The Musealization of Street Art: Changing Space, Shifting Perception

Clet Abraham and His Stickers

     Clet Abraham is a French artist who has been living in Italy for over twenty years. He is most widely known in his base city of Florence. However, he has also made a name for himself in international venues across the world through his sticker art. Clet’s art is quite simple in concept, but striking in nature. He cleverly adds stickers to road signs, from no entry signs, to turn signs, no through road, bicycle, no stopping, and pedestrian crossing signs. While it is illegal to modify street signs, Abraham views his work as a service to the city, claiming that street signs are inherently visible aspects of the city aesthetic that created a visual pollution, pollution that he is able to ‘clean up’ through his stickers. Due to the illegal nature of his work, Abraham has been fined on several occasions, and on January 3rd, 2015, Mami Urakawa, Clet Abraham’s girlfriend, was detained in Osaka, Japan, after ‘defacing traffic signs’. Clet, though not detained, reportedly said to the Fuji News Network, ‘if police ask me whether I did it, I would say yes’.[1]

     Not only has he applied his stickers to street signs across Italy and in Osaka, but also his work has been seen in New York, Brussels, and a handful of other cities. In 2014 Clet was contacted by the Prefecture of the Parisian Police Force with a request to install his stickers on the signs across Paris. He was ‘invited to present his work in Parisian schools and to reinforce the importance of the Highway Code’. The Prefecture stated, ‘the air pollution in the city [Paris] today is such that nobody looks at the road signs anymore’ and that Clet Abraham’s work draws attention to these signs’.[2]  Furthermore, in 2015, he collaborated with the mayor of Paris’ 13th Arrondissement, and was allowed to work freely on the signs on Place d’Italie.[3] His unique style of art has reached extensive audiences around the world through their highly visible locations. Though he is not as well-known as other street artists, ask any resident of Florence about the street sign stickers and they will be able to point you to at least one.  

     Abraham is included in the analysis of Street Art alongside more well-known artists such as Shepard Fairey and Banksy for a few reasons. First and foremost is the unique medium in which he works. Shepard Fairey also got his start in sticker art, but he quickly moved away from stickers and never evolved his stickers beyond his Andre the Giant campaign, instead focusing his efforts on posters. Clet, however, has explored many ways to bring creativity and uniqueness to his stickers. Additionally, his work is specific to the urban context of Florence, where it originated in response to the visual pollution across the city. Though his work is not political like many of the other street artists in this thesis, his work is a reaction to something he is against, that of the rule-enforcing aspect of street signs. Clet uses his work to raise awareness of the negative aesthetic that street signs contribute to the city. Finally, I’ve included Clet Abraham in the discussion of the musealization of Street Art to better provide commentary on Street Art as a whole. While Shepard Fairey and Banksy’s work is political, and JR and Blu’s work often provide social commentary, the work of Clet Abraham, alongside Invader, provides a perspective on the artistic freedom of Street Art, and creating street art for the sake of art. Abraham’s work, though not as famous as the work of others, will play an integral role in the discussion of street art in the urban context.
 

[1] Magdelena Osumi, ‘Woman Held in Osaka For Allegedly Turning Traffic Signs into Street Art’, The Japan Times, 2015 <http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/01/15/national/crime-legal/woman-held-osaka-allegedly-turning-traffic-signs-street-art/#.WMmSpTvys2w> [accessed 15 March 2017].
 
[2] Catriona Miller, ‘Crème De La Clet- Clet In France’, The Florentine, 2014 <http://www.theflorentine.net/news/2014/05/creme-de-la-clet/> [accessed 15 March 2017].
 
[3] Elena Berton, ‘Turn Left...For Love: Clet Abraham's Hacked Street Signs- In Pictures’, The Guardian, 2015 <https://www.theguardian.com/cities/gallery/2015/may/21/clet-abraham-hacked-street-signs-in-pictures> [accessed 15 March 2017].

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