VH McKenzie’s Battle Against The MTA Goliath

This is the story of VH McKenzie, who, like many others, saw a city MetroCard as an intriguing art instrument, and then fought for the right to use it.

The East Village artist has been creating watercolor or oil paintings on city subway cards and selling them on Etsy alongside other original works, creating what she calls “a world where the eccentric downtown East Village of NYC gently rubs shoulders with the ragamuffin heart of the Caribbean.”

VH Mckenzie's MetroCard art.

However, her subway card artwork raised the ire of the MTA, who sent McKenzie a letter urging her to stop selling them until she gets a license from the agency to do so:

“While we at the MTA are flattered that you recognize the value of our brand to consumers, please understand the MTA has a well-established product licensing program which markets authorized versions of such products. While we have no record of your firm requesting or being granted such authorization, we are prepared to initiate discussions with you about acquiring a license from us.”

“That ain’t gonna happen,” McKenzie wrote on her Tumblr, referencing the recent Single Fare 2 show as evidence that the MetroCard art scene is alive and well: “A full-scale gallery show is permitted, at top-notch prices of $100 per card, but my handful of offerings on Etsy, and at a lower price, are not?

Mark Heavey, the MTA’s chief of marketing and advertising, explained the issue last week to the Village Voice‘s Runnin’ Scared blog: “Whenever we find someone profiting from use of our trademarks, we must strictly enforce and protect our trademark rights. As a public entity, this is our obligation. And the issue is not the size of the infringer (individual or corporation), but the principle.”

The story seems headed for a happy ending, we’re glad to report: after her story was picked up by news outlets across New York, McKenzie wrote a followup post on Monday stating that she had exchanged emails with Heavey. With some changes to her Etsy shop, he claimed, “you may continue to do what you are doing.” (That is, once she creates some new works of subway card art to sell – she’s currently all sold out.)

“I wish you continued success with your ‘fare card art’ project,” Heavey told McKenzie; “the media does love a good David vs. Goliath story.”

Photos from Single Fare 2

Single Fare opened earlier tonight and drew a huge crowd at the reception. The total number of works displayed clocked in at over 2000 this time around. Many artists that contributed last year did so again this year and of course, there were many newcomers. There were even a few pieces by Subway Art Blog featured artists such as Thomas McKean.

Here is a gallery of some of my favorite works from my first trip to the exhibition. These photos do not even scratch the surface. Go check out the gallery for yourself while you can!

Please note: some of the images might not be appropriate for younger audiences.

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Single Fare 2: Please Swipe Again

Single Fare 2 submissions by Alyssa Monks

Subway Art Blog is pleased to announce that there will be a second “Single Fare” MetroCard art exhibition opening this Thursday. Last year, Single Fare started off with a bang, including over 700 mini artworks by artists from around the world. This year should be no different. The founders Jean-Pierre Roy and Michael Kagan suspect the number of works might hit the thousands and are collaborating with Sloan Fine Art this time around which made it possible to add more exhibition days and gallery hours.

The beauty of this show is that it is as democratizing as the subway itself. They will be exhibiting all works submitted, and each will be sold (if the artist wishes to sell) for the same amount of money–just like the MetroCards bearing the art.

Single Fare 2: Please Swipe Again

Opening Reception: Thursday, March 17th, from 5 to 9 pm
Exhibition: Friday, March 18 through Saturday, March 26, 2011
Gallery Hours: Noon to 6pm (Closed Monday & Tuesday)

Sloan Fine Art
128 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002

Official Single Fare Website

Single Fare – MetroCard Art Exhibition

Jason Bereswill, "Snorkler"

It all started with the self portraits above by art student Imogen Slater. Slater’s instructor, Jean-Pierre Roy was inspired by her idea of using MetroCards as her canvas to create an exhibition of MetroCard art by hundreds of other artists. Roy made an open call for submissions that lasted till Thursday and promised to display at least one by every artist that submitted.

The show will be up from May 8th through May 12th at a studio located at 224 Grand Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The reception is Saturday the 8th at 6pm.

Between Single Fare and the other two subway related art openings I reported on, it is turning out to be unofficial subway art week in New York.