19th February, 2020.
Once confined to the walls of public and private interiors, the display of art has shifted dramatically in recent decades. As the situation and surroundings of artwork begins to challenge the viewers’ perception of what defines art today, its value, place and context is being called into question.
It’s a little akin to the chicken and egg scenario. Did the alteration in a large portion of artistic subject matter change in response to the audience it was created for, or did the change in audience inform the content? Just as street art and public installations have seeped into our civic and urban environments, the expectation on their aesthetic appeal and ability to resonate with the masses has come into focus. The public context of street art has ultimately moved it away from traditional arts more conservative place of exclusivity, to the much broader appeal of inclusivity.
Anonymous street art in Melbourne. Image courtesy of @deansunshine
The positive reception of public artworks is anchored in all the measures of a modern society – mostly its political relevance, marketing appeal, trend, aesthetic appeal and social media status. Beginning in the 1980’s, street arts conception is largely credited to arts such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Evolving from graffiti tags first seen in the 1920’s, to the blanket effect seen in the New York subway from the 1970’s, the subculture that Haring and Basquiat essentially kicked off resonated with a much larger cross-section of society than what traditional art galleries had previously catered for. In the 90’s Banksy’s work took street art further when staggering value was placed on it, bringing it into stronger commercial relevance. Other street artists, KAWS and RONE being perfect examples – have since taken up this mantle, moving street art into yet another realm that blurs the boundaries between public and private exhibition. However, does art created for the street hold the same allure and brevity when displayed in a gallery environment?
Melbourne street artist RONE blurs the boundaries between street and gallery by redefining the context of his works exhibition.
Last weekend in Melbourne a public tribute mural was unveiled that spoke volumes about deviating perceptions of public art and its context in the art world and beyond. Street art documenter, Dean Sunshine, in collaboration with the NGV facilitated the creation of a large-scale mural with eight local street artists in tribute to Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The influence these artists have had on the global street art scene, and the way their work has challenged how society views and engages with street art is paramount to its continued evolution. While displaying street art in a gallery context may be seen to remove the subversive nature of its creation, it is the maintenance of its inclusivity that will ultimately signal its success.
Haring | Basquiat Tribute mural in Melbourne.
Moving forward, more and more street art has begun to be exhibited within the gallery space. Whether this is purely commercial, a conscious effort towards displaying work that will reignite the publics fascination with galleries as opposed to the subversive street backdrop, or a simple unbiased effort to portray art that articulates the political, economic and social climate is neither here nor there. Street art does all these things. What will be interesting to see is whether or not the ability for street art to powerfully reflect societies existing conditions becomes lost within its new context off the street.
Words by Tiffany Jade.