist, and the dame [Ed. Read: "villain."] who broke up the Beatles?

Nice try. However: we've got some better ideas.

Putting aside the fact that a private business is drumming up major national press for a dog-and-pony show displayed on approximately 4% of New York City's 13,000 electric yellow stagecoaches, the selections for this thing aren't entirely bad.

Alex Katz! The guy's been painting pop-y portraits for a billion years and did some really touching ones of his wife once.

Shirin Neshat! She's politically provocative and hugely prolific and makes gorgeous but repetitive videos about the role of gender in Iran!

And, uh, Yoko Ono! She totally broke up one of the best bands of the 20th century and has made a career dissecting [Ed. Not being able to STFU about..] the fact that she broke up one of the best bands of the 20th century! Also: peace and love and acid trips and shit!

And yet. Do these mock-ups look more engaging than the advertisements currently beamed across rush-hour traffic? Or more soul-searching than the Schopenhauer philosophy blithely excerpted in the headspace of the F train? As Kierkegaard might say, Nej. Though Show Media's president-slash-"contemporary art fan" John Amato begs to disagree, telling the Times:

"January's a slow month. I could have cut my rates but instead I decided to hit the mute button and give something back to the city."

Well, danke schoen, John, but 'round here we don't give a shit about your Vegas Vanilla taxicab cones. We like our art loud and proud and like us: at least insane enough to make the average tourist feel a little uneasy. Henceforth, our suggestions for public taxi art that doesn't bore New York to tears.*

What? Standards: we've got 'em.

Diana Al-Hadid:

Art, Schooled: Six Ideas for Taking Back Our Taxi Cab Tops

Al-Hadid's young, represented by a hot gallery, and giant sculptural work—like Spun the Limits of My Lonely Waltz from 2006—turns social theory on its literal head (in that case, a smoking, upside-down cathedral). It also references themes of theology and civilization. Do you prey to God your cab driver knows his way around the West Village when you're too drunk to find Horatio St. at 3AM? Exactly. Topical!

Richard Serra:

Art, Schooled: Six Ideas for Taking Back Our Taxi Cab Tops

If only because his Tilted Arc was forcefully removed from Federal Plaza for taking up too much space in the Wall Street heyday of the 80s. Bring 'er back! Serra's rusted iron partitions would slice through traffic like the dorsal fin of a pissed off two-ton shark. It might also cause traffic jams due to poor sightlines, but semantics! Imagine the aerial view.

Candice Breitz:

Video art's sorely under-represented in the public art sphere, save for the Doug Aitken MoMA installation without sound and the occasional Public Art Fund project. That clock that doesn't help you tell time in Union Square does NOT count. Breitz subverts the "god-like presence" of famous people, much like a typically aloof New Yorker, but with a cavalcade of faces paying homage with karaoke.

Elizabeth Peyton:

Art, Schooled: Six Ideas for Taking Back Our Taxi Cab Tops

Because we're vain, and smooshy, dreamy portraits of famous New Yorkers are cool, and because aren't her painted sketches basically band advertisements already?

Penelope Umbrico:

Art, Schooled: Six Ideas for Taking Back Our Taxi Cab Tops

The Brooklyn-based artist weaves together images culled from the internet to make a point about the wormhole effect of public-use imagery (the more we see, the more it looks the same). Catalogs, television screens, sun flares: much like a large urban city, the collective effect is stronger than any individual properties (see: unions, graffiti, Times Square).

Jeff Koons:

Art, Schooled: Six Ideas for Taking Back Our Taxi Cab Tops

Who doesn't like New York mag art critic Jerry Saltz? [You? STFU, you're in the minority.] Props and/or a fistjab must be given to his assessment of Jeff Koons's Puppy as public artwork of the decade.

[Koons's] work embodies our time and our America: It's big, bright, shiny, colorful, crowd-pleasing, heat-seeking, impeccably produced, polished, popular, expensive, and extroverted-while also being abrasive, creepily sexualized, fussy, twisted, and, let's face it, ditzy.

Playing off the notion of Duchamp's readymades and the Dada manifesto that embraces chaos in artistic pursuit, Koons could make of a hell of a statement if unleashed on the roofs of the city's yellow cabs. His blow-up balloon animals are all of the above descriptors (so is Michael Jackson with his monkey).

Amato apparently worked with society fixtures Yvonne Force Villareal and Doreen Remen of the local non-profit Art Production Fund to select artists "known for work that can read both conceptually and physically in a confined space," seeing as how the ads measure just 14 by 48 inches. Fair enough. I still prefer to think of New York taxicabs as pawns in a giant board game, burdened to the point of toppling with oversized sculpture. Besides, ever since they put those goddamn TVs in them, we're even less inextricable from the uber-commercialization of our city. If we're gonna pretend not to be, and if we're gonna have someone pretend for us, they can at least pretend well.

Besides, are there really worse things than an army of vacuum cleaners and strangely sexy bunnies floating around the sightline of gridlocked New Yorkers? At the very least, it'd be pretty goddamn skippy, and if anything, not entirely out of the norm, especially for those who've spent too much time in Greenpoint/East Williamsburg, Thanksgiving in the City, or a particularly fucked up night in the Meatpacking District.

Kelsey "Yoko No You Di'unt" Keith is the deputy editor of Flavorwire, a blogger, and the art director of her own apartment.

[Ed: Originally, the kicker on this piece was "We deserve better than Yoko Ono." That was my edit. Ms. Keith doesn't harbor the same emotions for Yoko Ono as I do, which are clearly Freudian in nature and likely misdirected. Editors: they happen. Regardless—UGH—Yoko Oko. She broke up the fucking Beatles.]