Ron English on The Great Outdoor Art Shows
Street Art is fast becoming an international institution, the likes of which the insular Art World has never seen. As a cultural phenomenon, Street Art has become something more akin to a stadium rap/rock concert than the sparsely attended pictures on walls model which has served as the Art World’s signature profile for some time now.
Street Art’s original practitioners were weaned on illegal activities in the midnight hours, the illegal transgressive nature of the art giving it a lot of its original sex appeal, but as the movement grows and many of its hardcore practitioners become globally recognizable superstars, the prospect of getting away with nefarious illegal activities diminishes. And a lot of the art form’s more recognizable luminaries have taken on families and responsibilities that render their illegal lifestyles less appealing. So the transition begins. Baseball was once played in vacant lots. Now it’s played in major stadiums. The once scrappy DIY sport is now its own large-scale economy. Street Art’s popularity demands its entrance into the larger society. So at this juncture, what it needs are innovative facilitators. Various cities are embracing Street Art in their own fashion. Three of the most notable being Los Angeles’ LA Freewalls/Publicworks project, Norway’s Nuart Festival, and Miami’s Primary Flight and Wynwood Walls projects. Daniel Lahoda of LA Freewalls and LALA Gallery in Los Angeles came to prominence in the last few years for creating an outdoor arts district in Downtown LA. His more recent project is an interface between some of Street Art’s highest profile artists and LA’s premier billboard companies, including Clear Channel, CBS Outdoors, Regency, Mahlmann Media, Lamar, and Empire Outdoors. The results have been spectacular and are of great benefit to the billboard companies, who do business “in your face” and need to maintain a congenial relationship with the public. The other beneficiaries are the artists, who need a legal conduit to the public, and ordinary citizens, who can take pride in their neighborhoods as museums, sporting the world’s oddest masterpieces. I was in Stavanger, Norway this fall, painting a large scale mural. Japanese tourists on Street Art holiday were snapping away as I worked. Busloads of children strolled by and parents came to watch their favorite artists at work. A few got a free sketch in their little black books. This beautiful picturesque town has not been defiled by the random tag that diminishes many urban environments but instead has been enhanced by spectacular murals that have become their own tourist attractions. I spent a week at the Nuart Festival, where I rubbed elbows with How&Nosm, Saber, Jordan Seiler, and other masters of the new art form, as well as some of the most prominent cultural critics such as Carlo McCormick of Paper Magazine, Evan Pricco of Juxtapoz, and RJ Rushmore of Vandalog, who helped us as well as the public understand this cultural hurricane we are at the epicenter of. Two major street art projects have been percolating in Miami over the last few years: Primary Flight and Wynwood Walls.
The projects have culminated in a sort of Woodstock of Street Art, with artists making the yearly sojourn from around the world to contribute their own excitement and energy. Wynwood Walls has evolved into the tightly curated “museum” of Street Art, containing the most accomplished lifers of the art form, while Primary Flight has opened up the floodgates and transformed the formerly downtrodden warehouse district into one of the most spectacular tourist destinations on the planet.
Sadly, Tony Goldman, who gave the Miami Design District Wynwood Walls, has recently departed, but not before changing the world, and all of us, forever. Tony was one of the most accomplished people I’ve ever met, but at the end of his life, he fell deeply in love with this art movement that consisted of outsiders who had found no recognition inside the proper art world, and Tony set out to change that. I am forever grateful to him.