Graffiti has experienced a love hate relationship with the art world. What began as a way for people to express themselves or show their alliances has, in recent years, grown to be fairly accepted by the art world but it still isn’t universally appreciated. In the last few decades, graffiti has also played its fair share in helping launch the careers of some artists. Jean-Michel Basquiat, JR, and Keith Harrington – if you include the places in the New York subway where he created his ‘Subway drawings’ – each began their careers as graffiti artists.
This dichotomy of existence, between being accepted and being ignored, is exactly how ‘Beyond the Streets’, a traveling exhibition, tells the story of the street art form. Instead of working through a narrative of graffiti, the exhibition explores different themes within the history of graffiti through the works of more than 100 artists. ‘Beyond the Streets’ not only looks at graffiti as an art and its history as such but how it has been marketed, the politics of it, and how it became part of the fine art scene.
Because of the nature of graffiti, the fact that it isn’t meant to be permanent, the exhibition features a number of photographs. These photos then work as their own, stand-alone artwork while also offering a look at graffiti, in its own an art form. Photos in the exhibition, including those by photographer Henry Chalfant, bring spectators up close with graffiti in a gallery setting and with some artworks that don’t exist anymore. In addition to Chalfant’s photographs, the exhibition boasts a work by José Parlá that touches on the temporary nature of graffiti. Parlá’s work consists of freestanding collage slabs that reflect notions of urban decay.
After visitors explore the beginnings of graffiti, which swept through cities, the exhibition highlights the new life that graffiti has taken on. The life that has now swept through galleries and auction houses, and become a sought-after style of art. ‘Beyond the Streets’ features works by KATSU and Craig Costello among others.
The exhibition explores a history of a subject that is more and more common in art news. Recently, Chicago established a database for prominent street artworks around the city including works of graffiti after a commissioned artwork was painted over by city workers. An Italian artist has highlighted Basquiat, who was the centre of an incredibly popular retrospective that sold out twice, in a graphic novel. The induction of graffiti into the art world has also possibly played a role in other art forms, less commonly accepted, making their way into the limelight. One such medium could be the Supreme skate decks sold at Sotheby’s earlier this year for $1.2 million, which boasted big name artists but become their own art form in the process.