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FAILE's Towering Night at the Ballet

Posted: 01/29/2013 10:41 am

The dance of high and low art lifts 40 feet into the air as Faile unveils their repertoire of ironic pop imagery at the New York City Ballet this week. As street artists in the then-industrial wasteland of Williamsburg at the turn of the new century, Patrick Miller and Patrick McNeil would have not sought such attention but ducked the bright lights as they aerosol sprayed their stencils on street walls in the late hours.

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Faile. Detail. Studio Visit (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Now in this most unusual high/low hallelujah junction, NYCB's Peter Martins brings Faile's towering visual vocabulary, rising and spilling out at the base, into this hallowed Phillip Johnson designed atrium at the modernist Lincoln Center. Like a painted wooden fountain, Faile's recombinant cultural appropriations reach a new height; their five month study of NYCB's printed archives producing newly entwined storylines and inflections mirroring those they once imagined only for the street.

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Faile. Detail. Studio Visit (photo © Jaime Rojo)

As you walk around its base and view it from the tiered balcony gallery, you can see Faile is messing with stuff again: the re-imaginings of dancers with half-sleeve tattoos as Faile brings in skater culture, the remixing of bodega signage and graffiti writing with art-deco showbill refinement, and even the sly dark humor of a ballerina flying through the air past an appreciative viewer as she sunnily gleams out her high-rise New York apartment window.

This is the visual vocabulary that unfolds in your manège around the base; the imagery, symbols, and pop witticisms that Faile layers deliberately into this one-column retrospective. For their hardcore fans, there are of course the Mao, the Prince Charles, the horse-headed surfer and monkeys in dresses. And 1986.

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Faile. Detail. Studio Visit (photo © Jaime Rojo)

How did it get here, a soon-opening exhibit "Les Ballets de Faile"? Not a typical gig for street art, true, but ballet as an art form has a sort of thinning crowd of fans while Street Art has a sort of exploding one -- one that is capturing the imagination of many of the same people these seats have been missing.

"It is such an institution," says Faile's Patrick McNeil as he describes the New York City Ballet, "You have people who have been coming for 30, 40, 50 years to see performances." Precisely. Quick tangential math inspired by that statement helps explain the necessity of bringing in artists like Faile and coaxing in the Millenials, who will hopefully pry themselves from the glowing blue little screens in their laps long enough to watch the live show onstage. Well perhaps they could send one discreet Tweet about it - #faileballetisawesome. One additional benefit will be that the dancers will see at least some people their own age when the lights come up.

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Faile. Detail. Studio Visit (photo © Jaime Rojo)

"So we had a meeting with Peter Martins, who is the Ballet Master in Chief," says the other Faile, Patrick Miller, as he talks about the new art series the ballet is sponsoring, "and we just kind of showed him our work and all the things we had done -- it was amazing actually. He was so enthusiastic. And when we heard of all the artists who have been involved with them before we were just like, "Alright, just tell us when you are ready to say 'go'!" A completely understandable response when you realize you've just joined a list of artists that include Warhol, Noguchi, Clemente, and Lichtenstein, among others.

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Faile. Detail. Studio Visit (photo © Jaime Rojo)

During a recent visit to the duo's studio in Brooklyn, Patrick and Patrick showed a number of the works that will be on display on the tower, as well as some of the variations on the ballet themes that may not. Because they believe strongly in their process of discovery, the end results, however precise, can be sort of surprising to them. Not that they didn't do their homework.

Brooklyn Street Art: So you gained access to the archives of visual materials from the New York City Ballet...

Patrick Miller:They opened up the archives; they were way underground some place in the Wall Street area -- all their old programs, ephemera -- and we kind of took a lot of that in... (he gestures to a wood painting) this body of the dragon is in a perfume ad in one of the playbills and after seeing the ballet I liked the idea of seeing lightning bolt legs for the ballerinas, so...

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Faile. Detail. Studio Visit (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The two Faile nights at the ballet quickly sold out because of this marrying of high and low, and possibly because the $29 ticket price also came with a 2" x 2" wooden Faile block made especially for the occasion. For the guys, it looks like a sweet and entertaining fusion of disparate elements -- like they are accustomed to. "We were not into ballet, and we didn't really know much about ballet," says McNeil about their experience at the outset, "Our work is from the street and something that is not really from that world at all. We felt a little out of place just going there, you know."

After many conversations, studies, sketches, paintings, screen prints, and nights stacking wood blocks, they don't have any doubt that Faile belongs at the ballet. After their opening February 1, few will.

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Faile. Detail. Studio Visit (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile. Detail. Studio Visit (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile. Detail. Studio Visit (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile. Detail. Studio Visit (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Faile. Detail. Studio Visit (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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The Faile Tower installed in the atrium for the New York City Ballet, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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The Faile Tower installed in the atrium for the New York City Ballet, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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The Faile Tower. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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The Faile Tower. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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The Faile Tower. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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The Faile Tower. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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The Faile Tower. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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The Faile Tower. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The theater will hold open hours for one week beginning Sunday, February 10 so you can stop by and view the new Faile exhibit. "Les Ballets de Faile" will remain installed on the promenade of the theater from January 15 - February 24, 2013.

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