A Jenkins installation in St. Petersburg, art is on the left, trash on the right. (via xmarkjenkinsx.com) (click to enlarge)

Thanks to artist Mark Jenkins, life just got a little more complicated than it used to be. In addition to the age-old dilemma of “Is it art?” we are now forced to confront the question “Is it street art?”

I should’ve figured this was coming when I confidently wrote in April about the importance of street art looking like “art”:

When street art pioneer Dan Witz began his career in the 1970s, he told me during an interview last year that he experimented by placing objects on shelves around the Lower East Side. He used found objects — batteries, plastic caps, anything really — but no one seemed to realize they were art and since he (or anyone else) ever documented them they disappeared into the ether.

Well, no more. Jenkins threw a wrench into the works with his new work in St. Petersburg. Thanks, dude. Now I can’t pick up litter for fear that I’m disturbing an art installation.

via Rebel:Art, ignant.de, and originally from the artist’s website: xmarkjenkinsx.com

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

13 replies on “Street Art or Garbage?”

  1. On his website he labeled the cup on the right “genuine litter.” So that makes his own piece fake litter? Art(ificial) litter? Mark Jenkins is pretty famous, there should be an on-the-street equivalent of a gallery assistant there to stop garbage men from sweeping up this genuine Mark Jenkins.

  2. I would of thought the cup on the right to be fake litter. Just with how it’s positioned.

  3. Hrag,

    Doesn’t this just demonstrate that it *is* important for street art to “look like art”? Otherwise it will be mistaken for trash, and no one will appreciate it for what it is. This doesn’t mean that all street art *must* “look like art”, just that there is extra pressure for it to stand out from the undifferentiated scene.

    I also don’t think this piece raises the question of “is it street art?” any more profoundly than lots of other artworks (one example: street artists’ gallery work). We have been asking that question for a long time in the form of “what is street art and how, if at all, is it different from institutional, (traditional) public, and commercial art?” I think this is clearly street art; it’s just harder to recognize it as such.

    1. I partly disagree. I think the piece is mobile and is interesting in that we don’t usually expect street art not to be “placed” even it is impermanent. This piece feels unlike other works that pretend to fit in, usually suggest themselves through jokey subtext, etc. This one is both serious and ridiculous and strangely more collectible than most street work. I’m trying to think of other similar pieces but I’m drawing a blank at the moment. Can you think of any?

      1. I was watching or reading something with Shepard Fairey recently, and he mentioned that a guy once covered some sort of heavy object in OBEY stickers and posters, then left it in the middle of a public place. The piece then became about how badly somebody wanted to move it. Sure, it could be moved, but was it worth the effort? Or something like that. I’ve been reading too many things in the last 3 days.

        Similarly though, Sweet Toof did some pieces in NYC a few weeks ago that were heavy, but could be lifted and carried for short distances. He says that he watched as people would try and pick up this heavy box that he had painted, carry it a few feet, and then have to put it down again.

    2. But is it absolutely necessary for people to recognize street art when they see it? For Jenkins, his artwork is usually stolen so quickly that 99% of people just see the photographs or gallery pieces anyway. This particular artwork requires a photograph and an explanation to be noticed, but if most of his work requires a photograph anyway, this isn’t so different.

      Additionally, I’ve recently been doing what I consider to be street art, but what I do pretty much defies documentation and I intend for it to go unnoticed by the public. Is what I do not art just because nobody looks at it and says “wow. look at that. it’s clearly an artwork which an artist has spent a great deal of time on”? So long as I know that I’m making art, that’s all that matters, right? Does art need to be appreciated as such to make it art?

      1. Hey RJ,

        I wasn’t claiming that an object needs to be appreciated in some way in order to count as art or street art (though some philosophers defend views like this). All I meant was that street art is under a certain pressure to “look like art”. Of course, that there is this pressure does not mean that every street artist must give into it. As you point out, some artists might deliberately ignore it. That’s especially easy to do if you plan on putting pictures online with a caption that explains what the object is — street art’s version of an information card.

  4. I think we could be asking not “what is art?” but “what is street?” Is it any public place, including social networking sites? Is a video or jpg that goes viral the new street art?

    1. I’ve been thinking the same thing lately. For me, the ultimate piece of “street art” would be for somebody to hack the Google background so that for even a few seconds, a millions of people would see their artwork or message on Google’s homepage instead of a white background.

  5. I dont see the importance if defining street art in general i think i made this statement, or maybe not yet but you will read it soon in an interview i just finished. Terms such as street art graffiti art should only be looked upon as terms as classification not as a means as definition. To classify is not to define and we might miscategorize a installation as such but to define it would mean that you are pushing your own ideology on something that isn’t yours. The Semantics of this argument have been argued as far back as Duchamp’s readymades and this artist seems to be dealing with some of the same concepts, because he put his readymades in the street should make no difference as to his definition of the piece. It is only another version of insitu. To me many of the street art blogs and other new media try to over glamorize all types of street art only because there whole basis is developed off this new movement, as such every street art piece is the next big thing. To myself good art is good art regardless of its placement or where it is displayed. Many street artists are creating there work in there studios and then pasting or painting in the streets, is this really street art? I have no stance either way on this as i don’t take the street art term as having any real need to be pushed into a category or definition. Like i said for us to classify it as such might be ok, but to define it by your idea what street art is, is only an attempt to pigeon hole something that is a lot larger than just the street. As you know most street artists you all admire show there art in galleries, many times the art is an exact replica of there so called street art, and there is no difference in the aesthetic, so which is it street art or gallery work? We can go on and on…………

  6. It seems like if you want it to be noticed, it has to look like art. Or it has to be documented, and the photo itself becomes the peice.

    If you are doing it for the sake of doing it without documentation, then it really doesn’t matter if it looks like anything. It’s your business and you are probably not doing it to have anyone tell you if it counts for anything.

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