Monday, August 23, 2010

Riggle on Street Art

Nicholas Alden Riggle explores a new domain of art with his "Street Art:  The Transfiguration of the Commonplace."  The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 68:2 (2010) 243-257.  He begins by developing a definition "An artwork is street art if, and only if, its material use of the street is internal to its meaning."  As a result, some graffiti (but not all) is street art.  Works that count as street art are used to illustrate the article:  one piece by Blu in 2007, another by C215, another by Swoon. I have no objection to his definition but wonder whether the tile works by Richard Hawes on the bridge on San Antonio Street in San Jose count as street art.  The street is used in the work since the tiles face the street from both sides of the bridge.  Riggle allows that Invader's works, which use tiles, are street art.  This work probably would not appear in a book on street art since Hawes is not part of the hip-hop culture.  On the other hand, Invader is the kind of artist whose work would appear in a book on Street Art.  Hawes works were placed there (as it turns out without clear legal authority) over a period of a couple years.  He was originally invited to do this work by one of the local neighborhood associations but the work was not sanctioned by the city public art program (at least not at that may now have some retroactive sanction).  Riggle would probably exclude Hawes' work from street art as Hawes did not make a commitment to ephemerality.  Riggle thinks that Tilted Arc by Richard Serra is not street art since it rejects ephemerality and because it "transforms the public space into an artworld-sanctioned artspace" which is not then, any longer, a street.

Returning to Hawes's work, I should observe that a few years back it was partly destroyed by an over-enthusiastic "protector" of the bridge.  When I discussed this with Hawes he was upset about it.  So he was not in favor of ephemerality, and, like Serra, was not in favor of the destruction of his work.  Unlike the Serra case, however, one could not argue that Hawes had turned the space into an art-sanctioned space with not internal connection to the street, no real use of the street.  I should note that I played some role in this drama.  My wife and I apprehended the art vandals in the act of destroying works with crowbars and managed to scare them away, mainly by taking photographs of what they were doing.  The local communities (including Olinder Neighborhood, the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood, and Naglee Park) rallied in favor of the art works (petitions were distributed, emails flew, and a newspaper article was written in the San Jose Mercury News).  The works that were not destroyed remain on the bridge, including ones that were partially ruined by the art vandals.  I would tentatively include Hawes work as street art, but I am somewhat nervous about this since it is not connected to any street art tradition, for example it is not connected in any way with graffiti or graffiti art.

Riggle's definition would include Hawes' work except for the ephemerality condition.  However, are street artists really always committed to their art being ephemeral?  How do they show this belief?  What if they would prefer it to be up as long as possible?  What about a mural artist who is paid to put up a relatively permanent mural by the city?  What about architects?  Many of their buildings will be destroyed in their lifetimes:  does knowing this mean that these artists are committed to their work being ephemeral?  How do we distinguish this commitment from mere acceptance? 

More important, Riggle says that street art is "antithetical to the artworld."  Wouldn't this, if true, pose some serious problems with atworld theories of art?  One of Riggle's main points is that street art allows art to "join the living" by which he means that it allows art to be integrated in everyday life.

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