City Paper is not for tourists
Tomorrow, the exterior of Jimmy Valentine’s Lonely Hearts Club on Bladensburg Road NE will be covered—that is to say, yarn-bombed—with knitted hearts in shades of pink and red. The cozy facade is part of ARTventures on H, during which galleries and art spaces along the H Street NE corridor open their doors for a neighborhood art walk. Beth Baldwin—-artist, crafter, and self-proclaimed “Queen of Knitting Awesomeness”—-came up with the idea to swathe Jimmy V’s in knit graffiti, and has been organizing “knit-ins” to procure as many hearts as possible for the 5:30 p.m. unveiling. “I’d love to have 150 hearts on the building,” she says. “I am really hoping to make this the biggest yarn bomb D.C. has had.”
Though Jimmy Valentine’s will undoubtedly look pretty cool, we have to ask: Is sanctioned knit graffiti…graffiti? Street art, of which knit graffiti is a part, is generally created in secret and its content is often anti-establishment in nature. Even D.C.’s own renegade yarn bombers, Mount Pleasant’s Warm and Fuzzies (whom I wrote about on Arts Desk last August), go by the street names Pasta and Ruffles. What does it mean when street art becomes part of an organized, marketable event? Is this tantamount to Banksy revealing his identity and putting together installations for Coke? Is yarn bombing all downhill from here?
Baldwin notes that the hallmark of a successful piece of public art is when it makes a person take in the environment in a new way and adds lightness and humor to his or her day. The Jimmy Valentine’s project should definitely accomplish that whether or not the hearts go up with the owner’s blessing. Pasta and Ruffle’s take? “It’s a little different than what we do,” the Warm and Fuzzies write in an email. “It’s more about marketing and less about personal expression, though approved yarn bombing is an innovative marketing technique and it also supports local artists.”
But knit graffiti has another strike against its covert, rebellious rep—it’s been all over the mainstream news recently, from an NPR “All Things Considered” piece in April to a New York Times Style section article in May. Magda Sayeg, considered by many to be the founder of the knit-graffiti movement, appeared prominently in the Times article, where she recounted how she is now paid by corporations to wrap their products in yarn. She once knit a Christmas sweater for a Toyota Prius in a promotional video, and is at work wrapping a Mini Cooper for an upcoming ad. “In the early years I identified with underground graffiti artists,” she told the Times. “Now the very people I feared I would get in trouble with are the ones inviting me to do this work for them.”
If that doesn’t scream “jumping the shark,” we don’t know what does. But we’re trying to keep an open mind.
Photos courtesy of Beth Baldwin and the Warm and Fuzzies.