The Musealization of Street Art: Changing Space, Shifting Perception

1.2- Defining Street Art: Street Art Today

     Since the 1980s, Street Art has evolved into many forms and several of the artists have grown to be recognized and respected names in the art world, despite the illegal nature of their work. Modern technology has allowed street artists to reach a much bigger audience than before, with their work reaching a higher level of fame than what was possible in the 1980s. The work of many artists has appeared outside of its original context and is now visible in books, websites, museums, galleries, restaurants, stores, and more. Street Art today, while still rooted in the past, is a wildly different creature than it was in the 1980s and early 1990s.
     The Street Art world is a vast and complex topic to tackle, with hundreds of artists active in an international context. There are artists whose work is known internationally, such as Jean Michel Basquiat, Blek le Rat, Banksy, and Shepard Fairey, however, there are artists who work almost exclusively in a single city or country, who tend to lack international recognition, such as Anthony Garcia, Part McKinney, and Pat Millbery, all local artist of Denver. In addition to the sheer number of artists, there are several online databases of their work, both curated by the artists themselves and created by admiring fans. Some of these sites are dedicated to a single artist,37 as is the case with artist curated sites, while others feature upwards of 50 artists.38 Additionally, there are a number of book such as Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art, Street Sketchbook: Journeys, Street World: Urban Art and Culture from Five Continents, and more, which address influential pieces of Street Art from around the world. Furthermore, numerous art projects, and even more examples of Street Art are destroyed, moved, and otherwise removed from their original context on a daily basis. Street Art as a whole, while more complex than in the 1980s, is more easily accessible to more people from around the world, and despite its transient nature, is well documented and more influential than before.

     Street Art, while a subgenre of graffiti art alongside graffiti writing, is itself encompassing of several mediums of artistic expression. It includes the genres of muralism, wheat pasting or poster art, tile art or mosaics, stencils, stickers, photography, sculpture, stop motion video, projection, LED art, and almost anything an artist can imagine, use, and create. Though still mostly considered an illegal pursuit, some cities, such as Amsterdam, London, New York City, Denver, Paris, Bologna, and more, have become more welcoming of Street Art, with committees, museums, architects, and even city planners, all working towards promoting the creation of Street Art as well as helping to preserve the art already in place. Some cities even feature museum-like organizations, or ‘diffused museums’, such as the organization known as SideStory in London, which provide tours, maps, and materials for the Street Art within the city boundaries.39 As described on their website, SideStory ‘offers highly curated creative experiences in London.’40 They provide three separate Street Art experiences that explore the ever-changing art that appears in the center of London. Furthermore, other organizations, such as the Google Art Project, provide online maps to point out the location of art within other cities,41 and, as is the case of Banksy, books have been published that map out the location of his different works.42 Furthermore, there are quite a few cases where Street Art has been removed from its original location, and has been sold to collectors, museums, and galleries, in the United States, Europe, and in Asia, as is the case with some of the mosaics done by Invader.43 Several street artists curate their own exhibitions, whether in a formalized space, such as Shepard Fairey’s Earth Crisis Globe installation at the Eiffel Tower and Gallerie Itinerrance in Paris, or in an in-formal exhibition space, such as Banksy’s Dismaland in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, England. Furthermore, unlike graffiti taggers, street artists often collaborate when curating exhibitions of their works. Banksy, for instance, invited over fifty of his peers to exhibit their work in his ‘family theme park unsuitable for children’.44

     More attention is being given to Street Art now than ever, with the musealization of the work becoming a more prevalent issue. Take for instance the work entitled Hong Kong Phooey, by Invader which was placed on the Streets of Hong Kong in 2015. This piece was removed quickly from the wall it was placed on and later recreated for the exhibit Wipeout. The location on the streets of Hong Kong allowed for an individual to stumble unexpectedly across the piece and interact with it as they wished. However, once the only way to interact with the piece became the museum, a large portion of the population lost the opportunity to see this art. Furthermore, the unexpected and playful nature of the piece was forcibly taken away from the image by placing it within the formal world of the museum. Invader is not the only artist to have their work forcibly taken from the street to be later shown in a formal setting. As such, this paper will analyze how this increased attention in museum-like spaces influences the perception of the artwork and the artists themselves, arguing that the removal of street art from its urban context is detrimental to the enjoyment and the understanding of the works themselves and of the message the artist is trying to share.


39 For further discussion of a diffused museum go to chapter 5.
40 "Go East - Sidestory", Sidestory, 2017 [accessed 8 July 2017].
41 "Street Art With Google Art Project", Streetart.Withgoogle.Com, 2017 [accessed 8 July 2017].
42 Martin Bull and Banksy, Banksy, Locations & Tours. Vol. 2 A Collection of Graffiti Locations and Photographs from Around the U.K., 1st edn. (PM Press: Oakland, CA, 2011).
43 Laura Lesmoir-Gordon, ‘HK$2 Million for Invader’s Replica of Hong Kong Phooey Work’, Artnet News, 2015 [accessed 15 March 2017].
44 Xavier Tapies, "Recent Works", in Where's Banksy?, 1st edn (Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press, 2016), p. 208.

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