There Will Be Drama at the San Francisco MoMA
by Daniel Haim
Art lovers, listen up.
From March 31 through July 29, 2012, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art will display the first U.S. museum presentation of work by Dutch graphic artist Parra, whose bold and playful post-Pop style has garnered a substantial cult following. Featuring an expansive mural, the exhibition Parra is organized by Joseph Becker, SFMOMA assistant curator of architecture and design.
Parra’s witty, often raunchy work captures attention with its vibrant color, curvaceous lines, and eccentric, distinctive imagery. The largely self-taught artist began his illustration and design career drawing flyers and posters for music venues in Amsterdam in the 1990s; since then, his cartoonlike, hybridized human-bird characters and freeform typography have become iconic, while his signature hand-drawn approach to graphic design has landed him high-profile collaborations with companies like Nike and InCase.
Although Parra’s accessible, off-the-cuff work and his popularity with youth and underground audiences have led some critics to associate him with street art, in fact his sensibility is rooted in Pop art and the experimental graphics of the 1960s. In this sense, he has less in common with his contemporaries than with artists like Keith Haring or Victor Moscoso, a designer of celebrated psychedelic rock posters for San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium.
In the past Parra has typically worked in editions, but of late he has been producing more unique artworks; the mural at SFMOMA extends this recent practice. The new work, which will extend across the 60-foot-long wall of the museum’s second-floor landing, is likely to incorporate many of the artist’s characteristic motifs along with his experimental typography in a free-floating, puzzle-like composition. An edition of prints will also be produced using a scaled-down version of the mural’s imagery.
Pieter Janssen (who goes by the single name Parra) was born in the Netherlands in 1976. His graphic design and illustration clients have included Nike, Converse, Heineken, InCase, Stones Throw, Vans, Etnies, and Zoo York. He has exhibited his prints, drawings, and sculptures around the world; recent venues include HVW8, Los Angeles; Common Gallery, Tokyo; Project Space, Los Angeles; Pool Gallery, Milan; Patricia Armocida Gallery, Milan; and Lazy Dog Gallery, Paris. He cofounded the apparel company Rockwell Clothing, and performs in the band Le Le. Parra lives and works in Amsterdam.