The concept of ‘street art’ has always seemed contradictory to me. Unlike most other forms of art, the author is using someone else’s property to produce his work. He doesn’t own the canvas, the wall is just there in the city. What is more, this is by far the only type of art I know that is usually considered a crime. The drawings don’t last long – most of the time, the owner of the building paints them all over, expecially if they don’t agree with the message or with the artist’s style.
Street art has a hybrid place in the media landscape – some artists only produce their work hidden in the anonymousity of the night and their artistic nickname; others take part in contests, or even engage in advertising creating custom works for specific brands (Sprite and Nissan to name but a few; street art often means ‘urban’ in their messages). In the last years, street art has also found its way to art galleries and museums.
EDIT: This is, as our tutor Spencer Murphy called it, legitimizing street art.
After a lecture about context, it was an interesting experience to visit the ‘Street art’ exhibition at ‘The Herbert’ gallery in Coventry. A very good example of putting works out of context – with some artefacts, I felt like lost in translation – they were saying something, but it was just a phrase from a longer conversation I wasn’t part of, and the exhibition wasn’t part of it either. What is more, the exhibition claimed:
[it] also represents the Herbert’s desire to bring street art in its rawest form into the gallery. We want visitors to smell the spray paint and see the skill that street artists bring to their work. As street art is constantly evolving, the exhibition also offers the artists a chance to experiment with their work.
This sounds authoritative; this is not even close to the raw form of street art – it’s not about the spray paint and colours, it’s about the messages and the meaning of it all. What is more, it felt like the gallery is trying to put the artists and their works in order, in some kind of register; they claim to be a source of knowledge for the visitors too, which sounds like ‘You don’t have to think about it, you don’t have to go out in the streets to understand it – here, we’ve created a safe place for you to see what we think you should know and understand about street art’.
What I was constantly reminded of while looking at the works and the whole feeling of the exhibition, was Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. On one side, street art and Floyd’s album both share the common concept of walls, society, protest, art, opinion. On the other side, the manner of presenting the exhibition reminded me of the lines:
We don’t need no education;
We don’t need no thought control…
(‘Another Brick in the Wall’)
In conclusion, I have now started questioning the whole concept of galleries and museums, and now I know why I always tend to feel lost in them – you can just never recreate contexts.