Then again, who wants to read, when you can watch a video that explains it all? CDH‘s latest installation, FAKESY, sums up everything that’s wrong with The Art of Banksy (the exhibition I mean, not Banksy’s art) and the art market in general. For the performance, CDH set up a stall selling fake Banksy art outside of the Melbourne exhibition. Watch what happens next…
Did you catch that? The part where CDH is told that he can’t be selling his Banksy forgeries because it’s not good for business at the Banksy exhibition… At least the exhibition organizers seem to be admitting that their gift shop is also full of forgeries. That’s progress, sort of.
Bless you, CDH, for perfectly capturing this ridiculousness.
The Archibald Prize is generally considered to be the most prestigious art competition in Australia. With a first place prize of $75,000 AUD ($70,500 USD) it’s not the most valuable Australian Art prize, but it garners the most attention in the mainstream press and broader community. The competition is for figurative portraiture of a distinguished person ‘in arts, letters, science or politics’ and is judged by the board of trustees at the Art Gallery of NSW. It’s generally conservative and non-progressive- portraits must be painted from life and finalists are typically limited to a narrow set of Australian icons: celebrities, former politicians, sports stars and patrons of the fine arts.
This year Tame from DMA, entered a tag as a self-portrait.
Each city has its own graffiti heroes. DMA are a seminal graf crew from late 80s Melbourne. Tame is typically identified as the person most directly responsible for innovating the oldschool Melbourne handstyle, although when I put this to him, he cited Prime and Dskiz of Ultra Subway Art (USA, Future 4) as the major influences. That’s Tame- like a lot of older writers he’s non-assuming, reflective and a very gentle soul.
I encouraged Tame to enter and I love this painting for a number of reasons.
Of all portraits in the competition, Tame’s took the least time to create (under 3 seconds) but it also took the most time to create, as he perpetually refined it over 3 decades. Think about the muscle memory in the hand that paints a tag, over and over again, for 30 years.
The entry questions the nature of graffiti: can the tag be regarded as a self-portrait? For four centuries, graphologists have claimed to infer a person’s character by studying their handwriting. The tag might be about damage and destroying the system, but can it also be an expression of identity?
Picasso once allegedly quipped that patrons didn’t purchase his paintings, they purchased his signature. Ignoring the stylism of Tame’s tag or the conceptual merit of presenting a tag as a self-portrait, the entry’s meaningful as a cultural artefact from Melbourne’s graffiti history. Whether or not the board of trustees have the cultural literacy to recognize this value is almost irrelevant.
Think about Tame next to his professional contemporaries in the Archibald. How many of them would paint for 3 decades without the prospect of ever selling a painting and with the risks writers face to complete their art? All these portraits are just inanimate objects; colours arranged on a functionless canvas. The painters and their reasons for painting are the real expression of humanity.
This link-o-rama is super helpful for me, because all week I’ve been working on my upcoming ebook instead of blogging. Hopefully the ebook will be out in November… Anyways, links:
I love that this show at LeQuiVive Gallery reframes a certain kind of work that often gets lumped in with street art or urban art as Neu Folk Revival, which describes the work much better than calling it street art or urban art or low-brow art. Some real talent in this show: Doodles, Troy Lovegates, Cannon Dill, ghostpatrol, Zio Ziegler, Daryll Peirce, Justin Lovato… It opens next month.
This piece by Part2ism needs to be seen. And look closely. That’s not just paint on the wall. Very interesting. I am glad to see Part2ism on the streets again, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. Once again, he has shown that he is ahead of the rest of us. This piece doesn’t look like graffiti. It doesn’t look like street art. It looks like art on the street, and that’s much too rare.Swampy has relaunched his website and posted a video diary sort of thing. I’m very curious what people think about it. Have a look and let me know.Check out this concept from Jadikan-LP: Art that only exists within Google Maps. Click the link. Explore the room. I normally hate lightpainting or “light graffiti,” but I absolutely love this piece. As far as I’m concerned, the internet is a public space and Jadikan-LP has invaded it with artwork, so this project is street art.
CDH wrote a really fascinating article in Art Monthly Australia about the commodification of street art. While I don’t agree with him entirely, I think it’s a must-read because at least it sparks some thoughts. It’s one of the best-written critiques I’ve read of the capitalistic nature of contemporary street art. Over on Invurt, they have posted CDH’s article as well as a response by E.L.K. (who CDH calls out in his critique). In his article, CDH called out E.L.K. for using stencils with so many layers that the work isn’t really street anymore, since stencils were initially used for being quick and a piece with 20 layers isn’t going to be quick. It’s just going to look technically interesting. Well, E.L.K. shot back in his response and made himself look like an idiot and seemingly declaring that all conceptual street art and graffiti is crap. There were arguments he could have made to defend complex stenciling or critique other points of CDH’s article, but instead E.L.K. mostly just attacked CDH as an artist. Anyway, definitely read both the original article and the response over at Invurt. The comments on the response are interesting as well.
