"Street Art" -- often called graffiti -- is suddenly happening all over the world. Partly a reflection of the times, the artists and their works are being recognized by people everywhere, critics galore and the media.
For the last few months (the exhibit ends January 2, 2011), the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego (MCASD) hosted twenty artists from ten countries who were linked together by how their work addresses urban issues.
The exhibit included the works of Akay (Sweden), Banksy (U.K.), Blu (Italy), Mark Bradford (U.S.), William Cordova (U.S.), Date Farmers (U.S.), Stephan Doitschinoff [CALMA] (Brazil), Dr. Lakra (Mexico), Dzine (Puerto Rico), David Ellis (U.S.), FAILE (Canada), Shepard Fairey (U.S.), Invader (France), JR (France), Barry McGee (U.S.), Ryan McGinness (U.S.), Moris (Mexico), Os Gemeos (Brazil), Swoon (U.S.), and Vhils (Portugal).
Called "Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape" the exhibit was curated by guest curator Pedro Alonzo and MCASD Associate Curator Lucía Sanromán. It was truly the first time that these so called "street artists" were shown together; but more, their work was featured in locations around the downtown of the city. On buildings, vehicles, and the surface of public streets throughout the city, the art lived and breathed.
MCASD called it a "Dialogue" between the artists and the city, because as the Museum described it: "For the first time in history, the majority of the world's population lives in urban communities. The urban setting and its corresponding lifestyle are major sources of inspiration in contemporary culture. This is an historic revolution in visual culture, in which the codes and icons of the everyday -- found on the streets in graffiti, signage, waste, tattoos, advertising, and graphic design -- have been appropriated and used as an integral part of contemporary art-making. The urban landscape inspires and serves as both a platform for innovation and a vehicle for expression for many artists."
The "Dialogue with the Urban Landscape" featured works both in the Museum's galleries as well as at public sites throughout downtown San Diego.
Sure, street art has exhibited elsewhere in museums. For example, the Tate in London brought six artists together from around the world to spray-paint giant murals on the museum's river façade. Moreover, the artists themselves are often heralded for their artistry and their courage as they express public frustrations with government, consumerism, dishonesty, corruption and more.
But San Diego went farther and said more than anyone, for this exhibit brought street art to a new level. In public consciousness, the MCASD raised the bar on exhibition as they brought the art of everyman and everywoman inside the cloistered walls of the museum, which frankly not everyone visits; but outside, too, and in the process, made it clear that the relationship between art, the artist and our communities tells the story of us.
A revolution in public art is taking place.
The New York Times reported last month that "a newly formed collective of (mostly) former graffiti writers in their 20s and 30s... have embarked on an unusual citywide campaign to summon 50 or more of the most famous pieces of old-school graffiti out of the history books and back onto the streets". Called "Subway Art History," the initiative is sort of a "real-life Wikipedia project" one of the artists told the Times.
The efforts of JR, Banksy, Vhils, and all of those who exhibited in San Diego, like the "Subway" artists The New York Times wrote about, are examples of the frustration of people who want to see change in the world, change in pubic perceptions, change in government, or simply, change in us.
This is what art is, and can do. This is what artists everywhere are doing everyday.