Reality TV is usually completely devoid of reality. That isn’t the exact comparison Andreco said on his Facebook page but we thought it was a fitting analogy. Street Art in a museum or gallery can sometimes feel like taxidermy.
Andreco actually said “Deciding which wall to paint or not paint has always been one of our free choice. This operation, to uncork the walls and move them elsewhere, oversteps this freedom.” Fair enough.
Of course that is not the primary reason why activists and Street Artists joined in to help BLU paint over the many murals that he completed on Bologna city walls over the last two decades or so. In an English titled press release on the Italian website Wumingfoundation the artist lays out a multi-layered justification for destroying his own murals, many of which have become beloved landmarks around the city and which have helped make him an art star in some circles.
BLU action in Bologna. (photo © Andreco)
The galvanizing event is a 250 piece museum show opening in a few days that is entitled “Street Art: Banksy & Co” at Palazzo Pepoli – Museo della Storia di Bologna in which Blu says his work is slated to be displayed without his authorization as taken directly from the streets. This practice of high-profile (read: high potential market price) works being removed and showing up at auction, gallery, or museum or elsewhere for sale has embroiled debates in the last decade about artists rights, property owners rights, intellectual property, societal/cultural impact.
BLU, for those who do not know, is a prominent and respected name in Street Art and mural art whose work and thousands of photos of it on websites and blogs has made him globally known. His stop-action videos of his installations were ground breaking and are the stuff of legend. Thanks to all of his hard work and international exposure his fine art work commands a very nice price and many look to see what he does next.
Since Banksy’s walls started to be taken in whole and resold, the conversations about the phenomena has shaken the street art and contemporary art world. Closely discussed are the philosophical true intentions of artists and the rightful expectations of “the scene” as interpreted by myriad artists, fans, curators, academics, and random passersby; Does the artist hold all rights to the use of the physical and aesthetic work in perpetuity, even when done illegally or in violation of ordinances without consent of a property owner or community?
Further, if it is determined to be an act of vandalism does the artists forfeit their right to determine its ultimate use, or do they retain any say in the matter? If the wall owner had no contract with the artist, verbal or written, are they entitled to do with it as they wish? Can it be sold or destroyed by someone else or only the artist? Can a piece of art that is signed, hashtagged, or URL’d be considered advertising and not regarded purely for artistic merit? Can a city, neighborhood or culture lay claim to an artwork that has withstood the passage of time in public space where people become familiar with it and actually fall in love with it? Is it a cultural icon owned by many, part of a greater heritage? Should any act of restoration be taken, or does that violate the purity of its intent? And which holy book of street art scriptures contains the guidelines and rules that will be universally accepted?
The statement attributed to BLU also says he is angry that a wealthy banking concern which has fought against free speech historically is sponsoring the show, that it appears the show is capitalizing on a form of expression that does not rightfully belong in a museum environment, that promoters are leveraging his name and reputation to legitimate their show, and that the city has demonized artists in the past for doing the very same activity that is now being lauded – revealing a fundamental hypocrisy.
BLU action in Bologna. (photo © Andreco)
BLU has destroyed his own work in protest as recently as December of 2014 when he decried the gentrification of certain neighborhoods of Berlin. He wanted to deny real estate interests the opportunity to use his work to sell buildings or apartments. It’s an irony faced by many an artist in the street today – knowing that the changing of a neighborhood may be at least partially traceable to the desireability of the area thanks to attractive murals.
On his own website, Blu published this statement:
“a bologna non c’è più blu
e non ci sarà più finchè i magnati magneranno
per ringraziamenti o lamentele sapete a chi rivolgervi”, says the artist.
Our ability to translate is not great, but generally he is saying something like, “Today in Bologna there is not any more BLU and there won’t be any. For thanks or complaints go to the Magneranno magnates.”
One very large portion of the exhibit for example previously was shown at the Museum of the City of New York under the guidance of the same curator, Sean Corcoran, who brings this New York art to Italy. With historic 1970s and 80s trainwriter names like Lee Quinones, Futura, Daze, Lady Pink, and photographers Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant on the roster, it is from the collection of artist Martin Wong who was a personal friend to almost all of these artists and a collector himself.
The collection is owned by the museum (Mr. Wong died of AIDS related illness in 1999) and, having seen the full show from which this emanated from, and knowing personally many of the artists represented here, we know that there is little, if any, art taken from the streets. We also feel assured that most, if not all, of the artists on display from the Martin Wong Collection were proud that this work was preserved and displayed in a museum, since so much from those decades simply doesn’t exist anymore. These are paintings, studio work, photographs, sketch books, and drawings of fine artists who also had practices on the streets (or trains); true pieces of NY history.
However we do not know about the other two collections and cannot make any reliable observations about them.
Here is a short bit of video from the scene as published by Radio Città del Capo
Editors Note: A previous version of this posting included quotes from a person with whom we had an email discussion. Because of possible miscommunication we did not realize that the person did not wish to be quoted. Those references have been removed and the current posting reflects this.