Apologies for the delay posting this. I have had to hold off posting it due to Illegal August.
Metro Gallery started off the month with the opening of their group show “Writing on the Wall” with works from local and international artists such as Swoon, Rone, Matt Adnate, HAHA, Word to Mother, E.L.K, Dabs Myla and D*Face and more. Some shots from the opening below and more here.
The day after the opening Metro hosted more live painting, this month featuring work by Unwell Bunny, Two One and again E.L.K. More shots here.
Chaotic Gallery’s 1st show BRUISER by Creature Creature was a cracker. A massive turnout for the Southside’s newest gallery. The works were amazing; a combination of the two artists styles which mesh so well together, featuring influences from the samurai era throughout. Check out some of my favourite pieces below and more here. Also check out some of their recent paste ups, which I also love, here.
A note from the editor: This is a guest post by Australian street artist CDH. Although I personally disagree with some of the conclusions CDH reaches in this post, I think it may be the start of a debate well-worth having, and it’s one that connects closely to my upcoming book, Viral Art. – RJ
Street art is primarily consumed as digital images online, rather than as paintings on walls in the physical world. Juggernaut sites like Street Art Utopia pump out new images each day to their million plus audience. Street art fans are likely to subscribe to multiple sites and so this audience encounters far more street art online, than on the streets. The street art fades away but the digital images live on, which makes them the primary cultural product that we engage with.
In many ways it’s very positive; I can view global works from locations I may never visit, or the works may be gone by the time I do visit. It’s also just more efficient; I don’t need to travel all over my city to view the latest works, I can just check out the Melbourne Street Art page. There are many other consequences of online consumption to the street art medium that I don’t intend to investigate here. I’m primarily interested in exploring two consequences of online consumption:
Audacity: Before the internet, placing works in a high traffic location was the only way to ensure a large audience (of generally passive observers). Today a work can be painted in any back alley, photographed and shared online with a huge audience of active consumers. Contextual spatial elements like the police station around the corner and the legality of the work are typically discarded online. So connecting with the audience doesn’t implicitly demand the same personal risk.
Lifespan: Digital images of street art bounce around the internet long after the original work has been buffed into oblivion. In Melbourne, the limited legal spaces make it common to see writers paint a piece, photograph it and buff it immediately for their mate to use the space. The works exist in the physical world for just a few minutes, but live on indefinitely online. They’re made for online consumption.
Online dissemination has generally diminished the audacity and the physical-world lifespan of street art. In the experiment here, I will take these 2 elements to their logical minimum and reduce them to zero. I have created street artworks that require no audacity and have no physical-world lifespan. I do this by photoshopping street art images into photographs of physical locations. Ultimately if we primarily engage with street art online and the digital image has effectively become the art (rather than the physical object), why not make this cultural production more efficient? This just cuts out the laborious middle step of painting a physical object, to then photograph, to then share online.
This is an art experiment, so we should examine these images honestly. My interpretation is this: I think this is an interesting idea but ultimately I think these works are really just a bit shit. If the images were printed out, framed and hung in a gallery it would feel completely in place. But on a street art blog it feels out of place. It seems dishonest. An unspoken rule of street art has been cheated- it’s not on the actual street anymore, so can it even be street art? We had a similar debate in the early 2000s, when street art first transitioned into the gallery system; it’s a weird limbo space outside of what’s really street art. Perhaps it can be called ‘street inspired art’, like the gallery street art was originally described. The term ‘street art’ again appears amorphous and manipulable.
This experiment also draws attention to the idea that street art is really something halfway between art and mountain climbing. These photoshopped street art images are like photoshopping yourself into a picture at the top of Mt. Everest; the real point is that you climbed the mountain, not that you got a photo. Street art is less about the image and more about the task of creating the image. The street art audience is continually fascinated with large scale works. It seems absurd that artistic merit could be proportionate to the scale of a work, but when interpreted through the prism of the ‘audacity and the task’, it seems perfectly reasonable. Perhaps it’s why street art is closely tied to cultures that are intertwined with physicality, like skateboarding or parkour.
What are we actually engaging with when we view street art images online? We’re consuming a digital facsimile of a street work, not the actual street art in its original psychogeographical location. People sometimes falsely believe the photograph is an objective representation of truth. In reality the photographer’s eye subjectively selects images to present. Those images are then open to the same forms of manipulation as the photoshopped images above: Perspectives are forced; contrast and lighting can be adjusted in Photoshop; colours can be enhanced; the photograph might be taken from a crane or an angle that is inaccessible to a viewer in physical reality. So who is really the author of the online content we consume? Is it the street artist, the photographer or a convolution of the two? This photographic subjectivity and influence become even more noticeable when images of the same artwork by different photographers are compared side by side; sometimes they look like completely different artworks. With the online dissemination of the digital image, where exactly does street art end and digital art begin? Perhaps it’s tied up in abstract elements like the intent of the photographer or the place of exhibition.
