Will Coles, the street art sculptor of cast concrete, was at the opening of This is Not a Toy Store’s new location on Lygon Street. He was handing out postcards with an Apocalypse Now meme: “I love the smell of street art in the morning. The smell, you know, that graff smell. Smells like … a fashionable investment opportunity.”
Coles reminded me that none of the street art sculptors I wrote about in my book Melbourne’s Sculptures is still working on Melbourne’s streets. Seven years after, where are they now? Coles is living in Spain. Mal Function is busy with his foundry. CDH is reproducing genetically similar life forms. GT Sewell was selling NFTs. And Junky Projects lives wild and free from this dirty old city.
And it is not as if a new generation has come along that has been so prolific over an extended period or as audacious. Golden head has yet to make an appearance for over a year. So please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think street art (not just street sculpture) in Melbourne is dead, or, instead, to employ a less morbid metaphor, street art is tailing off, markedly declining. Declaring an art movement dead is such a 20th Century thing when a progressive art theory meant the next movement would logically replace previous movements.
I can’t say I’m surprised. I could always hear the sound of cash registers ringing with street art. And both major politic parties in Australia have moved further to the right, militarising and persecuting dissenters and whistle-blowers. Like all love affairs, I’m just disappointed it didn’t go on for longer and had to end like this.
When I fell in love with street art, I saw a utopian aspect where art from the people and by the people decorated the city’s least attractive features. People are taking action to make their lives more meaningful. People who want to make art, to be something other than a consumer or a worker. Psy-ops for civilians, a form of free and public expression. A creative and joyful response to being alienated in an ever-changing city. A way of connecting place with identity. Propaganda by deed, encouraged more street art—a subversive counterforce against mainstream advertising.
Others saw it as a commercial opportunity for themselves, like promoting NFTs or some other product. Consider Time-Rone show (see Giles Fielke’s review in Memo https://memoreview.net/reviews/timerone-by-giles-fielke). Rone did not promote his exhibition at Flinders Street Station with the old-skool method of a blitz of new street art. No, he abandoned the street once the business objective is achieved.
Adrian Doyle writes almost entirely about the commercial opportunities of how “nu-muralism” has replaced street art (see the CBD News). https://www.cbdnews.com.au/nu-muralism/ There is little consideration of these murals’ aesthetics or content because they are conservative in both style and content, especially when compared to Melbourne’s murals from the late 20th century. Geoff Hogg’s Melbourne Central Station Mural http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/search/nattrust_result_detail/65289 is radical, especially compared to the kitsch sentimental ANZAC biscuit tin art and uncritical Australiana of “nu-muralism.”
Street art didn’t die under the gaze of academics, from street art festivals, or from being preserved in art collections. Nor was it killed by government regulations or policing. No, it largely poisoned itself, assisted by social media likes, to subvert a progressive vision. That said here is some recent street art from Melbourne.