22 December 2004

Art + streets + the dilemma of choosing the right frame

I came across this blog recently, and it got me to thinking about the recent explosion of what I guess could be terms as educated graffiti, and my own association with it.

Waaaay back, somewhere in the mid 80's, around the first time break dancing was popular, there was a Sunday Documentary programme on New York Subway art - including an interview with NYC Mayor Guliani where he pretty much said these guys were criminals and ought to be incarcerated. In an effort to recreate the street-cool-chaos of those early intracate images of new art, a million felt pens were taken to sheets of jotter pad (and the occasional wall) in the depths of provincial New Zealand.

Fast forward a whole bunch of years, throw in an exposure to stencilling through a bedroom-based bootleg screenprinting empire, accidental then repeated exposure to Juxtapoz magazine, a bit of travel, a bit of art collection, and you've got an overview of my interests here.

It's great that we're seeing this sort of art become both commonplace and acceptable (maybe not so much to building owners and local authorities), increasingly prolific and intricate, and, unavoidably I suspect, commodified.

I note in Rose's blog that all the examples are positioned to be unavoidable as you either enter or exit fairly significant Wellington dealer galleries. I wonder if this is accidental, or if it's done in the hope of bolstering a relationship between street and 'high' - or at least saleable - art.

The works are at their thickest outside Peter McLeavey's central Cuba St Gallery - not a particularly dimly lit, low foot traffic, out of the way place you'd expect to see such a prolific concentration. But they're there - layer upon layer of considered and not-so-considered stencil, tagging, pasteups, stickers.

Given McLeavey's history of creating some of the icons of New Zealand art over the last many years (ask him about the plaster marks in the North wall next time you're in there - they present a better history of NZ art than Te Papa's latest effort), I can't help but suspect that they're there for a reason. It's likely that the likes of Mephisto Jones, Misery et al, have been into Peter's gallery, or are at least aware of his stewardship of the likes of McCahon, Illingworth, Woolaston, Walters, but the base level taggers are likely to only be aware of the sign that says Art Gallery.

So is there perhaps a hope that Peter McLeavey himself will stop as he unlocks the door one day, seize upon a prticular work, and be moved to the point of hunting down and signing up the struggling artist, escalating him/her on a path to art world stardom - not unlike the skate punks in High Fidelity or Warren the shoplifter in Empire Records - and thus take a further step towards validating this rapidly emerging form of art?

1 comment:

Rose said...

Nice to see a link to my blog - cheers. I had a conversation with McLeavey about the growing "street gallery" at the entrance to his upstairs gallery a couple of months ago. Apparently some of his clientele objected to it and had suggested he should clean up the entrance and paint it all over. He asked my opinion and it seemed he thought he should perhaps be doing what these clients wanted. Of course, I told him that was a really bad idea - this art is as valid as anything in his gallery and in fact had become a gallery of its own. I think the reason there is such an abundance of art in both this space and a wall outside Janne Land Gallery is both the proximity to a gallery but also because it has been left untouched, and as such, treated as art worthy of exhibit. You'll note the maori moko pic outside McLeaveys is actually covered with a small sheet of perspex. Someone has gone to great lengths to frame this work - to relate it to the work upstairs as being "exhibited". However, I don't imagine McLeavey giving any of the street artists the opportunity to be represented by him. I don't imagine the likes of Mephisto Jones would even need this - he's finding his place in the art world on his own. And good on him. I think I would feel saddened to see his work on Peter's white walls.