Montana Cans Releases Art Basel Footage “Between Street and Art”

By - Thursday, February 26th, 2015

The newly released video, produced by Montana Cans, provides firsthand insight to graffiti and its place in the art world and market within the context of Art Basel at Miami Beach. Back in December 2014, while Art Basel Miami Beach was in full-effect, Montana Cans spoke to REVOK, Shepard Fairey and Cleon Peterson about the high-demand art market to which they have all contributed a notable amount.

Among one of Art Basel’s main attractions are the Wynwood Walls, painted annually by well-known street artists like the three mentioned above. REVOK, of LA’s famed MSK crew, open-heartedly admits to his realization that graffiti is not high-art. 12oz salutes you.

“For a while I played with this idea, like trying to dress graffiti up as art and I learned real quickly, that just doesn’t feel right. I think graffiti is only interesting when it’s in the context of being graffiti. I think once you remove graffiti out of its element, that element being a criminal act. It’s not interesting at all anymore, it becomes something else.” – REVOK MSK

The mainstreaming of graffiti into the popular culture and art domains has been underway for years with the help of major art exhibitions, as well as corporations that have commissioned street artists to create custom brand material (see Perrier’s 2014 street art-inspired ads). But while viewers marvel at the Wynwood Walls and the spray-can maneuvering badassery of the artists who are featured, how many of them understand the tension that this kind of showcasing creates? Are all graffiti writers “street artists”? Are street artists all “graffiti writers?” More importantly, what is the distinction between street and gallery and why should we care?

It’s silly to delimit cultural movements, especially as they are happening, but it’s even sloppier to ignore distinctions between style, purpose and process. Graffiti writers live and operate within a culture of criminal mischief and risky, illegal, adrenaline rush-inducing acts. The process, the purpose and the product of a graffiti writer’s work may not be aligned with that of the street artist. The street artist may have at one time been a graffiti writer, or may still very well be one, but most who take on the title of “street artist” would likely prefer it to that of the “writer” while the inverse is also, probably true.

Though some may not think twice about the difference in title, to others it means a ton.

Regardless of where they stand in the graffiti and street art world, many, like REVOK, who have participated in the scene on both the underground/illegal and gallery/official levels agree that attempting to extract graffiti from its place in the streets is to remove the significance of the act from the content. When gallerists create the illusion that graffiti is not criminal, the process and culture behind the product are obscured.

Interestingly, this street art market discussion takes place at Art Basel, where street art grosses millions in sales in a single weekend. Whether the popularization of graffiti and street art will have a “positive impact” on the community remains to be seen. But let’s all get one thing straight, the act of “bombing” does not necessarily constitute street art, and graffiti does not necessarily make up the street art market that is on view every year at Art Basel.

How do you feel about graffiti being thrust into the high-brow art world? Sound off below and be sure to check out “Cashing in on Urban Culture” by 12oz author Ro for more about graffiti’s place in everyday popular culture.

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