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Pro Arts Gallery opens an exhibition of works by Burning Man Festival cofounder John law
Lion Gate Bridge Vancouver, BC, Canada, 2002.

OAKLAND, CA.- SIGNMAN: John Law is a three-month long retrospective of John Law - an American artist, culture-jammer, and co-founder of the Cacophony Society, the Burning Man Festival, and other seminal artistic and cultural movements that continue to inspire contemporary artists today. Curator of this retrospective is Executive Director and Curator of Pro Arts Gallery, Natalia Ivanova Mount.

SIGNMAN: John Law features original works, spanning the last four decades of Law’s art practice. As part of this exhibit, visitors will encounter rare documentation of events, pranks and actions by seminal art and culture movements of the past; neon sculptures; photography; and multi-media installations.

“John’s work offers tales from the underground that challenge our contemporary moment, characterized by a zombie like addiction to social media, weakened ability and will to gather, explore and wonder informally,” says curator of the retrospective Natalia Ivanova Mount.

We need the rituals of the underground today more than ever so we can imagine the world beyond capitalism, beyond commodification, and the menial production of objects and ideas in an art world, beholden to a market value. It is time to give props to one of the most underrecognized luminaries of the avant-garde, John Law.

To contextualize the importance of John Law’s work within the eco-system of the San Francisco independent and alternative art scene, luminaries in their own right, Don Herron, Julia Solis, Ron English, William Binzen, Mark Pauline, and Scott Beale contributed to the retrospective, through the In Conversation public program series of talks and presentations.

Originally from Michigan, Law has lived in San Francisco since 1976. His first taste in the avant-garde SF art scene of the late 70s was his involvement with the The Suicide Club, founded by Gary Warne in 1977 as a class at San Francisco State University’s free alternative school, Communiversity. The Suicide Club, known for using the format of urban adventures, street theatre, and public pranks, such as the naked cable car rides and stunts like climbing the Golden Gate Bridge, became an important artistic and cultural movement that countered and disrupted the hegemony of the mainstream, modern life. This group is noted as a primary progenitor of the modern urban exploration movement as well as an early touchstone for the developing hacking, culture jamming and street art movements.

In 1986, when The Cacophony Society emerged, John joined the rest of the founders. This San Francisco movement, based in the aesthetics of the Dadaist and Situationists, organized events such as the Bastille Day celebration, during which guests dressed in 18th century attire fed cake to the homeless while guillotining political effigies. By the late 90s, The Cacophony Society was big with chapters in LA, Seattle, Portland, over twenty North American cities, and even International countries, influencing forever the trajectory of American transgressive art, pranking, street art, and what the Europeans have termed “psychogeography.” In 2013 John Law, along with Kevin Evans and Carrie Galbraith, co-authored Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society, a book published by Last Gasp, documenting this seminal movement. Apropos, The Suicide Club and its later incarnation The Cacophony Society are quoted to be the primary inspiration for Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club.

In 1977, John Law cofounded another seminal, guerilla art movement with roots in San Francisco – the Billboard Liberation Front. BLF raison d'etre was to make “improvements” to billboard advertising. BLF influenced contemporary artists like Shepard Fairey, Swoon, and Banksy. Over the years, Apple Computers, Levi's Jeans, Marlboro and Exxon have all fallen victim to the BLF’s clandestine billboard hacking. To date, the group's best-known piece remains the 1996 "improvement" job of a Joe Camel ad, which even included the wiring of a new neon sign.

Law has been a neon sign tradesman/contractor for 35 years and his trade was an influence on his avocation as a neon artist.

Law is cofounder of the Burning Man Festival. Along with Kevin Evans, Law was the primary influencer in moving Burning Man to the Black Rock Desert in 1990. He originated the neon skeleton for the figure of the man and was among the first artists to contribute to the desert festival. Due to artistic differences, Law left the Burning Man Festival in 1996.

“Considered one of the “OG’s” of the UrbEx movement and the art of ‘hacking’ hidden spaces, John continues to adventure with San Francisco’s pranking and transgressive art communities. He also continues to climb bridges, explore tunnels and explore with the current iteration of mysterious “UrbEx” characters. Law is a crew members of Survival Research Labs (SRL) and SF CyclecideBike Rodeo.”

Along with Flecher Fleurdujon, Law directed and produced a feature documentary, Head Trip that featured bike rodeo antics, and San Francisco artists on a road trip to New York City.

For over a decade now, Law has lectured in museums, libraries, tech conferences and universities around the world on the history of the Bay Area underground art & pranks scene and its influence on the larger world.

Since the late 1980s, Law has conceived, designed and fabricated many mixed media art pieces, all incorporating neon as a primary element of the pieces. In his shop on Treasure Island, San Francisco, Law created new neon art pieces incorporating various plastic media, transparencies, found objects, and text. Several of his past neon works were part of elaborate pranks including three of the pieces on display in the SIGNMAN: John Law retrospective.

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