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The Street-Art, from the Google Art Project to the Pantheon

JR on the Panthéon, the Street Art Project by Google: June 2014 marks two new steps toward the patrimonial recognition of the street art. After the museums, the art market, the digital technologies, the “pantheonization” is consolidating the institutionalization of urban art. But at what price?

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From the graffiti “guerrilla” to an official support.  “I told myself: I will be free from every trade circuit, in the street we can make art for people from our time, for the passers-by as well as for the homeless people!” Even if their motivations are as varied as the number of artists, what Dran says summarize pretty well the libertarian nature of urban art: expressing themselves in the streets questions the place of the man in its environment and aims at calling out the citizen in his everyday life. Counterculture at its beginning[1], an artistic movement has managed to emerge despite the unauthorized graffitis legally chased[2]. Nowadays, it is accepted by the authorities – or even officialised - for its capacity to generate a social link as the participative artwork by JR on the Pantheon’s roof is testifying. The urban art does not suffer from this supervision, even if some people are denouncing the distortion or even the academicism. [3]

There is no longer a city that does not offer its Street Art Tour! The public authorities are now preserving some places like the East Side Gallery.  The town council of the 13th district of Paris is offering a « walk of the Street-Art», making a list of the different frescoes hidden in the streets, with the huge artwork by Shepard Fairey alias Obey, who made the poster HOPE with Barack Obama, between the subway stations Chevaleret and Nationale. “The street-artists are given us an incredible gift: to learn how to watch the world around us.” summarizes Ambre Viaud in her book Street Art: un musée à ciel ouvert (Palette, 2011).

From the museum to the market: the emergence of “bankable” stars. Museums and markets are contributing to the “virus of speculation”: it can rely on artists which are « bankable »: from JR to Banksy, from Fairey to the brothers Os Gemeos… even if they all have fun in challenging the conventions from one to another. During the beginning of every year, Artcurial is offering a sale centre on the urban artists. The 2014 cru have permitted to reach a new record: 1,35 millions of euros for 221works against 1,2 millions of euros for 328 artworks in 2013. JR’s work called “Wrinkles of the city” have been sold for 45 200€. It still faraway from the record owned by Banksy in 2008 who sold Keep it spotless, his collaboration with Hirst, for 1,87 millions of euros.

The importance of preservation. Ephemeral by its nature, street art is also questioning the necessity and the ways of its preservation. Between photographic archiving and restoration of supports, it is essential to anticipate the test of time, or the voluntary deterioration. Google’s ambition with Street Art Project is not only to integrate the Street-Art to the collective patrimony, but also to facilitate its study: “The platform allows penetrating the artists’ works in a deep way, to understand their creation process, and also their story” Amit Sood, director of the Cultural Institution Google, underlines.  Thanks to this preservation work, with high quality images that you can see at 360°, some places that have already disappeared are now archived (like the Tower Paris 13). The internet user can also interact and post his own discoveries thanks to the social networks. 

Quieten down in dollars or in pixels? Well, quite the opposite. The utopia of this counterculture is reinforcing with its digital and international visibility. Its creative activism does not stop from pointing the dysfunctions of our society. As a testimony, the protestations of JR or Banksy against the israelo-palestinian’s wall,that of  Paulo Ito, a Brazilian street artist against the costs of the sporting event. For his part, Kidult is provoking the multinationals of the luxury goods industry by drawing some graffiti on their shop windows. “With the urban art, a new value is appearing: the identity. Put a tag on a wall, a graffiti, a stencil, it is often done in order to claim an identity » as Christophe Genin says in the Turning Point of the Street-Art: recognitions of a new artistic type (les Impressions, nouvelles éditions, October 2013).” The street will always be an innovative ground of expression and a place of pacific sharing. To see. Without any moderation.

Text and photo credit : Félicie Kertudo.

[1] « The Street art was going to be the most contestary movement since the punks : Astrid Fedel is quoting Banksy in her reflexion during the Forum d'Avignon 2013 .

[2] In France, the owner’s agreement of the support on which the creation is elaborated is essential. In case of a complaint, the fine can go from 1500 to 30 000 euros. In certain cases, the prison sentence can go to 2 years.

[3] « Dès que l’artiste s’institutionnalise, dès qu’il signe d’une façon stylistique, même une œuvre commune, résume Antonio Gallego[3], l’esprit disparaît...»