Archive for the ‘Space Invaders’ Tag

New Spaces: Street Art and the National Gallery of Australia

As mentioned in the previous post, I’ve just returned from Canberra, having spent 2 days there for the opening of ‘Space Invaders’, the National Gallery of Australia’s first ever exhibition of street art.

Whatever you think about the exhibition of street art in gallery spaces, it can’t be denied that it’s a hugely significant moment for the National Gallery in Canberra to stage this exhibition.

But what exactly does it signify?

One of the comments that kept running through conversations on Friday evening at the preview party was a kind of half-joke that this exhibition means that ‘it’s all official’ now: that the exhibition legitimates the activity completely. In some ways, that may be true. It certainly makes it harder to sustain any broad-brush arguments about graffiti and street art as activities which lack any value and simply bespeak social problems. And perhaps the fact that this show is running for 3 months in Canberra and then will tour to other cities over the next year or so means that there will be a gradual and sustained legitimation effect… Perhaps – we’ll see.

But what seems sure already is that the exhibition has allowed street art to find its way into some new spaces. First of all, and most obviously, the show puts street-based works on display within a building which houses images by some of the best-known artists in Australia and internationally (Picasso, Chuck Close, Tracey Moffatt, Fred Williams, to name an eclectic group as examples). And now, exhibited in the same museum as these established luminaries, you can find work by Rone, Vexta, Miso, Meek, and many more. No matter which galleries these artists have been showing in before, it is a huge leap to have work displayed in the National Gallery. (It’s also worth emphasising that the NGA is showing the works inside the museum walls, unlike the Tate Modern in London which displayed street art on its outer walls but did not exhibit any of the works inside the museum.)

But in other ways, the exhibition brought street art into other new spaces. During the opening weekend, some of the artists put up work in the streets of the capital:

Twoone

Tibet

Anthony Lister

And here’s my favourite, a clever piece by Lister, taking the iconic ‘Redhead’ brand of matches and turning it into a demand that Julia Gillard, Australia’s red-haired Prime Minister, ‘bring our troops home':

Apologies for the dim light in the photograph – it was taken on a rainy Canberra night, in which Miso and I got lost trying to find our way home from Canberra’s CBD to the hotel, and discovering that all Canberra streets tend to look the same. And in the midst of all that rain, it was good to see these aesthetic interventions in the bland and clinical spaces of the capital, little moments of disruptions in the smooth space of a city designed without attention to pedestrian culture.

* I don’t mean to imply that there are no street artists in Canberra – there are some very talented ones, such as E.L.K. But the city does not seem hospitable to street art and it would be fantastic if this exhibition altered that in any way.

Space Invaders at the National Gallery of Australia

This is the first of two posts about the opening of the exhibition, Space Invaders, at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Exhibition entrance, with work by Ghostpatrol

I’ve just returned from two days there, enjoying the opening festivities.

On Friday night there was a preview of the show prior to its October 30th opening, with a party in the museum’s Gandel Hall and forecourt. I’m told that hundreds of people bought tickets to come to the party (hopefully they also went to see the exhibition). Works from the show were projected on to the museum walls; here’s a selection of some of my favourites:

Anthony Lister

The Yok

Ghostpatrol

Meanwhile, upstairs in the Project Gallery, was the exhibition: a number of rooms containing a selection of the National Gallery of Australia’s large collection of street art (it has purchased over 350 works). The works are displayed with imagination and intelligence, organised according to themes such as ‘Neo-Pop’, ‘Connecting Crews’, ‘Politics and the Press’ and ‘The Return of the Hand’. There’s a display of zines (some of which you are able to read, as well as examine others in glass cases), and surfaces for stickering, with many of the visiting artists taking the opportunity to add their stickers to the display.

The works are displayed in a manner which evokes the street, clustering images together and dispersing others more randomly, with some exhibited high up on the wall and others placed at ground level. The evocation of the street isn’t tackily done, thankfully: it would have been easy for the museum to have strained after some embarassing sense of street credibility, but instead it has retained the look and feel of a gallery space at the same time as showing awareness of how the works would originally have been displayed on the streets.

Other events included artist signings for the show catalogue, the Everfresh Blackbook, and Street/ Studio, plus an artists’ talk, with the curator of the exhibition Jaklyn Babington putting questions to Vexta and Neils Oeltjen about their work in the show and their careers on and off the street.

