Public Art Review


IN PLAIN VIEW: 30 Years of Artworks Illegal and Otherwise

Dan Witz
Berkeley: Gingko Press, 2010
222 pages, $39.95 (hardcover)

Review by: Joseph Hart

When Dan Witz was obtaining his art education at prestigious
Cooper Union in the late 1970s, realist painting was like the
proverbial fart at a dinner party: People of taste pretended it
didn’t exist. This fact was enough to hook the iconoclastic Witz.
From his first exhibition, however, featuring hyperreal portraits
of pasty, overweight, middle-aged men stripped to the waist, it
was clear that Witz would appropriate painterly realism to his
own ends.
Eventually, Witz brought the medium to the streets. His first
series featured gorgeously rendered, life-size hummingbirds
painted on doors and walls in Manhattan. Since then, Witz has
consistently pushed the boundaries of street art, using humor,
his considerable skill, and his enduring irreverence to pioneer
new territory.
In Plain View is a compendium of Witz’s compelling
projects and has much to recommend it. The text is refreshingly
straightforward, the bulk of it being an interview conducted by
Marc and Sara Schiller of the Wooster Collective instead of the
usual inscrutable scholarly essays. Witz’s engaging personality
and humorous self-insight are perfectly suited for the questionand-
answer format.
The rest of the volume is given over to luscious full-color,
full-page illustrations that amply document Witz’s work. Most
of these photos are devoted to his street art. In addition to the
hummingbirds in the Birds of Manhattan series, these include
a wistful series of boats and, more recently, disturbing images
of incarcerated (and sometimes bloody) people peering through
faux ventilation grates and security bars. Witz’s paintings are
also represented.
At his best, Witz captures the unique blend of camp and
rage that are the unlikely twin sensibilities of the punk ethos. His
Lonesome Boats series, for example, portrays a fist-sized rowboat
titled Lonesome, which transforms the two-dimensional steel
planes of dumpster walls into beautiful expanses of water.
Witz describes the project as one of “letting go,” since he
deliberately chose impermanent surfaces on dumpsters and
freight cars. But the series also demonstrates what is probably
Witz’s most radical achievement as a street artist (and the thing
that sets him apart from many others in his tribe): his ability to
find—or invent—beauty in the urban streetscape.
Joseph Hart is associate editor of Public Art Review.

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