By Madeline Walsh
April 11, 2014
The Museum of the City of New York’s (MCNY) exhibition “City as Canvas” proves that criminal or not, graffiti continues to raise important questions about the significance of public art. The exhibition features pieces from the late Martin Wong’s private collection, which have been part of MCNY’s archives since 1994. Wong was not only a collector, but also a close friend to many of the featured artists. Although it is now a worldwide phenomenon, graffiti is a prime example of how art pushes us to reconsider our relationships with public space and popular culture.
Beginning as a creative expression for many thrill-seeking, young artists of the 1970s and 80s, graffiti and street art is now mainstream. The increasing popularity of street art helped drive now familiar artists like Shepard Fairey, Keith Haring, and Banksy into the cultural spotlight. Many of today’s mainstream street artists have received criticism for their methods of self-promotion and of achieving mass appeal. These issues raise larger questions about money’s role in compromising the integrity and value of art.
While many uninformed critics may be quick to dismiss graffiti as the work of miscreant youth, there is a method behind the madness. Street art success depends on an artist’s creativity not just on the wall, but getting to the wall. The painting process requires stealth, organization, and dedication. Accessing prohibited spaces and challenging authority add another layer of style and artistic value beyond pure aesthetics.
As the infamous GATS and many other Oakland artists discuss in i am other’s YouTube docu-series, “Voice of Art,” graffiti’s meaning and value is multifaceted. Street art’s visual appeal is immediate and apparent. Beyond this, the underlying themes of questioning authority and the physical reclamation of city space develop a direct conversation with the city and its people. Graffiti, in this sense is the most contextual and contemporary art.
For all its cultural contributions and sociological significance, graffiti still raises the perennial question “is street art, art?” While graffiti is considered a felony in Oakland, the consequence may be part of the motivation for artists to spread their message. In her interview with CBS Sunday Morning, graffiti pioneer Lady Pink asserts graffiti “is art when you get away with it.” Ultimately, graffiti remains a consistent and crucial part of pushing the envelope culturally and spatially through art.
Still not sure where you stand on street art? Nina Wright’s (Aka Mobb Pink, Pink Mobb) “Gritty In Pink” will be opening tomorrow, April 12th at the downtown Oakland Gallery LeQuiVive. Drawing heavily upon California iconography, Wright’s neon figures and masked females can be found around East Oakland. Take a look and tell us what you think.
For more material on graffiti as it happens check the blogs below: