It Came From Hillsborough Street!


Street art has an image problem.  This is of course nothing new.  The spirit of renegade vandalism is inherent to the medium, just ask any graffiti artist.  Often an integral part of the street artist's palette- right alongside the can of spray paint and a stencil or two - is a concern for tweaking the status quo.  Or to put it more bluntly, it helps to have a loose, freethinking state of mind to ponder: "How much can I get away with here?"  It is a case of the freedom of artistic license bumping up against the boundaries of civic obedience and property rights laws.  The more covert and riskier the work, (skirting the borders of the law especially) then the more street cred is bestowed on the entire undertaking if it's pulled off successfully.  This is very important stuff for an art form that occurs outside of the system of art gallery and museum contexts.   


Back on May 30th of 2009, Joseph Carnevale, a 22 year old history major at NC State University, garnered more such urban acceptability than he probably imagined that day.  Earlier that morning he had an idea for a street sculpture created from ubiquitous orange and white traffic barrels (numerous around the NCSU campus right now due to major street construction along Hillsborough Street bordering campus) and as he put it to the News & Observer newspaper, "it kind of grew in my head, until it was something I had to do."  And do he definitely did.  After pilfering a few barrels from a local construction site, he sawed, snipped, and reassembled them into a startling, larger than life visage of a 10' tall figure standing alongside the construction zone and making a gesture with an outstretched 'arm' seen as either (a) pointing traffic to the adjoining lane to avoid the construction zone or (b) extending a thumb as if hitchhiking. The "Monster's" moment of streetscape glory was brief however as by the next morning, Raleigh police had already dismantled and removed the work and embarked on a search for the perpetrator/artist.  Their break in the case came through investigation of NCSU's student newspaper the Technician whose reportage on the Monster made mention of Carnevale's website.  Quicker than you can say 'traffic safety' his anonymity was undone.  Carnevale was arrested and now faces a court date in July for misdemeanor charges of larceny and property damage.  The case is now entering testy territory.  While the construction company has asked to drop charges (grateful for the plentiful publicity they have received for the piddly cost of a few plastic barrels) Raleigh police are having none of it and plan to continue to pursue prosecution.


The story has extended beyond that initial Technician piece and has been reported in the local Raleigh based News & Observer, at blogs such as, and now extends out to the national media including the Associated Press and MSNBC.   The largest impact is probably being felt online where web chatter is popping up in favor of the Barrel Monster and Carnevale.  Three separate Facebook groups alone have already been established with rapid daily growth over the past couple of weeks and the tweets are already flying as well.  

I see all of this as a healthy dialogue for the city.  It is well known that Raleigh has a tenuous history with public art and while this story is centered in the university community of NCSU, it in fact provides a tremendous opportunity for discussion and discourse about the role art in the public realm can play in the Triangle area's metropolitan life.  While public art with any hope for official sanction and embrace by the civic powers that be cannot justifiably operate outside established legal boundaries, Carnevale's barrel monster shows that artistic ambition, originality, and consequence should not be discounted or underestimated when undertaken solely by personal initiative.  It is, if nothing else, a learning opportunity for the city.   


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June 18, 2009 9:17 PM | | Comments (1)



That is incredibly funny. I especially love the mouth and bulging biceps.

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