On the Art Gallery

DSC_03531 building, 8 hours in line, hundreds of young Parisians, Tour Paris 13. Defined by its founders as a gallery –alas one of modern art–tour Paris 13 along with the recent residency of Banksy in New York heralds in a new era in the spaces for the public consumption of art. No longer is the general populous restricted to the confines of museums (or smaller galleries) in the viewing of art, but any venue the artist feels fit can be transformed to a space to house art and most importantly, receive praise and popularity by the general art-going public. The space of a museum, once indeed sacred as a domain given over to the idea of presenting art, is facing competition and conflict. The historical precedent and existent of public art displays–note such profound works as Bernini’s elephant with an obelisk placed atop in Rome–were indeed precedents for this new change in methods of consumption. These, it must be observed, served a different purpose. The construction of the Pantheon or development of walled frescoes, were presented to affirm the power of families or kings or to ascribe religious devotion.

As I strode through the modern art gallery in Liechtenstein, the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein in the nation’s capital of Vaduz, viewing works of Van Gogh and Picasso amongst the throngs of Dadaist and other works, I could not help but lament the death of the art gallery. Days before I had been taken through a space that overwhelmed the viewer with street art. The walls, floor, ceilings were covered in works. Hundreds in line waited for hours upon hours, while now, days later, I strode through an empty gallery. The stimulation, the experience the viewer was thrust into was drastically less exciting and unique as Tour Paris 13. The gallery, must be noted, though profound, was in a tiny capital of a tiny state and thus received an even tinier viewership.

As I continued to view gallery after gallery within Europe, I soon realized the art gallery is not dead. After trips to the Louvre once again or striding through the Venice Biennale I realized the traditional architectural space for presenting art was alive and well, though the artists’ utilization of the space was indeed evolving. Note the use of a horizontal pillar in the Russian pavilion transformed by the Russian conceptualist artist Vadim Zakharov into a form reminiscent of a saddle with a performer atop.

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There have always, since the advent of street art and modern graffiti in the fourth quarter of the 20th century, public art for the general populous to consume. The large installation pieces of Claes Oldenburg are a clear testament to even the public display of more “conventional” works of modern art—if there is such a convention. Also one must note the large works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. However, within the past couple months, I shall argue, we have seen the advent of a newfound popularity of these new spaces for the consumption of art. Banksy’s “first” show of street art in Gallery 33 ½ in Los Angeles years ago was the start in the newfound public popularity of these alternative art scenes. Though Keith haring is the first street artist to receive internal acclaim, Banksy is the first to present his art in a format other than the street. This is coupled with the ubiquitous Obey logo of Shepard Fairey. The urban street—any space within an urban center—is a valid area for an artist to present ones art and receive critical appraisal. A transition is present as well from a street artist spewing ones work into the publics eyes, but rather through organized means in lines with municipal regulations. At the same time the presentation of works by such artists as Shepard Fairey in the Museum of Modern Art or Smithsonian is a sign of this increased legitimacy.

This urban art is no longer restricted to those intensively following the art scene, but by all those with an interest in art or even those looking for the newest craze. This public popularity is granting a newfound legitimacy to street art. These spaces for public viewership are elevating street art from a sign of degradation and vagrant municipalities to respect akin to that of any other avant-garde art. The changing space is indeed granting a newfound legitimacy in the eye of the public to the art of such figures as Banksy or Space Invader. We are at a period of pivotal transition. The newfound legitimacy of street art to the general public is indeed profound for the art community.

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