Last week, I discovered an article on the Street Museum of Art in New York City. Unsure of how street art can be curated, I visited the website to see just what the mission of this museum was. Self-describing their work as guerrilla curating, their principles of free admissions and limitless hours is rooted heavily in the philosophy of street art. It fits the anti-establishment, subversive tone this medium champions as its position in the art world. The museum calls its approach a radical art form stating,
“The Street Museum of Art (SMoA) challenges previous methods of exhibiting street art. SMoA’s unauthorized program of public exhibitions that call for one to physically walk through the city and experience each piece first-hand, within its original context. Didactic labels publicly posted alongside each of the artists’ works encourage a more direct interaction between the viewer, the art and the city’s vibrant landscape. Much like the essential nature of street art, The Street Museum of Art is ephemeral; the duration of the exhibitions is entirely reliant on external forces and the reaction of the public.”
So what is the deal with street art and what does it mean for the genre to have this new museum context? Well, lately street art has been viewed differently in other sectors of the art world. For example, there has been controversy in the last couple of years over the auctioning of “street art” by galleries. The best, and probably most popular, example is that of Banksy. Banksy, a graffiti artist, political activist, film director, and painter, known for his stencil-based graffiti work emerged from the Bristol, England underground. With his real identity and likeness unknown, the artist is shrouded in mystery. Acting as an anonymous voice speaking on social and political issues, the enigma is part of the art.
On June 27, 2013, Bonhams in London sold Banksy stencil, “Love is in the Air” for £163,250 ($240,040) as part of its Contemporary Art and Design sale exceeding its expectation of £100,000. The catalyst for inclusion according to a statement by Bonhams contemporary art specialist Alan Montgomery, “Prices for spray-paint canvases by Banksy in our recent auctions demonstrate that his works are more popular than ever with high-profile art collectors, reflecting the continuing fascination with his art amongst the public as a whole.” This refers to the sale of the screen print of the stencil sold in Los Angeles in October 2012, but even more so this “popularity” is probably rooted in the disappearance of Banksy’s mural “Slave Labour” from a wall in North London (Wood Green) in February of 2013. The mural later appeared in a Miami auction, but was withdrawn after public outrage and protests. The mural was later sold at auction at the London Film Museum in Convent Garden for more than $1.1 million.
This mainstreaming of street art has not only popped up in these instances, but also have emerged in long lists of website devoted to graffiti and street art including brooklynstreetart.com and streetartnyc.org. Additionally, in his presidential campaign Barack Obama commissioned the work of Shepard Fairey for the image of his HOPE fundraising campaign. An image which became synonymous with President Obama and not just his campaign and brought Fairey and his work into the limelight. It again took art out of the streets and brought it to the mainstream. You can read more about Fairey’s work and influence in this article.
This may all seem a bit all over the place, but for me street art has always been about art for all. It has always been about creating a voice for masses who were not heard, or creating a space in a public place to serve a community. These websites, politicians and galleries, whether intentionally or unintentionally, have now made street art a commodity. It represents the transformation of art for all into art as a limited resource only for those with hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to spend. Will this be the beginning of the end for street art as we know it? How might the genre transform from this place?
 Sutton, Benjamin. BlouinArtInfo – In the Air: Art News & Gossip. “Iconic Banksy Stencil Heads to Bonhams With $150K Estimate.” <<http://blogs.artinfo.com/artintheair/2013/06/26/iconic-banksy-stencil-heads-to-bonhams-with-150k-estimate/>> (Accessed 26 June 2013)