Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Second Thought

(…After all,) Abstract Expressionism is just an extension of Abstraction. A similar connection between the two can be found in the relation of graffiti to the greater street art movement. Graffiti was a total abstraction of a concept crystallized in Abstract Art: the painting was the art itself, not the image portrayed by that painting. As CEPT determines in his 2011 Juxtapoz interview, “Writing graffiti is just actually signing the landscape and declaring it art. As Duchamp did with the urinal…” If Abstract Art released artists of the obligation to make art out of the visual representation of physical reality, then Street Art rendered impotent the social enforcement of art as a thing at all. Street Art is no longer just one separation away from its environment, just as Abstract Art, by lack of its representational quality, was no longer two separations away. Evaporate the narrative or representational quality of the pre-modern era and you have left the art as an object – an empty object, but a thing nonetheless. It’s a vessel for nothing. Abstract Art says, “Go ahead, art is just a vessel for your ideas. Put whatever you want in there. Put nothing at all. Go ahead, it’s ok”.

Graffiti, on the other hand, totally dematerializes the temple of art. You sign the landscape, I look at the wall you wrote it on, and the window above, and the building adjacent, and I zoom further, and see the whole block, and etc. The art is no longer a non-representational, ethereal entity presented in a vessel of human intent. The tag, the signature of the graffiti artists, says, “Look at this, all of it. I own this. I am this. This is what I feel”. Logically, the street artist of the 21st century says, “If this is all mine, let me play with it”. And so, the need for art to be contained and presented is negated. No need for that. In fact, real street art can’t even be bought and sold; it is nearly integrated into us; it barely exists.


Mike Ballard – CEPT interview in Juxtapoz, Jan 2011 n 120 p100.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Socialism and Abstract Art vs. Capitalism and the Street Art/Uncommissioned Art Movement

The revolution has not been televised.

In an interview in Juxtapoz magazine, Michael Gondry (artist, filmmaker) talks about growing up in France watching Bulgarian/Russian cartoons, how communism was good for art and that the free world doesn’t make very good art because they have to be so concerned with its commercial aspect. He points out that they have to sustain their viewing audience, whereas in the communist world the audience has no choice of which cartoons to watch. This gives the artists more creative freedom.

Concerning the art of our time, this poses a conflict. It’s now 2011, and Capitalism is the dominant socioeconomic system of our global society, not Communism. In this system, artists can only create what sells. In contrast, the role of the artist in society is to show people the way, to uncover the future. More precisely, they focus the zeitgeist, presenting it in a way that can be understood by the non-artist citizenry. Art is a coping mechanism, a medicine. If this is so, then how can artists give people only what they want if what they deliver is that which people do not yet know they need?

In a socialist society, people do not choose their art. Instead, the governing body takes care of the funding, and the artists do their job. Only in such a system could Abstract Art have been born. There is no way the people would have chosen such an insane premise as this: Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1915). If this is so, then how does a revolutionary art movement take form out of the Capitalist ether?

Perhaps some discourse on Abstract Expressionism is in order; but that is too easy, and becoming less relevant to the real question at hand. Instead, we turn to the street art phenomenon of the 21st century. The 1990’s suburban American youth still had to trek out to New York City to get graffiti magazines. Then Nicholas Ganz publishes Graffiti World (2004), a graffiti artist’s bible. What was more impressive – the art within or the fact that such a compendium could be published in the first place? Street Art From Five Continents? Then Bansky. He redefines (or perhaps succinctly defines for the first time) the Street Art movement we now know. He releases Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), and writes the preface to Trespass (2010), a 320-page fullcolor book by behemoth art publisher Taschen. What’s happening here? Artists are straightup tagging canvases, putting them in galleries, and selling them to celebrities. Shepard Fairey will probably have his own reality TV show by the end of this year. We’re saturated.

Street Art has taken over as the dominant art form of the young 21st Century just as Abstract Art had done in the 20th, but this time Capitalist society is the breeding ground. Restating the original question: How can artists, whose role it is to give the public an understanding of a world which they have yet to comprehend, how can they deliver in a Capitalist society which requires investment based on speculated success and consumer demand? The answer is simple. Street artists are forcing a quasi-socialist system upon us by creating the art for free.

That’s it. You won’t invest? You won’t take our medicine? No problem (just remember what happened to Nurse Rached). And so, here comes art, like it or not, just as it always has, in your face and against your will. The empty space left by the fallen wall of Berlin was first shown to us as a Black Square. “Do you want to fall not knowing who took you?” (That's more of a threat than a question).


“Do you want to fall…?”, Jenny Holzer, Inflammatory Essays in Trespass


Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art

Carlo McCormick (author), Marc and Sara Schiller (curators), Ethel Seno (editor)

Taschen 2010, 320 pages


Exit Through the Gift Shop, 2010



Graffiti World: Street Art from Five Continents, Nicholas Ganz. Abrams, 2004.


Michael Gondry interview in Juxtapoz magazine, Jan 2011 n 120 pp 66-75.