Carelessness or Curatorial Chutzpah? Controversies Surrounding Street Art in the Museum

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Taking the exhibition "Art in the Streets", which was shown at The Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles from 17 April to 8 August, 2011, as its main point of departure, the present article discusses street art's association with the institutions of the art world.

"Art in the Streets" sparked a lot of debate before, while and after it took place. The article primarily focuses on two aspects of the controversies connected with the exhibition.

First, it looks at the reaction of conservative American commentators, who saw "Art in the Streets" as problematic because of its apparent validation of vandalism as art. The article argues that this critical response should be understood not just as the result of pre-existing animosity towards graffiti and street art, but also as an expression of a particular idea about the role museums play in society.

Second, the article considers the reaction to "Art in the Streets" of street art aficionados, who saw the museum's representation of street based artistic expressions as problematic. The criticism from within the street art world was fuelled by the removal of a commissioned artwork by the Italian artist BLU from the façade of the museum building prior to the opening of the exhibition. On the one hand, it is argued that this curatorial decision can be seen as symptomatic of the show's failure to integrate a non-institutional form of expression in an institutional context. On the other hand, it is argued that the removal can be related to the whitewashing process which takes place in the street every day, thus effectively reproducing in the institutional environment the conditions under which street art is produced.

With an outset in a number of artistic responses to Art in the Streets, the article is concluded by a more overarching discussion about street art's relationship with the institutional art world. Here it is argued that the relevance and perceived authenticity of street art is challenged by the interest from excluding and conservational art institutions, which street art to some extent exists in opposition to. Given the unsanctioned nature of street art, as well as street art's connection to the street, it is further argued that while institutions can create shows that document and discuss the history of art in the street, and can show artworks derived from this context, street art proper cannot exist in an institutional context.


Enheter & grupper

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Sociologi
  • Konstvetenskap
  • Bildkonst


Sidor (från-till)220-233
TidskriftKonsthistorisk Tidskrift
Utgåva nummer4
StatusPublished - 2015
Peer review utfördJa