A Brooklyn street artist is sharing gifts across the city– if you can find them. See Me Tell Me, who prefers to go by this persona, creates miniature collages, sculptures and trinkets and places them in random spots throughout the boroughs. She posts pictures of her work on Instagram with vague locations, inviting her followers to find the art and tell her when they do.
The idea is for street art to maintain its shock value. “When you go to a gallery, you know there’s going to be art,” says See Me Tell Me. “But when you walk down the street and all of a sudden there’s a great tag or wheat paste, it stops you in your tracks.”
See Me places her art in areas where pleasant surprises are minimal. Fragile works are stowed in subway cars or stations, while more durable works are taped on lamposts, wall cracks or graffiti alleys. Her pieces also vary in style. Sometimes she makes human and animal figurines out of liquid plastic. Other times she creates miniature collages of magazine clippings, photographs and colored xeroxes which she puts into small baggies.
“People think I’m five different artists because my work looks different in every single series,” See Me says. “A lot of people thought I was a guy for a while. That was funny.”
Her artistic range comes from a long career in fine art, at New York galleries like Spanierman and David Miller. Originally a curator from Wichita, Kansas, See Me moved to New York City in 1993. After rising up in the ranks in New York’s gallery scene, from archivist to gallery director, See Me decided to release her own art into the streets in 2010, for free. Setting a quota of at least 10 released pieces a day, See Me has gifted thousands of works, which have been found and transported to new hiding places including Mexico, Italy and Greece.
Social interaction has always been a major part of See Me’s work. When she began street art in 2010, she encouraged collectors to email her their reactions. She received hoards of heartfelt messages from collectors ranging from a teenager who’d seen her art coming up the escalator at West 4th Street station to a Brooklyn police officer who’d spotted her work at a construction site.
“My name is christy! I found one of your gifts. I saw it light up and was wondering what it was. I literally put my face up to it. My classmate stared at me like I was stupid. I pulled it off the wall and then read the back. I looked up your blog and starting jumping up and down. My friend laughed at me like a dumbass and this is where I am!”
“I was on patrol in Brooklyn Bridge Park near one of the piers that is under construction. This Shawabit was perched, magnetized to a metal structure. When I picked it up, I felt right away that it belonged to me. Strangely, I felt that it was magical and I placed it in my pocket being careful not to break or lose it the rest of my tour of duty.”
Once See Me joined Instagram (@seemetellmenyc), playing hide-and-seek with her pieces became more popular. Though she may not be getting as many long letters, she has gotten many reposts by people who have spotted her work in Greenpoint, Bushwick and especially in her home base of Carroll Gardens. She’s also gotten an increasing amount of “chasers” — people who go on the hunt for her work as soon as she releases a photo and location.
“The first time it happened, it startled me,” See Me says. “And then it continued. A guy the other day saw me putting up a piece and the next day, I was sitting in my favorite bagel shop and he sat down beside me and said, ‘I love your work!’ I ⁅was like⁆, ‘Oh my!’”
See Me Tell Me only has 816 Instagram followers, but these chasers have formed a quasi community of grade-school students, millennial couples and middle-aged folk dedicated to her gifts.
“There’s a whole mix,” she says of the group, which she mostly talks to via Instagram. “They make little galleries of ⁅my work⁆ and they make ritual sites. It’s really kind of adorable.”
These days, Instagram could be blamed for turning profound street art into dense selfie bait. But See Me Tell Me wants it to be less of a belittling force and more of a portal for discovering art. By day, she’s an adjunct professor of an art history course on graffiti and street art at City College, where she takes students to analyze art at Bushwick Collective, Freeman Alley and around Soho. She requires her students to post street art to Instagram five times a week.
“I tell them, if you don’t want me looking at your naked selfies, you need to create an Instagram just for this class,” she jokes.
See Me encourages aspiring artists to use Instagram to foster their separate, artistic identity. “You can be anybody you want and create this marvelous persona and be a completely different person,” she says.
The self-described “old grey-haired lady” says she’s “very shy; if we met at an opening or on the street we would talk about the weather, I would foist one of my works on you, and we would walk away.”
As a street artist, however, See Me Tell Me has had her share of action. She’s already been banned from a museum in Philadelphia for attempting to leave her work in hallways or restrooms. Nonetheless, See Me considers her work to be relatively benign. For all the chasing and hiding surrounding it, she hopes it has a calming effect on whoever finds it.
“That’s kind of my vibe, to change their mood, to change their chemistry for the day,” she says. “I just want them to have something from the world, from me, in their lives.”