A recent gallery showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles drew in excess of two hundred thousand people. This was a new record for any exhibition. Previously, the record had been set at just under two hundred thousand people for an Andy Warhol retrospective. The topic of this record-breaking show? Graffiti and street art – mainly featuring the works of Banksy.
Graffiti refers to any kind of public markings, which are very likely to be found on walls. Even though this “art” is now associated with teenagers, gangs and bullies in particular, graffiti is actually a very old form of expression, which dates back Ancient Greece.
The reason why it has not been considered an art for a long time is because graffitists tend to paint and mark public and private property, without asking for anyone’s permission. For that reason, painting a private house is seen as vandalism and those who commit this “crime” can be sued by the property’s owner.
This is a far cry from twenty years ago when graffiti was thought to merely be a public nuisance. Interestingly enough, graffiti has always been a way to express rebellion and dissatisfaction with the common order or establishment but it has never before been elevated to an art form to such an extent.
It would seem that the gamble by the Museum of Contemporary Art paid off for director Jeffrey Deitch as membership during this period increased by two thousand five hundred.
It is interesting to note how this form of expression has grown from a public nuisance to an art form. The best graffiti artists are very accomplished at what they do and some have even been commissioned to paint murals on urban streets.
As a public works project, the employment of graffiti artists to paint murals can be a great part of any urban renewal program. The modern graffiti artist is often trying to reflect everyday scenes of life rather than just tagging buildings. These contemporary reflections on life in general could be used to update and modernise public areas in desperate need of a face lift.
In fact, expect to see more of this kind of art emerge and evolve as graffiti artists begin to be seen more as social commentators rather than just as vandals.
Overall, art has always been a medium that changed and adapted as circumstances around it did. Initially the Impressionists were thought to be rank amateurs and their works were generally poorly received. Nowadays the Impressionists are rightly thought of as visionary artists who were way ahead of their time. Perhaps future generations will look back at our blank walls and wonder at the staid and solemn lack of artistic expression so evident in graffiti.