Post-Script: Coincidentally, after submitting this article, thesephotos, which depict one of my pieces, appeared on the Melbourne Street Art Facebook page. The tagging has been photoshopped out of the original image by the photographer. Random experiences like this never cease to amaze me in street art. On a personal level, it’s flattering that someone has taken the time to digitally restore the work but it also demonstrates that the digital image is not an objective record of reality. Similar to a restoration, the photographer constructs their interpretation of my original intention, not the work as it exists today. What if I tagged the work or intended for it to be tagged? Like a photoshopped image of a girl in a magazine, this photograph represents a mutable, aspirational reality. The photographer and I become collaborators in the construction of a new cultural artifact, that is consumed by the online audience but only exists in a digital realm.
Damn. It’s almost May! Sorry this is so late but it’s worth the wait. March was another action packed month in Melbourne.
Starting off with Baby Guerrilla‘s show in Footscray. Baby Guerrilla’s paste ups have been adorning Melbourne’s walls for a few years now, and they are some of my favourites, her gallery work was new for me and I loved seeing a different side of the artist.
Adnate was 1 of 3 Melbourne graffiti/street artists that entered the renowned Archibald prize. From the Archibald website “The Archibald Prize is awarded annually to the best portrait, ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’.” It’s great to see some more modern painting techniques making it into this more conventional competition. Adnate painted a portrait of Samantha Harris; an Australian indigenous model. Also make sure you check out the video by Michael Danischewski below.
Here’s some of the amazing stuff that happened in Melbourne last month. I’m sorry it’s so late – I am already working on the March post. Damn I am proud to post about my home town. So much goodness every month. Enjoy!
Australian street artist CDH is thinking about the preservation of street art in a responsible manner and trying to get the effort going in Australia. Definitely an interesting, and controversial, read.
The Street Museum of Art (SMoA) has announced the debut of it’s first exhibit In Plain Sight. What that means is that some street art fan or fans have put up the outdoor equivalent to gallery wall labels in order to help identify, draw attention to and explain a few selected pieces of street art. ForIn Plain Sight, the curator(s) have included work by Sweet Toof, Faile, Gaia, JR and others.
This could really easily come across as ridiculous and cheesy, but I think the SMoA have pulled off one of the best actions demonstrating both the necessity and impossibility of displaying street art in a museum setting. On some level, wall labels for street art are absurd, but on another level they are quite useful. And rather than trying to create some sort of fake and inevitably lesser copy of the street indoors (like the installations by Neckface or Todd James, Barry McGee and Stephen Powers at Art in the Streets) or organizing murals that again emulate some of the look of street art but not the energy behind it (like the murals organized for Os Gemeos recently in Boston), the SMoA have just brought the museum to the street, as if to say “Here is the real thing. It cannot be imitated in a museum environment. But it is as valuable to our culture as what you might see in MoMA.” Maybe the SMoA will help people to see things that they haven’t before, and then maybe they’ll start noticing street art everywhere without the help of wall labels.In Plain Sight elevates street art both to make a strong statement about the art and benefit viewers. It’s like a mini version of the street art tours that Stephanie and I have offered in London, but free and self-guided. Great stuff.
The one disappointing thing I have found about In Plain Sight is that it takes place in Williamsburg. Of course there is a lot of great street art there, but I think a lot higher proportion of Williamsburg residents are probably aware of street art already. But hey, even a jaded hipster might be willing to learn something new about Sweet Toof if the text is right in front of her.
I’m curious to see what the SMoA does next.
Also, I’d like to compare what the SMoA is doing to what some street artists in Australia did last weekend.
The artist CDH organized a “Trojan petition” where a group of street artists petitioned the city of Melbourne and the government of Victoria because of unfair graffiti laws in Victoria. The petition was delivered as part of an installation to which 20 street artists had contributed artwork which surrounded the text of the petition. Essentially, these artists say that the laws regarding being found with spraypaint or markers on your person are unfair as they reverse the burden of proof to a presumption of guilt instead of innocence (this seems true), and that property owners who do not take care of their property effectively give permission for artists to paint it (an interesting argument). But they delivered this petition in a really weird way by dropping it outside of a major museum and, for some reason I don’t quite understand, seem to pit museums against street artists even though museums in Australia have been some of the strongest allies of street artists over the last few years (the petition states “Melbourne’s street art is consistently ranked among the top in the world [1-6], unlike any of Australia’s fine art institutions.”). The National Gallery of Victoria, where the petition was delivered, has actually decided to display the work until Friday. So, the gallery where the petition was delivered seems to support the street artists…
There’s more info and a more positive view of the petition over at Invurt, and I think Luke may be writing something about it as well in the coming days for Vandalog. But I just thought I’d bring up that comparison of two groups almost simultaneously trying to make a point about the legitimacy of street art as art that should be appreciated by people and supported by the state or institutions, and making that point in two very different ways. The Trojan petition seems to take a very negative approach and the SMoA takes a very positive approach. Which one do you like better? Although I can enjoy anger from time to time, I think SMoA made similar points a hell of a lot better by staying positive and improving the streets.