Photo by Catherine Karnoff/Single Fare 2
We love recycled art, and lately there’s been an abundance of it coming from artists giving new life to those 3.5″ x 2″ MetroCards that make this city go ‘round. Most recently the sturdy bench by artist Stephen Shaheen made of 5,000 MetroCards caught our attention, and now it’s New York-based, Guatemalan native Juan Carlos Pinto. Pinto uses the plastic cards to create mosaic-style works of art that depict iconic images like the Mona Lisa or convey his passion for animal rights, environmental preservation, and equality. Artists all over the city are re-purposing the yellow and blue cards to make amazing art work, but what does the MTA think of all this? In a nutshell, they want their piece of the pie, and they’re targeting East Village artist VH McKenzie as their means to a potentially profitable end.
Last month we mentioned the Single Fair 2: Please Swipe Again exhibit that used some 1,300 MetroCards to create magnificent miniature works of art so detailed that it’s hard to believe that they were crafted by hand. The MTA did not take issue with the gallery exhibit because it was simply on display, but the moment a profit is being made, the MTA wants what they believe their trademark entitles them to. The MTA isn’t demanding that an artist hand over a huge chunk of his or her revenue, but they do want 10 percent of the net profit. They don’t care about the scale of the art work or exhibit, they say it’s the principle of it all that is of concern – it is after all their intellectual property, i.e. the MetroCards, that enables artists to create original masterpieces. But if you’re a struggling artist, or even a successful one, 10 percent is a lot to have taken away, especially if you’ve already paid for the MetroCard (a monthly unlimited will set you back $104).
When he was searching for cards to construct his bench, Shaheen received a lot of conflicting information from the MTA about whether or not discarded MetroCards are even recycled or collected. We’ve all seen plenty of MetroCards on the ground outside the turn-styles and plenty more thrown right into the trash. Perhaps the MTA should establish better facilities to capture used MetroCards and recycle them or even sell them to artists at a low price instead of targeting them after the creative process is complete.
We most definitely support artists, especially those who take the initiative to use recycled materials, but we also love public transportation and are well award of the MTA’s financial woes. It will be interesting to see how this all ultimately unfolds. But until then, artists proceed with caution.