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Street Art Crosses Into the Gallery

Tuesday 18th March 2014

Contemporary art always seems to be reinventing itself. In fact, almost the very nature of the word 'contemporary' seems to imply a constant sense of reinvention and re-examination. Every since Marcel Duchamps stuck a urinal in a gallery in 1917, scrawled the name 'R. Mutt' on it and titled it "Fountain", thereby kicking off the Dada movement in the popular imagination and all that came after it, there has been a constant desire to push the envelope of what constitutes "art". That trend is rarely more visible now than in many types of installation work that, in many opinions, border on the ridiculous (see our recent post about Shia LaBeouf's attempt to apologize for plagiarism with a plagiarised installation/exhibit titled #IAMSORRY).

An equally in-your-face artistic revolution has been taking place outside the gallery over the past several decades, in the form of graffiti. While many scoffed at the elaborate system of tags that suddenly appear across the concrete canvases that fill the urban world, it is growing harder and hard to maintain the belief that there is no artistic merit to the pieces. By now, the name 'Banksy' is popular from the art world to the hipster world and many places in between, arguably the poster child for the serious street artist (though doubtless, he would reject that with a smirk). Any number of street artists have more cult followings, but the popularity is on the rise.

Nothing showcases the rising arc of street art's popularity more thoroughly than the furor that arose surrounding the mural 'Slave Labour' by Banksy in 2013. Painted as a large mural on the side of a thrift store in North London during a single night, the piece depicts a small boy sewing a Union Jack. As a result of this choice of venue/canvas - sometimes it can be hard to tell which is which with street art, as the reactions of the passersby must surely be considered part of the piece itself - the owners of the building instantly became the owners of the piece itself, and had the entire section of concrete wall removed. The piece, such as it is, eventually sold at auction for a staggering $1.1 million USD. If that doesn't drive home the reality of street art as valid, nothing will.

Finally, many of those who began careers and gained fame as street artists have quite comfortably made the transition to more easily saleable formats. Shepard Fairey, a United States-born street artist famous for a number of pieces, most notably a widespread sticker campaign featuring late wrestler Andre the Giant beneath huge block letters saying 'OBEY', was also the creator of one of the most iconic images of the last decade, a red blue and yellow poster featuring President Barack Obama subtitled 'Hope'. Banksy also hasn't steered clear of similar popular fame, having even recently produced a documentary (arguably a mockumentary) recently entitled 'Exit Through the Gift Shop', which we'll be looking at in our next post!

Posted on March 18th 2014 on 10:24pm

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