Peter Dudek: Challenging murals in North Adams

NYC artist Peter Dudek‘s recent undertaking, “House Dreaming (and then some),” is a mural project that includes several related images of architectural structures displayed around North Adams, MA. Funded by DownStreet Art, an organization dedicated to revitalizing downtown North Adams through novel public art projects, Dudek’s series challenges the familiar notion of mural-making that many local governments have adopted as a placemaking strategy for reviving New England’s post-industrial downtown landscapes.

When most legislators seek to improve the economic climate and promote their towns by funding public art, they don’t imagine immersive, three-dimensional projects like Orly Genger’s Red, Yellow, and Blue or Thomas Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument. Rather, what comes to mind are colorful, graphic, murals painted on the sides of buildings and best viewed from behind the steering wheel. Dudek, however, has developed a different approach, working at an intimate scale to create work that can only be discovered on foot.

Peter Dudek
Over the past decade, in addition to making sculptural installations deftly incorporating furniture, construction materials, and handcrafted objects, Dudek has created a series of black-and-white Photoshop collages, which he calls architectural cartoons, using images from clip-art, advertising, and other print sources from the 1940s and 50s. “The images represent a world – perhaps ours – in which buildings not only have a consciousness, but also the desire and ability to self-perpetuate,” Dudek says. For the DownStreet Art commission, he selected several images from the collage series, had a local commercial sign maker print them on easel-sized metal panels that he hung in discreet locations around town, and then organized walking tours to see the compact murals. From a distance (say, from a car), they look like ordinary signs, but up close, they reveal funny, enigmatic images reminiscent of old soda cap rebus puzzles and indeed enliven the experience of walking downtown. 

Future site for another mural.
Unlike traditional murals that elicit immediate but fleeting attention, “House Dreaming (and then some)” invites viewers not merely to drive through town but to participate in the community as if on a playful scavenger hunt. In Dudek’s typical communitarian fashion, after the panels have been on display for a year, they will be auctioned off and the proceeds will be donated to a local non-profit organization. Dudek’s mural project is as conceptually ambitious as it is self-effacing, and deserves close attention–even if it doesn’t shout for it.

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