Street Art and the Art Fair

A couple of weeks before the Melbourne Art Fair (MAF) I noticed some street artist complaining on Facebook about a lack of inclusion of street art and graffiti in MAF. Bitching about how can the fair represent Melbourne art without street art. Many of street and graffiti artists are ignorant of what is on at an art fair (Peter Drew of Art vs Reality has in reality never been to an art fair). Of course, there are some artists who have work on the street at the MAF; for example, Lucas Grogan represented by Gallery Smith. As well, there was a forum about art in the street at Museum Victoria on Saturday.

Lucas Grogan in Hosier Lane

Lucas Grogan in Hosier Lane

I already knew this when I stood up at the media preview and put the question to the director of art fair, Barry Keldoulis. He had already mentioned ‘break-out event’ and talked about the fair engaging with the rest of Melbourne’s art in his introductory speech.

Keldoulis responded that you can’t avoid street art in Melbourne. Visitors to the MAF were encouraged with talks and events to move beyond the confines of the Exhibition Building and would inevitably encounter street art. He questioned if street art should be brought into gallery space while noting that there were artists transitioning the two venues with prints and murals. He was certainly not excluded street artists and graffiti but that the transition from the street to galleries and the art fair is up to the individual artists.

After Keldoulis had replied Anna Papas, Chair of the Melbourne Art Foundation (the Melbourne Art Fair is presented by the Melbourne Art Foundation) approached me. She was interested in how to include street artists and wanted to know how the MAF could include more of their work in the future.

Chromatavour in Coburg

Chromatavour in Coburg

It is not that art galleries have been rejecting this art or have been anything like the worst enemies of street art and graffiti, but artists working on the street have so many enemies (police, transport officers, buffers) that almost everyone outside of their cohorts are added to the list. What graffiti and street artists really had to fear was not the galleries making them inauthentic but photographers, graphic designers, etc. exploiting their work on the streets.

I’ve been watching the interaction between street art and art galleries since I started this blog in 2008. Of, course this interaction has been going on for decades longer than that. The art world has been searching for outsider artists for well over half a century. The genuine outsider artist is now a rare individual as there are so many people, from social workers to art collectors, waiting to discover them and expose their work to the wider world.

In recent years in Melbourne art spaces have been springing up to cater for street artists, particularly in Collingwood. A kind of parallel gallery system has emerged but these are not the kind of art spaces who will be representing artists at an art fair.

Sunfigo in Melbourne

Sunfigo in Melbourne


About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

8 responses to “Street Art and the Art Fair

  • Carrie McCarthy

    You get the odd artist who transitions like Anthony Lister, and who manages to maintain both a gallery and street presence, but for the most part…aren’t galleries exactly what street artists are rallying against? If a street artist creates art to hang in a gallery for sale, is it still street art?
    I find the issue really confusing frankly. Street artists deserve recognition, but I would hate to think the impact it would have on a cityscape if galleries had a vested interest in street art.
    Doesn’t Perth have an annual festival of street art? I seem to recall something about it,although I’ve just tried to find it on google and can’t! Street artists should work towards a new art institution that is entirely there’s, one that protects the essence of street art rather than changing it to fit the gallery landscape. Shouldn’t they?

    • Mark Holsworth

      It is a confusing issue, so I keep teasing it out. Street artists are acting outside of art galleries, rather than against, although the issue of outside and against seems to gets confused. There are lots of artists working both in galleries and on the streets from Keith Haring to Lister. Apart from location would anything change – especially with a stencil or other multiple edition work by a street artist? Perth had a street art festival this year – I forget what it was called now or if it is annual.

  • Eucalypso

    You probably already know of it but we have a laneway in Adelaide named after the Graffiti Artist who painted it, KAB 101. Artists like Swoon says she makes her money from selling prints to pay for her street art and has immunity in Brooklyn to paste up. I think it would be great for any city to allot laneways and walls to individuals or group artists to use as a canvas until the city is covered in artworks, including graffiti and tags. Immunity and respect without removal of the works is a good way to start to develop an outdoor gallery. If councils put the money from graffiti removal into paying artists to paint then it’s a win win situation. We need to see the street as an authentic gallery. Allowing graffiti and street artists freedom of expression is central to a vibrant arts culture.

  • Mark Holsworth

    Certainly street art precincts can work for a city (or a shopping centre? see my post and street artists since Keith Haring have been producing work for sale and free work for the streets. Getting the right representation can allow street artists to get this mix right.

  • Eucalypso

    Yes, but I was thinking more of a city and suburban wide plan to become an open air gallery. So not just a space here and there but immunity for ALL laneways, side streets, side walls and especially factory walls. Each city/council area would reflect the art of the people who live there and visit. Giving a single artist or a group who work together a strip of laneway or walls is like an exhibition or ongoing development of work, as commented on by KAB 101 His laneway is an amazing and inspirational place to visit and an example of how this could work.

  • Eugene

    I find the lack of any actual content in a lot of ‘street art’ kind of disappointing. And the inability of some who make a transition to the gallery world to deal with any critical analysis of their work is disappointing as well. CDH has some good essays on his site about this topic.

  • Mark Holsworth

    Street artists can do what ever they want to do; look at how far Keith Haring went on the streets, in galleries and in the pop world (somewhere between the streets and the gallery). But mostly that is limited to creating an identifiable style/image, getting it up on the street and the web, cashing in on this and/or bitching. On a broader cultural note regarding critical analysis: I don’t think that this is limited to street art and I have been finding some similarities with Gamergate.

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