Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Graffiti Art: Sacrosanct or Sacred Cash Cow?

Should really good graffiti art be treated as a rare and valuable artistic resource to be preserved or should it be left in it's original environment and let whatever happens to it happen, as part of the validity (or invalidating in some cases) of the piece? 

That question, as well as who really owns the art has been a big arts world debate this past month. 

The heated discussions have been sparked by our quirky friend, Mister Banksy. Who no doubt is having quite the chuckle over all this. I think I'm in love with this guy. His self-effacing and contradictory sense of humor definitely makes him as intriguing as his art. So I take back everything I ever said about the art always being more important than the artist. It's no surprise that the artist Banksy is becoming as much an artistic product as the art he produces.  I do believe whether this is intentional or not depends on which brand of coffee he drank on a particular morning. And that makes me smile.

Banksy defies, resists, hops in and out of, any and all boxes the public, including art critics, try to place him in. The thing is he doesn't do it in a vapid "look at me" way. If you study his art with its political, ecological and social commentaries you can see that he creates to provoke thought. Isn't that what art is supposed to do. From this is born the conundrum. Should it be preserved and protected so generations can be exposed to its thought provokedness... or by removing it and turning it into a commodity, does it invalidate the purpose of the art? 
Is it like the process of living: you're either lucky you got to experience something by being in right place and time or you weren't?

Banksy recently left four works in Detroit. One was "removed" by a non-profit gallery, one was destroyed during attempted removal and one was power-washed away by a building owner (ouch). 

The lone remaining painting is of a cartoon rat balancing on a tight rope (which is really a rusted old chain that hangs there.) The Tightrope Rat has become a favorite for Banksy fans and undoubtedly an arts destination since the exact location is now well publicized for visitors.

The "preservation" of the "Packard Plant Mural" has created an uproar with the arts world (once again) dividing on each side of the crumbling graffiti splattered wall.  The gallery that removed the painting from the original site has had to hide the art after receiving numerous threats. The mural's removal touched off an impassioned debate about the meaning, legality and ownership of graffiti art. It's a valid question. Once the artist walks off... who does it belong to? The building owner, the city, whomever finds it and claims it?

In a recent and rare interview Banksy gives his thoughts on permanence of graffiti art.
"Graffiti isn't meant to last forever.... I've always been uncomfortable with the way galleries put things on a pedestal. I think art should be a two-way conversation, not a lecture from behind glass. I'd like to say I'm politically motivated but the reality is I'm just far too lazy for capitalism. If Banksy has become a brand, then it's a brand that doesn't believe in itself. There's probably a contradiction in hiding your face while shooting off your mouth. But I don't think it's terminal."
So according to Banksy, anything that happens to the art he leaves behind - whether it is enshrined on site as an altar to the gods of graffiti or destroyed by random or intentional "accident" is all a part of the dialog with the art. Just don't let the galleries put it behind glass.

Some additional off topic thoughts on Banksy:
For someone who makes a mockery of being high profile and tries to hide his identity Banksy has been garnering quite the share of publicity. In the last decade, Banksy's name has appeared in more than 720 New York Times articles. This year, Banksy was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People, and "Exit Through the Gift Shop" - a self-documentary, opened to gushy reviews and to date has  grossed more than $1 million in only 31 theaters." 

Does he deserve all the attention? The innovativeness of some of his thumb his nose at art and society antics are definitely creative. Banksy once printed counterfeit currency in London, replacing the Queen's head for that of Princess Diana's. Where the bill would normally read "Bank of England" he printed "Banksy of England." In disguise, armed with a hammer and nail, he hung re-imaginings of the Mona Lisa inside the Louvre. His escapades go on and on. It's really quite fun following his mad hatter dance in the news.


billy pilgrim said...

i love graffiti, especially the stuff at the skateboard park. it gives me a glimpse into the minds of today's youth.

ozymandiaz said...

art as a state of impermenance
most of it is crap though

Unknown said...

We've long been inspired by urban art and have finally created a collection that pays homage to this secret addiction of ours!