Jose Parla, a Cuban-American artist grew up in 1980’s Miami in the midst of its cocaine era, and during graffiti art’s debut as a cutting edge form of artistic expression. Since then, he has combined his street art aesthetic with his formal arts education and earned critical success by bringing his wall installations and paintings in to the white cube environment. Among many other venues, Parla has exhibited at Emmanuel Perrotin gallery in Paris as well as with Deitch Projects in NYC and has been featured and discussed by major art critics and publications. After viewing his impressive resume, I continue to be surprised by how easy it seems for artists to capitalize upon established visual and narrative tropes. While visiting the Chelsea galleries in NYC this past March, I found Parla to be a manifestation of what is problematic of the commercial art scene in NY in general: that there is a rigid fixation on the old guard and a predictable repertoire of work. In short, among many of the reputable galleries in one of the world’s most central commercial art spots, there seems to be very little that is actually new or risk taking in the Chelsea galleries. My impression in many of the galleries was, what sells is what shows and that what shows often utilizes established aesthetics while espousing played out or over emphasized critical themes. Whereas Parla’s success seems to rely on the appeal and popularity of the street art aesthetic, Mike Weiss Gallery’s recent Hermann Nitsch exhibit featured safe, colorful, and fun-loving performances (the remnants of which were for sale in the gallery) while relying on the capital of the artist’s former infamy and affiliation with the Viennese Actionists.
There is a simultaneous escapism and familiarity appealing in Parla’s work which becomes, a carnival of the evidence/impersonations of contemporary life and the sexy side of urban grit. Clear but textually indecipherable representations of daily urban experience make the work accessible, giving it impressions of layers of content, meaning, and human presence while at the same time that they absolve the viewer of the responsibility of really decoding the works meaning, making it a sensorial, what Parla terms, “reading through feeling” experience.
Perhaps there is a cynical assumption of insincerity that underwrites quotidian work presented in a white cube environment. And so, maybe the fact that Parla is one of the grandfathers of the street art movement is historically important in establishing that he was at least at one time sincere. However is there not a certain falseness to work which talks about everyday experience when it represents the everyday experience of that artist a long time ago? How long ago did he develop this idea and how many times has he repeated it since that ideas inception? The combination of these tastes which are so everpresent, from Urban Outfitters graffiti art appeal to the fact that Twombly’s can be found in most museums of modern art, and the fact that Parla’s work has not changed significantly since he became popular, makes me doubt the sincerity of his work as little more than him riding the wave that he helped create.