Reinventing the idea of art exhibition, The Street Museum of Art represents public art movementin its most original context. Bringing the institution of a museum out to the streets, there is a new generation of urban artist emerging who let art gallery qualities and guerilla strategies fuse in front of our eyes. We speak to the Museum to explore the transformation of art performance where cities are stage.
How the idea of the Street Museum was born?
The Street Museum of Art was founded back in Brooklyn, 2012. We started seeing more and more “street art” gallery exhibitions and Jeffrey Deitch’s Art in the Streets hit the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA. A differentiation was not between made between street art, graffiti and gallery work by the institutions that our public looks to for information on the foundation of such movements. We took the museum to the streets — creating a hybrid based on the intangible qualities of a museum and guerrilla tactics of street art and graffiti culture.
Who are the artists that are part of the Museum, are you work as form of a collective?
The process varies from exhibition to exhibition. In the beginning, The Street Museum of Art curated exhibitions of art we found around the streets of NYC and London. The focus was not only on the fundamental qualities that we felt were not being represented accurately by traditional art institutions currently housing street art exhibitions, but also about the life this work takes on after the artists leave them behind. In our more recent exhibitions and projects, we’ve focused on building new collaborations with organizations that have helped develop their local street art and graffiti communities and the local artists that have engrained themselves into the urban fabric of their home cities.
Are contemporary cities scenes for art?
Large cities have always attracted artists. Nowadays, we are seeing the Internet change this a bit. An artist no longer needs to physically be in the big city in order for their work to be seen — but they will always be a mecca for the arts.
Do you think projects such as Banksy’s Better Out Than In in New York last year push urban art into public consciousness?
Projects like Banksy’s residency in New York last year definitely help popularize the movement but focusing on the work of one artist limits our understanding of the larger scope and history of street art and graffiti. Don’t get us wrong, we love what he does and definitely saw an overlap in many ways between Better Out Than In and The Street Museum of Art. Both projects appropriate museum-like rhetoric in a tongue and cheek approach to stress 1) the impossibility of such work ever being exhibited accurately within the walls of traditional art institutions, and 2) the necessity for an understanding that the cultural and art historical influence of this work is not less than what would be found in a major museum simply because the artists are creating their work on the street.
Do you think the contemporary museum has become too institutionalized that bringing art outdoors can let people experience art on a new level?
The current museum model that is used today was developed to reflect the work of its time. Look back to Alfred Barr’s exhibition style for MoMA in the early 20th century. Several modern art movements were developing across Europe and required chronological and geographical order to accurately capture this progression through exhibition. Before that, art was exhibited in a salon style. It is not that contemporary art museums have become too institutionalized, but today certain contemporary art movements such as street art, graffiti and muralism require an alternative exhibition model. Instead of trying to remove these works from their original context, it is The Street Museum of Art’s mission to bring these conversations to the street and appreciate that the art is intended to be experienced on an entirely new level. We are breaking down the concept down to its essentials — what are the primary functions of a museum beyond the physical institution? What intangible qualities can be appropriated for an alternative exhibition style?
The latest project you took part in, THE GOOD Cities, aimed to create visual love letters to US cities. What did you want to express in your love declaration for New York?
For us, NYC is made up of and consumed by the creative minds who help shape it. These artists not only visually contribute to the urban landscape, they are at the pulse of the energy that makes this city so unique. The billboards we designed simply read “NYC is” with the tag of 3 local artists that The Street Museum of Art has worked with in the past — each coming from very different backgrounds to call NYC home. They highlight one work by each artist that can be found around the city on any given day, reinforcing their connection with New York. It’s our hope that the public will take an active role in the project by going out to rediscover all the art that can be found around their city as they search for each piece.
With your ’24 hours in NYC’ exhibition, your activity extended over Williamsburg, SoHo, Chelsea and other parts of the city. Duration and the appearance of the artworks was also unknown. I feel like one of the greatest things about urban art is its’ ‘pop-up’, unexpected quality.
Absolutely. It’s all about the hunt and surprise! An unexpected encounter with a new piece by your favorite graffiti or street artist is always best. It’s often like running into an old friend. There is a duality between street art’s virtual reality and the ephemeral life this work endures on the street. This essence of surprise is often lost when we rely on the internet for viewing street art.
One may think that murals have become a ‘signature’ form when it comes to urban art. Are there other mediums you try to pursue?
It’s important to differentiate between muralism, street art and graffiti. While the three may share similar techniques and are all found throughout public environments, the driving motivation and energy behind each medium is very different. Our quick run-down of all three: Graffiti is the illegal tagging of one’s pseudonym with a heavy focus on repetition, placement and vandalism. Street Art is the placement of art illegally on the street. One artist may explore various mediums and motifs while appropriating the DIY and vandal nature of graffiti culture. Contemporary muralism has continued to rise in the last decade as street art gains in social popularity and artists are gaining access legal walls.
New York has an extremely rich street art history. Does it feeds into city’s contemporary urban art?
Origins of street art as we know it today can be traced back to the earlier graffiti movement in NYC. Writers tagged subway cars as a way to get their work out there — going “all city.” They thrived on the adrenaline of seeing their work pass by, knowing that it would be experienced by anyone in the path of that particular subway line. Now the internet has completely changed this. Post-internet artists no longer need to risk everything to get the spots with most exposure or put up the same amount of work in order to be noticed — not saying that all artists on the street today have given up on this level of hustle. However, New York City’s history of graffiti and street art can still be found as a major influence in the work being produced today. This is where it all started.
Johannes Cladders has expressed an idea that this is an artist who creates a work, but a society that turns it into an artwork. Do you think these are the audiences that decide about the value of street art?
Value is a tricky word. A great work of street art can hold immense value based on its context, relationship to the city, level of reaction, etc. However, it is an ephemeral work of art placed on the street against city laws for the public to enjoy and left to decay. Street art is not intended to have monetary value. The Street Museum of Art is interested in encouraging the public to first take notice in these works and become an audience. Let them decide whether they find personal value in the work knowing that it will be an intangible one.
How do you see the future of street art?
This is an interesting question that we were discussing recently with one of our local artist. There seems to be a divide in the street art we are currently seeing around NYC. Many artists are turning to contemporary muralism as the risks for vandalism add up and their identities become known through successful gallery careers. On the other hand, there is an influx of new artists who seem to be driven by the same motivations as the earlier graffiti movement. Their focus lies on repetition and certain quantity vs quality ideals — working primarily in stencil and poster-like wheat pastes. As KATSU would say, it’s all about the “fame tokens.” This may not necessarily reflect where the future of street art is headed but as the movement matures, our hope is that street art will continue to push its limits both creatively and legally.
What are your upcoming projects?
SMoA is coming to Europe for 2015!
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