Coney Island recently celebrated its second annual "Outdoor Museum of Street Art" event at their Greenwood Beach, New York digs. The presentation was the creation of Thor Equities' Jeffrey Deitch and Joe Sitt. Opened to the public this May, a selection of internationally known street artists and sculptors was invited to throw up their best and brightest. Several artists were 'returnees' from last year.
This year 33 artists participated. This included both graffiti artists and sculptors from Europe and North America. Included in this commercial venture were a number of adjacent restaurants and invited food outlets - the restaurants and the graffiti art feeding off one another, so to speak - all the makings of a successful outing.
And this touches, yet again, on just what is, and what isn't graffiti. A bit of subtle obfuscation is taking place here - just as 'global warming' has morphed into 'climate change', so "graffiti" is morphing into "street art". But let none of this smoke-and-mirrors cloud our minds... In the case of 'global warming', it is much less "inconvenient", and much harder to pin down when called 'climate change'. In the case of "graffiti" it is simply a means of 'gentrification', a way to make "street art" more acceptable than "graffiti", its shadowy uncle from the other side of the tracks.
Further, we ask, why should it be necessary or even desirable to make graffiti more acceptable to the public? When in doubt, follow the money. Let's start at the beginning. Graffiti originally was done entirely out of the limelight - entirely under the radar - and for good reason. It was vandalism; it was and is against the law. Back in the day, it was the excitement of the illicit, the peer recognition, the competition between crews, the bloodless social rebellion. -But then came the slow dawning - first the artists, then the entrepreneurials, discovered that graffiti art could be bought and sold, either the originals (where even tearing down and preserving walls was done), or reproductions. The reproductions had a wider customer base - they could be sold, albeit for less, either at galleries, events, online - or even street corners.
Concomitant with this incipient commercialization of graffiti was the proliferation of graffiti in advertisements, films, etc, - each providing the chosen graffiti artists with cold, hard cash. Commercialization of graffiti gained full stature, becoming "a thing", when Banksy popularized his graffiti with originality and relevant social protest themes. His works being sold in respected auction houses, and placed in art museums. -And what graffiti artist wouldn't like to be making those big bucks? Needless to say, this was/ is a huge motivation for youth (and some not so youthful) to engage in graffiti - just as would happen with any other money-making pursuit.
Worldwide, several enterprising commercial ventures saw the potential value in street art, and began to hold 'events' appealing to the rebellious side of youth; events which had skate-boarding, break dancing, street-art painting and various X-sports, not to mention food kiosks and graffiti gear on sale. These events were drawing advertisers and media coverage, and were, and are, making money. Websites sprouted up selling all the paraphernalia for painting and otherwise marking on walls, as well as T-shirts and other apparel. Municipal governments around the globe, overwhelmed with the burden of removing graffiti, began offering up "legal walls" for graffiti artists to 'display' (partially successful, but an indirect concession to the "acceptability" of graffiti, none-the-less). The Coney Island Outdoor Museum of Street Art is just such a commercial venture riding the wave of graffiti's newfound popularity and (semi)-respectability.
The moment of truth - while the Coney Island event is a pleasant experience overall, it is displaying neither graffiti, nor street art. We are seeing a paradigm-in-reverse. Yes, the works are produced by graffiti artists, but by invitation, at a specific location, and with restraints as to subject matter. That, however, is not sufficient to qualify these pieces as graffiti - that does not equate to 'street art'. This is mural-painting, simply put. Graffiti, on the other hand, is defined accurately and briefly as - "Unauthorized markings on others' property." Today, that which is being put up in shows like the Coney Island gig lack the essential elements of the unrestrained, the uninhibited, the irreverent, the critical, and 'the bizarre' of real graffiti thrown-up on its original, infinitely large palette. Today's graffiti artists (wearing their new-found 'street artist' hats) are no longer the silent, spraycan-laden figures ghosting through the night on an adrenalin-high. They instead are becoming common businessmen, craving as much publicity, and by extension, as much money, as they can lay their hands on.
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considered 'Fair Use' under Copyright Law. Copyright of original artwork resides exclusively with the artists.