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“Battle for Cooper-Young” at Crosstown Arts

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Midtown artist Nick Canterucci is under no illusions.

"People are either going to love it or hate it," he says of the imaginative posters and colorful booklets collected for his exhibit "The Battle for Cooper Young," opening at Crosstown Arts Thursday, May 31st. "The ones who hate it may want to run me out on a rail. I'm kind of known as the Great Satan here, or something."

When Cooper-Young revived its neighborhood watch in 2015, Canterucci went on high alert. He wasn't opposed to the watch itself, or even to cameras being installed to monitor activity in the neighborhood. But he had a timeless question to ask: "Who's watching the watchers?" In the spirit of great Memphis propagandists and pamphleteers like "Tobacco Kills" artist John W. Biggert, the longtime Cooper-Young resident and homeowner took his complaints to the street creating instantly controversial posters comparing the well-meaning folks behind these new eyes in the sky to genocide architect Adolf Hitler — always a problematic opening gambit.

Who watches the neighborhood watchmen?
  • Who watches the neighborhood watchmen?

"I knew it would be criticized," Canterucci insists. "But the reason I used Hitler was I didn't think a lot of people would recognize Stalin or Khrushchev. Even a moron knows who Hitler was." When the neighborhood pushed back against the imagery and its underlying message, Canterucci escalated with more posters. Devils and angels squared off. Jesus joins the Cooper-Young neighborhood association. Stalin makes a cameo anyway.

"The basic theme of 'The Battle for Cooper Young' isn't that the cameras were bad, it's that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions," says Canterucci, who remains concerned but thinks the process has become better and more transparent since he launched his crusade.

"I use a lot of black humor," says Canterucci. "Question everything," he says. "Resist authority."

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