Monday, January 30, 2012

My quiet obsession with Street Art Part 1


After watching a few documentaries about street art and the explosive nature of its popularity, I rekindled my love of street art and street art philosophy (granted, this is rapidly evolving as the general acceptance of street art "stars" like Banksy, Shepard Fairey and countless others, as legitimate art phenoms).
       Analyzing works of modern graffiti artists poses several problems for me, not the least of which being that I'm not quite sure what I'm analyzing.  As a fan, I am awestruck by the sheer monumentality of the works being produced in urban centers throughout the world.  Graffiti artists in this vein are like super heroes to me.  They pull a Kaiser Soze evertime they create.  As one LA city official put it, "Graffiti writers are like baby pigeons.  You know they exist, but have you ever seen a baby pigeon.".  I love that aspect of street art.  there is something very noble about donating your work to the whims of nature and authority.  Most Graffiti pieces are by nature, short lived.  They are there, they are gone.  If you didn't get to see them, tough shit!  (coincidentally, this is the same reason i enjoy Moddanara street paintings)  It seems insane to put so much energy and thought into something so impermanent, and in a way it is.  That insanity is part of the draw for me, and for better or worse, with the emergence of modern day technology and its accessibility, this is dying.
       "We" as a society, are no longer in New York city ca. 1970's when it comes to graffiti.  Our involuntary assimilation into the social media age has made everything more accessible and easier to market.  Graffiti, being an engine of progressive social thought and expression, goes where we go.  It follows us down the rabbit hole, and the assimilation of graffiti, like the assimilation of society, was inevitable.
       Formerly reclusive and introverted artists are now doing multi million dollar shows in places like LA and London.   "Exit through the gift shop" is a fantastic exploration of the utter ridiculousness of hype culture throughout the world.  Graffiti artists are now selling stenciled canvases for the kind of money that a well known impressionist might sell for at auction.  There is a scene in which Mr. Brainwash is taking phone calls pouring in with offers of 25,000 or more for paintings that no one had even seen yet.  This is the kind of sillyness that exists in the art world today.  Someone will spend 25K on a sloppily rendered stencil piece, with very little investment sustainability, and not give a thought to the amazing quality of work that they could purchase from one of our modern masters.  This is a reflection of a flash in the pan society.  A Russel Chatham, for instance, will have more investment quality for half the price of a Thierry Guetta print.  This I guess is the ultimate joke.  I can see why people would think that the "documentary" is an elaborate joke pulled of by Banksy and other well known, gallery established Graffiti artists.  Whether or not the movie is a "mockumentary" is semantics.  The money that changes hands in this world is very real.  Rubes will still spend money on crap, and the Robin Hood's will eventually become Sheriff.

       So, how do you analyze street art.  Is it even street art anymore?  Can we view and critique street art in the same vein now as more accepted art movements of the past (i.e. romanticism, abstract expressionism, Dada).  More importantly, if we start reviewing street artists works as an established art movement, doesn't it become paradoxical?  If street art is by nature and practice anti establishment, then how can it become part of the establishment?  One thing I do know:  the movement is growing more and more momentum.  It will be interesting to see what path it takes.  The success of these artists, both financially and popularity in the zeitgeist, could end up being the Achille's heal of the movement.  As history repeats it's self, which it always does, will we see Street art become so popular that it swallows its own head?  We will see.

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