Sticker exhibit debuts in West Town

January 20, 2012|By Ruthie Kott, RedEye special contributor

It was two days before DB Burkeman’s sticker-history exhibit was set to debut, and there was still a lot to do. Burkeman, a London-born DJ, and his project manager of two days, Ned White, stood around plexiglass sheets, using a gummy tape to avoid damaging the delicate artwork and attaching dozens of Radiohead stickers, from the band’s first album release in the early 1990s to today. 

The Radiohead stickers are just a fraction of Burkeman’s collection of thousands, from political campaign slogans to handmade, one-of-a-kind fur or beaded stickers. He organized them for a 2010 book, Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap, From Punk Rock to Contemporary Art (Rizzoli).

The accompanying traveling exhibit, Stuck-Up: A Selected History of Alternative & Pop Culture Told Though Stickers, has its world premiere Jan. 20 at West Town’s Maxwell Colette Gallery at 908 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago and runs through March 3. An opening reception will take place from 6 to 10 p.m. Jan. 20, and a book signing from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 21.

The project had been incubating for years, since the 1980s, when Burkeman’s skateboarding hobby led him to start collecting stickers and street art. “I don’t really consciously remember thinking I’m collecting stickers.” After his home started getting overrun with his collection His wife, who lives with Burkeman in Brooklyn with their two children, suggested scrapbooking, that it would be a fun project. “Mistake,” Burkeman said. “Big headache.”

A friend who was a literary agent suggested that the stickers would make an interesting book. After doing some research, Burkeman found that there were lots of sticker books, focusing on contemporary street art, but none came at the subject from a historical perspective. “Nobody showed influences of how Barbara Kruger’s designs in the ‘70s were used by the Supreme streetwear brand. And, now, her red-white imagery is everywhere.”

The Stuck Up exhibit features a selection of Kruger-inspired street-art pieces, including about 20 Supreme stickers. “They’re super-collectible,” Burkeman said. “Kids will spend $20 to $30 for some of these stickers on eBay. These belong to Supreme and have to go back to Supreme when exhibition tour ends.”

Most of the stickers, however, belong to Burkeman, who got some of his collection by peeling street-art stickers off walls and contacting designers, politicians, and artists themselves to get mass-produced ones. Once word got out about his project, people started sending him stickers unprovoked.

He’d already had a lot of Radiohead stickers when he started working on Stuck-Up Piece of Crap— “I loved Radiohead, and I just collected them as time went on”—and he wrote to ask the band’s graphic designer, Stanley Donwood, for permission to publish them. Donwood not only gave him permission, but also sent him even more stickers and wrote an essay for the book. “You have to read the essay,” Burkeman said. “His writing is somewhat like his art. Everyone can have different interpretations of what he’s saying.”

As Burkeman’s collection started with the skateboarder styles and music he loved, the exhibit itself is about fandom. “Fans of streetwear brands, bands, cultures,” Burkeman said. There are big graffiti sections, but it’s not a street-art show. “For most people, stickers are a way to express who they love, whether it’s a graffiti artist or a kid with his favorite band putting it on his backpack or a skateboarder. It’s just personal expression.”

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