Home PageArchivesVolume no. 1Issue 2Public Art: Burke

Power to the Peeps

Erik Burke


The idea for “Gallery” grew out of my gravitation to the public space. My fascination and participation in the graffiti and street art world was like a tectonic shifting of public and private plates that began to converge, and in 2005 I discovered two impulses that fuel a majority of my projects.

The first concept is to redefine the role of the gallery and create alternative gallery spaces following a DIY mentality. The age-old adage goes, “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.” In the case of ad-hoc street galleries, it’s also better to break in than break even.

The second concept was to return to the question of what constitutes “art.” For me, the formula was as easy as a quick spritz of spray, and for “Gallery,” as I came across a site that was visually interesting, I applied a stencil of the word. The hope was that, just as Marcel Duchamp used the power of selection to redefine everyday objects with his Readymades, I, too, could subconsciously alter the viewer’s perception with simple subtext. As I tested out my hypothesis with the “Inside Outside Gallery” in Sacramento, California, I concluded that being a real estate Robin Hood was fairly simple.

Since there are public spaces in every city that at some point or another become a property purgatory, I attempted to re-purpose these spaces. As I experimented with varying methods of reclaiming seemingly abandoned spaces, I realized the ease and importance of leveling the social hierarchies that can often prevent people from engaging with “art.” By detouring from typical gallery structures, I reduced costs, increased visibility, and played a new role in neighborhood dialogue. It was also fun.

From the beginning of the Gallery projects, I’ve gone from working completely solo to collaborating with an assemblage of amazing participants.. As the exhibiting artists interacted with the neighborhood residents, exciting and much needed exchanges created new community ties that were priceless. Just as a normal wall became spotlighted by the simple word “gallery,” so too did residents through the catalyst of art.


Erik Burke is a public artist whose individual and collaborative projects can be found in major American and European cities. He’s the recipient of numerous public arts grants and awards, and he calls Brooklyn home. Visit his website at www.eriktburke.com.

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