Art World: Is street art losing its 'outsider' edge?

Art World: Is street art losing its 'outsider' edge?
By Arifa Akbar

Tate Modern today announced it has commissioned a series of giant works of "street art" to be painted on a river-facing wall for the summer season.

So street art is moving indoors. Not literally, of course, but the genre known as "outsider" art often labelled as "graffiti" and regarded as a form of vandalism, is now being celebrated by one of the nation's biggest art institutions.

Morons This news comes as Sotheby's in London announces the sale of a screenprint by Banksy, Britain's most famous guerrilla artist. Banky is said to have created the work, Morons (pictured), in response to hearing that his work, debuting at the auction house last year, had been snapped up by buyers desperate to hang some genuine "urban art" on their drawing room walls.

So a screenprint poking fun at the art establishment is sold by the establishment. In fact, the establishment is now in on the joke. Does this mean urban art is losing its subversive edge? And is it even street art - accessible and (often) transient work created for the ordinary public - if it is connected to a gallery or established institution?

The artists involved in the Tate project are JR from France, renowned for putting photos of people from deprived areas of Paris on to walls in the city's affluent districts, Blu from Bologna, Sixeart from Barcelona, the Brazilian twin brothers, Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, and the New York collective Faile. The murals will decorate the building for three months from 23 May - painted on protective coating so they can be removed without causing damage.

Meanwhile, a new exhibition jointly organised by "o contemporary" gallery is hoping to illustrate the "vibrant spirit" of Brazilian street art at the Brazilian Embassy in London next week.

Of course none of this is new. Jean-Michel Basquiat started off daubing walls with his artwork on slum buildings of Manhattan in the 1970s, but by the end of his short life in 1988, his paintings were commanding high prices in New York's biggest galleries. Banksy's graduation from a guerrilla artist painting by night in Bristol to the toast of Sotheby's, is just the latest example of how the art elite occasionally adopts figures formerly regarded as obnoxious graffiti artists.

The question that some young artists may now be asking is, if street art is entering into the mainstream with urban artists increasingly becoming establishment figures, where do the real rebels go to rage against the machine?

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