UPDATE: Manny Castro, the artist who made waves when he created imagery of Lady Gaga as Christ, took responsibility today for the giant matchsticks – and revealed that this is a promo for Tinder. See below.
The oversized matchstick on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake leans against a yarn-bombed and sticker-covered bike rack. It's taller than a lot of people, thin and painted white. A red piece of glittery fabric is stuffed to create the match head and stapled to the top. On the bottom of the stick, #Moments is painted in drippy red. It's a generic hashtag.
Look up #Moments on Instagram and you'll get a slew of random selfies. On Twitter, it could come alongside any number of random thoughts. #Moments, though, means something.
It's hard to tell if anyone is paying attention to the matchstick across the boulevard from the Black Cat. It's after 5 p.m. yesterday and rush-hour has started and the crowd is walking towards bus stops and cars, or stalled in traffic. Maybe they're in too much of a hurry to care. Or, maybe they're suffering from buzz-fatigue following February's Dumb Starbucks episode. But online it's a different story.
Since these matchsticks appeared across Los Angeles a couple days ago, people have been uploading photos to Twitter and Instagram. More importantly, they are trying to figure out what it means. Is it street art? A guerrilla marketing campaign? Robbie Conal, the famed poster artist, leaned towards the latter while speaking to KPCC. And then there's the fire safety theory.
Speculation leans towards a marketing campaign for a company (Conal mentioned match.com on the KPCC segment) but does it really matter? Is there a difference between the two?
“I think at this moment in time there is absolutely no difference between 'street art' and a marketing campaign,” says Matt Kennedy of La Luz de Jesus Gallery in an email. “Almost all street artists (and I'm speaking specifically about those in big American cities) are putting their art in the street as a type of marketing or self-promotion, so in that respect is there any difference between a kid with a spray can or a corporation with a new iPhone app?”
Good point. After all, whether your work is commercial or street, the ultimate goal is to get some sort of response from the audience. There's no reason to put any piece of art in a public place unless you want the public to see it. Take the recent promotional campaign for Godzilla. The posters that popped up on construction site walls and other urban facades were clearly made to advertise the movie, but they looked like an artist's wheatpaste project. Does the fact that these were ads take away from the art? Does Alec Monopoly's work change when he paints on a red carpet for Justin Bieber? Is Dumb Starbucks less exciting when you find out it's part of a TV show?
Evan Skrederstu of UGLARworks, an L.A. art collective whose multi-disciplinary work has included street art, notes that just as marketing firms have taken cues from street art, the artists have also taken inspiration from advertising. “It's a two way street,” he says.
Ramiro Gomez, who was recently featured in L.A. Weekly's People Issue, agrees on the intersection of street art and street marketing, adding that the intention of the projects is what differentiates the two. “If the goal is to sell a product then that is street marketing, if the goal is to question the sales of products, that is street art.”
One might think that the hashtag is some sort of tell-tale sign of an ad campaign, but that's not necessarily the case. Gomez says that, when he sees hashtags affixed to street pieces, it's often for a movie advertisement, but that's not always the case. “I briefly came across a hashtagged handstyle graffiti on a bridge over the 10 Freeway East, just past La Brea,” he notes.
Skrederstu says that hashtag markings are becoming more common in street art. “Everyone has an agenda to push,” he says,” and now, more than ever, they have a platform.”
Hashtags become a way of keeping tabs on reactions or connecting with other viewers of the art. “I see it like a bunch of different conversations. Some may be worth listening to and others may not and that's where you the viewer decide,” says Skrederstu.
That the pieces appeared in rapid succession and, seemingly, high volume, doesn't automatically point to the work of a corporation either. “There is an established pattern to this type of guerrilla promotion, usually heralding an exhibition – or at the very least baiting one,” says Kennedy. “Once it's in a gallery by definition it is no longer 'street art,' and there has definitely been some interesting gallery work that incorporates street style and repurposes certain techniques.”
The manifestation of the matchsticks is suspect, but it's still difficult to speculate about the motives behind it. “If these matchsticks aren't an ad campaign for Google or match.com or whoever else, it's at the very least a plea for attention,” says Kennedy. “I suppose we'll start to see these things on eBay soon. I'm not particularly charmed by them, but at least the hashtag looks hand written rather than stenciled.”
(By the way, we did search “matchstick” on eBay. So far, all we found were lots of J. Crew jeans.)
Gomez caught one of the #Moments pieces on Laurel Canyon, near Mulholland. “When I first saw them I thought of the street artist Plastic Jesus, who tends to create oversized pieces as commentary. The hashtag however didn't resemble his work,” he says. Gomez adds that #Moments is a “general” hashtag, it's not specifically pointing to a product. “On the surface, the matchsticks don't appear to be selling me anything,” says Gomez. “My guess is that it's an art project.”
Updated June 5 at 3:55 p.m.:
Artist Manny Castro released the following statement, solving the art mystery – which turns out to be, yes, an app promo:
The mystery behind Matchsticks popping up all over LA has been revealed. Artist Manny Castro is the mastermind behind the ten foot tall glittery red sculptures. Today a giant matchbox and more large matches appeared on Venice beach created by the artist and revealing a collaboration with the smart phone app Tinder.
Not only have these massive matchsticks been popping up all over Los Angeles but have recently made an appearance in the pop duo KARMIN's music video. The artist Manny Castro himself even makes a cameo in the video.
Castro is known for getting a lot of heat when in 2012 he painted “Tastes like hate” on Chik fil A. Manny is known for his interesting and sometimes controversial art and has not let us down with his matchstick street installations. Who knows what Manny has up his sleeve for the future and when he will “strike” next.
Liz Ohanesian on Twitter:
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Facebook and Twitter: