Dec 14, 2008

Uh, guys...

...I think you missed the point. Today (tomorrow..? I am up late, after all) the Age reports that Melbourne has "[lost] its treasured Banksy."

(Right: the Banksy, behind perspex; left: paint has been poured behind the perspex, and the words 'Banksy woz ere' written on the front of it)

In recognition of the British graffiti artist's rapidly rising profile, the recent trend has been to "protect" his work with perspex panels. Now, I don't know about you, but as far as I can tell this goes in direct contradiction of the notion of the impermanence of graffiti. It is rewarding when you do manage to see it, because you know that it is in fact fleeting. The graffiti world is democratic, and self moderated. The notion of the permanent work of art, frozen for all perpetuity, conflicts with graffiti art at a fundamental level. Of course, this is all problematised by Banksy, who, in typical guerrilla fashion, brings graffiti aesthetic into the gallery space, and in doing so both questions the gallery, and challenges the limits of graffiti art.

All this said, though, there is something weird and contradictory about putting perspex over a piece of graffiti. The Age says:
"Earlier this year, the little diver's potential value went up when another Banksy artwork on a London wall was sold for £208,000 ($A472,528) on an eBay auction."
Just how one can place a value on art painted on the wall of a building is slightly confusing. After all, the art itself is inseparable from the building, and cannot exist as an in dependant entity. Sure, if the Nicholson building went to auction "avec Banksy" it would sell higher than if it were "sans Banksy," but at the end of the day, the Banksy work on the side of the building -- the back side, might I point out, adds no concrete value or function to the structure as a whole. Please note that I am not saying this as a criticism of Banksy or his work -- in fact I think he is witty, fun, arresting and brave -- but rather of the notion of graffiti art as a fiscal asset. The whole point of it is that it operates outside that framework. Yes, Banksy sells work at auction, sometimes to famous types, and sometimes he even creates work for a gallery setting. But his street art has no pretensions of permanence. I'm not saying that it isn't disappointing to see one street artist wilfully destroying the work of another. It is. But I do wonder what the Age's position is on the way the Melbourne City council 'sells' Hosier lane's stencil graffiti as part of Melbourne's status as a cultural capital, whilst simultaneously discouraging teenagers from engaging in any form of graffiti art with the ban on sales of spray cans.

In one example I find particularly ironic, Disneyworld Florida and Tourism Victoria intended to include a graffitied laneway as part of its 'Melbourne' display at the Epcot international Food and Wine Festival (links here, here and here).

The Melbourne Pavillion's original apearence, image taken from The Age Travel section article dated 29.09.08

The laneways were overridden by Victorian Premier John Brumby. Brumby is quoted in online articles as wanting to promote the laneways' "European sense of cleanliness" rather than their graffiti. I guess what this all raises is who do we allow to decide what characterises a city, what is art, and furthermore which art deserves protection and which does not. It also highlights the differences of opinion between various levels of bureaucracy, which in turn indicates the unlikeliness that there will ever be a definite solution.

I guess the Melbourne-graffiti-at-Disneyworld fiasco coupled with the lost-Banksy fiasco makes me wonder whether someone like Brumby even cares that Melbourne has "lost its treasured Banksy," and furthermore why it is that we rush to protect and/or mourn this foreign street artist, but barely hesitate to think about local artists, who have an active and lasting relationship with Melbourne.

(Like Paisley, the artist responsible for this cat, whose work can be found throughout the CBD and inner Northern suburbs.)

(Ok, rant over. Time for bed. I hope this isn't toooo rambling and stream-of-consciousness, I guess it is just an issue that really does get to me, and I couldn't let the Age article go without saying at least something. )

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