It’s a curious road from graffiti to street art. A blank wall sans ownership or permission may be a common canvas to both. Street Art, though, brings more than just irreverence for private property and leaves more than only trite scribble. The Morean Arts Center’s current survey of Floridian Urban Art is aptly titled Leave a Message: Urban Art in Florida. The exhibit featured twenty Florida-based artists from various points on the street art continuum.
From the graphic design end of the continuum: a couple of pieces seemed to gain inclusion to the exhibit merely because of a street art aesthetic rather than Leaving any real substantive Message. In a way, this may have well been the intention of the curator, though. Southern California’s style of street art which has evolved in the Low Brow art movement and design style has a particularly strong foothold here in Florida. The Morean Arts Center’s exhibit isn’t so much a survey of Floridian artists as a survey of street art in Florida. In this context, its commercial use can’t be ignored.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of the show is what is most interesting about street art exhibits in general: the tricky move from the brick wall to the gallery wall. The simple change of context from street to gallery has always been a touchy one. Even legendary street artists such as Banksy or Shepard Fairey risked relinquishing any and all cred simply by exhibiting in an institutionally accepted setting.
Street artists can ignore the implications of exhibiting in a proper gallery, put up a mural on the dry wall that any other day would’ve been on a brick wall and yet achieve desirable results. The best work in the exhibit, though, addresses the potentially pretentious gallery setting.
This is readily seen in Allen Leper Hampton’s wonderfully witty sculpture Big Black Diamond. The sculpture is in the shape of a thirty-six inch brilliant cut diamond. While the diamond screams materialism and wealth, the materials it appears to be made of are more closely associated with homelessness: cardboard, tape, black paint. Hampton’s other two pieces featured in the show are priced $500 and $250. Big Black Diamond, however, carries a price tag of $10,000 – more of a statement than an actual cost. It’s easy to grasp what Hampton may be getting at about fetishizing over art objects and growing class gaps.
Big Black Diamond also illustrates the best of street-art gallery exhibits. The sculpture fits the street art label, but not because it’s spray painted or makes use of stock street art imagery. Big Black Diamond pulls its street style out of its irreverence and subversive nature.
Poverty, wealth, sex, boredom, rebellion, – we got the message. The thoughts on the minds of wall-writing-youth are heavy; they’ve outgrown graffiti and into street art. Leave a Message managed to show that not only is the medium impossible to ignore, but the message foolish to overlook.
Morean Art Center
719 Central Avenue St. Petersburg, FL 33701 / (727) 821-5623
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