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See No Evil, Bristol

PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 7:03 pm
by Des
For a city council to sanction an international show of graffiti by allowing a whole street to be garishly daubed asks many questions about the meaning and consumption of art. Isn’t graffiti supposed to be transgressive? Aren’t street artists politically-inspired and subversive outlaws? Not any more it seems.

See No Evil, a kind of festival of graffiti, powerfully demonstrates this journey from deemed wanton vandalism to acceptance by the art and political establishment. It opened on Saturday with sound-systems blaring and ugly buildings transformed by vibrant colours. So many images adorn the walls in the grim Nelson Street area. A towering pin-stripe-suited and bowler-hatted city gent brandishes a spilling tin of paint. A monumental fox gazes into the sky. A woman and her baby stare into nothingness, or do they stare at us? A bird perches on the hand of a Magritte-like figure with a bird-cage as a head. Then of course there’s the incongruous spectacle of street artists actually creating their works while you watch as opposed to doing a quick spray-job and being chased out of town by the police. On one level it is the perfect riposte to the vandalism of town planners who so disfigured Bristol city centre in the 1960s, on another it is a self-conscious gesture by today’s street artists that graffiti has come of age even if it has lost its subversive subtext.

The case against any kind of street art is that it is merely decorative or illustrative and that it aspires to the condition of commercial art (oh the irony!) It is mere kitsch, and therefore anathema to Greenbergian notions of the avant-garde. Its subject-matter seems infantile, relying on a comic-book aesthetic and a manga state of mind. Some of it can be witty, of course, juxtaposing unlikely images to make a political point, but as such it becomes no more than graphic sloganeering.

I like graffiti, but great as this show is, it completely misunderstands why street art exists at all. Graffiti is defined by its impermanence. Like land art, where a photograph may be the only record of a vanished physical object, graffiti is prey to change and extinction. It’s a willing victim of a kind of urban Darwinism, covered by subsequent and perhaps more sophisticated versions of itself. So for a city council to promote and preserve street art is a bizarre thing indeed. This show succeeds in at least demonstrating the diversity of street art practice in the world today - there are artists from Europe, the UK and the USA - but this is an essentially emasculated version of graffiti however entertaining, dramatic and thought-provoking it may be.

Re: See No Evil, Bristol

PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 7:30 pm
by Hugh Weldon
The case against any kind of street art is that it is merely decorative or illustrative and that it aspires to the condition of commercial art (oh the irony!) It is mere kitsch, and therefore anathema to Greenbergian notions of the avant-garde. Its subject-matter seems infantile, relying on a comic-book aesthetic and a manga state of mind. Some of it can be witty, of course, juxtaposing unlikely images to make a political point, but as such it becomes no more than graphic sloganeering.


Andy, has this guy been coming to you for extra tuition? You'll be supervising his thesis next.

Re: See No Evil, Bristol

PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 9:45 pm
by AndyM
Well you don't see many references to dear old Clement Greenberg these days, and that's a fact.