Walking on Swanston Walk there was sidewalk stall selling aerosol stencil art on old LPs; along with the people doing pencil portraits or folding palm leaves into little animals. And then further on Burke St. up there was someone else doing some live spraying in front of a large crowd. I’ve seen people doing aerosol art as a form of busking before; I can remember seeing people doing this back in 2000 on the streets of Europe. The combination of suburban rock icons, the tourist craft stall and street art was depressing but not surprising.
The spectacle of street artists have been packaged and the public watching the spectacle. The books on street art have been coffee table picture books. These have made money for the publishers but have little other than pretty pictures to recommend them. Street art in Melbourne is a tourist attraction complete with guided walking tours, a subject for multiple books and documentaries, gallery and boutique shop designer merchandise and more… just wait until “Secret Wars” is broadcast on commercial TV complete with commentators and ad breaks, no need to wait, they are already doing that online.
There almost is no need to discuss the art that was on exhibition at Rtist or Art Boy we know what a Rone, a Dirt Fish or an Urban Cake Lady’s piece looks like (if you don’t look them up online and you will find plenty of examples). Brand recognition is an important aspect of street art, becoming a form of tagging with images. The viral nature of street art can quickly become a commercial infection empty of anything but a repeated image.
The Urban Art Agenda #1 exhibition of international street and stencil art was “an official Pop-Up of the Melbourne Design Festival 07”. Street art is a significant contemporary style. And street artists are often both designers and artists; a mix that can result in a good income and endless signature work, like Ken Done. This kind of art gives me a vision of the artist alienated by his/her own production line of creation, like a virus producing more and more versions of their signature work. And the repetition changes the meaning of work from an odd charm to a repetitious drone.
Designers and decorators have used stencils, paste-ups/wallpaper for centuries; using them on the street was surprising and amusing but rarely has increased their artistic quality. Is street art just guerilla decorators painting feature walls for the urban living room? The basic design core of street art is filled with ego, audacity and enterprise. Apart from the occasional joke or political statement there is little to most of the pieces except for design sensibilities and the endless repetition of the signature style/images large. There are always the odd street artists who can rise above this; there is the hope that better site-specific art will emerge.
I was going to write something histrionic like “the end of street art” or “these are signs of the end of street art”. Instead I’ll try to discuss this without too many disparaging remarks or starting a flame war but I’ll wait to see your comments. (For more on problems with street art see my post on Street Art and Plagiarism and Advertising and Graffiti.)