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Banksy is often the poster boy of all things street art

New York critic Ben Davis has penned a provocative slideshow essay over on Slate that includes the poignant tagline: “Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop is a poisoned valentine to the movement he made famous.”

I’m happy to see more contemporary art critics grappling with the ideas and contradictions of street art, which is a movement dominated (or suffocated, based on your perception) by fanboys who have no interest in being critical of their beloved art form. At the end of the day, street art has become just another aspect of contemporary art practice — though you wouldn’t know that by visiting this year’s Whitney Biennial.

The money shot:

Gallery art focuses, ultimately, on selling status symbols to rich people, but for this very reason it tends to maintain a certain distance from corporate design. Street art is hostile to established commercial art channels, but has been altogether more comfortable moving in and out of mass commercial culture.

Full disclosure: I’m quoted in the piece.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

10 replies on “Is Street Art Over?”

  1. Hrag

    Thanks for the link to Ben Davis’ thoughtful piece. I enjoyed it and thought he hit the major marks. In particular I thought his description of Faille’s work and the way street artists process information, in a manner much different than traditional art, was instructive. I know that you have expressed frustrations with the aesthetic malaise in certain street artists.

    I wonder if its worthwhile to outline what direction street art can go in now. Would it have to be totally anonymous in order for a piece of street art or a collection of it to be pure?

    What kind of aesthetic challenges must street art engage with and seek to overcome?

  2. I think the purity levels in street art is an interesting thing to bring up. I was thinking that perhaps because some street art has been starting to look like the advertising space it is fighting against may have provoked this reaction. Because purity is a formal issue to me- which may lead to an intent issue. I think the ways in which people make the street art will be something to look at in the future. Are they making it by hand? Are they reproducing already reproduced images- perhaps this issue of reproduction, which is a major characteristic of advertising, is the issue here. Perhaps originality will be the thing to breathe some fresh life into the scene. Street artists are advertisements for themselves- their work- and its a slippery slope, but one not easily avoided if you put up street work. Perhaps its best to embrace that more, but also embrace the work more rather than other things that may come up.

  3. Hrag, the reason I read your writing is that you’re one of the few bloggers who can be critical about street art. The fanboy attitude of street art needs to calm down now that the movement is so mainstream.

    1. I really appreciate you saying so, RJ. I think the attitude is changing, but slowly. Also, I think the street art/graffiti divide is going to widen (and may need to, I’m not sure) if the attitude is going to fully change. While the two aspects of “urban art” (not sure if I’m a big fan of that term yet) obviously energize each other, they seem to have different and evolving goals. What do you think?

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