One of Vexta’s best-known works, Welcome to Australia, is featured in the exhibition:

She and the curator talked about how this work was originally a site-specific piece produced for a show several years ago in a warehouse space in Melbourne. The work was destroyed after the show, and has been recreated on paper as a result of the NGA exhibition. This prompted an interesting discussion about how the exhibition functions as a sneak preview of a time capsule: many of the NGA works were made in the heyday of the stencil art boom in Melbourne in 2003-2004, and purchased soon after; since these works have long since been buffed, painted over, gone over, or faded permanently from the streets, the NGA collection represents a significant archive of works that otherwise would exist only in coffee table books and as digital photographs.

The conversation with Niels Oeltjen brought other issues to the fore as well, such as the politics of street art and its role in ‘city-building’. Neils’s work (like that of some others in the show, such as Miso, Meggs, Ghostpatrol and Lister) also points towards some of the more contemporary directions in street art, using drawing, painting, paper cut-outs, and collages to create work for the streets. Neils was invited to create a work specifically for the exhibition, a glorious confection of colour and shape:

Outside, in the museum forecourt, Everfresh spent the day painting a wall, while a happy crowd of friends, fellow artists and interested visitors sat around on the museum grass and watched:

Rone, Reka and Makatron at work on the wall

In order to acknowledge the importance of zine culture to street art, the museum had also given over its huge Gandel Hall to a zine fair for the whole of Saturday; plus, a short film made by artist Anthony Lister was also screening continuously at the entry to the gallery. The result was a nicely dispersed and variegated set of locations staged throughout the museum: the Project Gallery displaying the artworks, the Gandel Hall with its zine fair, the gift shop selling its catalogues, T shirts and books on street art, the Lister film on a continuous loop, and the outdoor live painting by Everfresh, meaning that visitors moved from inside to outside and back again, as if traversing from the outdoor spaces of the street into the more rarefied space of the gallery and back again…

To end this post, I’ll simply say that the show is well worth seeing. It’s on in Canberra until late February 2011, and will tour to other cities after that. And there’s a beautifully produced catalogue too (in the interests of complete disclosure, I should let you know that I wrote an essay for the catalogue – I was thrilled and honoured to be asked to do so). More about Space Invaders in a subsequent post…..

Space Invaders: The National Gallery of Australia’s exhibition of street art

It’s never unproblematic when galleries and museums exhibit the work of street artists – some believe that street art is no longer ‘street art’ when it’s exhibited indoors in a gallery or museum space; others think that whatever constitutes the ‘street’ aspect of street art is more of a free-floating sensibility that pervades certain artworks whether they are installed inside or outside; still others believe that genuine ‘street art’ must be carried out illegally in public space and anything that doesn’t meet these criteria is rather a kind of site-specific artwork or is graphic design work or is even a form of advertising. These issues have been debated and argued over in many different fora (and the book that Miso, Ghostpatrol, Timba and I recently published, Street/Studio, is partly about the tensions – productive as well as constraining – that arise when artworks move between street and gallery).

Whatever your opinion of the street/studio relation and its implication for street art, there is, however, no denying the importance of a major cultural institution putting on a large-scale exhibition of street artwork – and such an exhibition is about to open at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Its exhibition, Space Invaders, opens on 30 October (and runs until 27 February 2011, touring in 2011 to other cities). You can read here about the scope of the exhibition, which covers street art’s links to graffiti, its diversity of forms (including stickers, stencils, paste-ups, and so on), its connections to zine culture, the impact of pop culture upon the look of Australian street art, and its recent expansion into labour-intensive media involving drawn images.

I’m going to Canberra this weekend (along with a stellar bunch of some of Australia’s greatest street artists) for the opening festivities, and will be able to report next week on how the exhibition looks…. But it seems impossible to ignore the significance of this particular moment: Australia’s national gallery is putting on an exhibition dedicated to an art form which is often the product of activities deemed illegal by state governments and local councils in Australia, and many of the artists celebrated in the exhibition routinely risk fines or other punishments in order to make the artworks featured in the exhibition. Do we just chalk this up as being yet another instance when municipal and local governments are out of step with wider culture? Or is it time for local and state governments finally to admit that their persecution and prosecution of street artists and graffiti writers is just plain wrong?

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