Indoor, Outdoor, and the In-Between: Street Art and the Beginning of a New Artistic Period
Popularity and obsession with street art has been climbing for over a decade, but with increased acclaim and marketability comes an inevitable shift. As an art style gains popularity, artists begin to experiment within that style and a natural variation occurs. Eventually, a new style is born and thus is the natural swing of the art historical pendulum. This raises the question, however, is the period of Street Art over?
In a 2016 article entitled “Street Art Is a Period. Period. Or the Emergence of Intermural Art” Dr. Rafael Schacter, an anthropologist and curator based at University College London, argues that we are indeed in a new artistic period. Schacter states that the current state of Street Art “is a period in a categorically ambiguous position…” and discusses what he terms the new era of Intermural Art. The selection of such a term does not come lightly for Schacter, who notes Intermural as meaning “Art in between walls. Not art inside the walls (intramural), nor outside them (extramural), but art between these same walls.”There is, therefore, a significant importance placed on the dialogue and relationship of inside and out and the ways that they influence one another. Intermural Art is one that “[ventures] beyond and between the gaps in these previous terminologies, exploring the space in between…”Schacter in turn defines this art by its refusal to fit boundaries, a poetically accurate description. Defiance has been central in graffiti and Street Art since the beginning and it continues to thread through the Intermural as artists defy categorization itself. By definition, Street Art is done on the street, yet many artists now work on canvas, through installations, murals, t-shirts, skateboards, sketchbooks, graphics, Instagram, and much more. They are working independently and collaborating with one another, illegally active on the streets while also present in galleries, museums, and auction houses. They are conveying relevant political commentary and conveying nothing at all. They are there for pleasure, for a quick photograph, and for deep introspection; sometimes they are all of these and none of these at the same time. There are artists who work between one or more, stretching the boundaries of Street Art as they experiment with other media, techniques, canvases and settings. They are a new breed of Street Artist and as such they make us question what Street Art really is. These avant-garde artists have pushed the limits so far that they now inhabit a different territory all together.
This territory can be confusing, especially as we encounter varied artistic styles that all seem to fall under the Street Art umbrella. Scholars such as Javier Abarca have been working to identity the differences in this practice in articles such as “From street art to murals: what have we lost?” The title itself suggests that the two are not one in the same but demand individual recognition. Abarca believes, just as Schacter does, that Street Art is one that works within its surroundings and acts in dialogue instead of in dissonance. Abarca definitively says, “The street is not a blank canvas.”This very sentence summarizes a key point in the confusion between mural art and Street Art. The blank wall of a mural is often viewed as a bare space ready for a new work of art while the street is an existing system of structures and forms, each with an established meaning and relationship to the people who have come into contact with them on a daily basis. Abarca diligently notes that, “in a properly made street art piece these forms and meanings are not the backdrop, they are the working material.”Street Art, therefore, is not only the result of what the artist has created but what already existed in the fist place. It is symbiotic and not dominating. It is art for the people, one that encourages everyday passersby to interact with it. This is a large difference between Street Art and murals. Murals are often the product of corporate or institutional sponsorship, since they require heavy machinery and large, open spaces to produce. This means that they play into the boundaries set by such organizations instead of going against them and defy the ephemeral nature of Street Art as sanctioned art works that are not meant to be altered or destroyed.Along with Abarca and Schacter, scholar Ulriche Blanché sees murals and Street Art as separate as well. When asked about his favorite street artists he responded, “actually most works labeled as Street Art are repetitive and kitschy…I prefer smaller, illegal works to murals.”In one sentence he summed up both Abarca and Schacter’s point. In saying that murals are only ‘labeled’ as Street Art, but not actually in the same category, he brings attention to the need for a new term and a new period.
Interesting enough, many online portfolios often split up wall art and Street Art, art of the inside and outside, and sometimes even include an ‘in between’ section. Brooklyn based street artist Elle differentiates her work between wall art, Street Art, and graffiti or unsanctioned works. She effectively confuses Blanché’s previous distinction, since she groups unsanctioned/illegal works separately from Street Art. Yet, she still feels the need to categorize her larger wall pieces as separate from Street Art altogether. According to her portfolio, graffiti and unsanctioned works consist largely of tags placed on billboards, rooftops, and water tanks. Her Street Art is plastered on walls, mailboxes, and replaces bus ads. It does, however, conform to Abarca and Schacter’s definition of Street Art as one that coalesces with its environment, adding to it rather than dominating it. As a Brooklyn artist as well she is local and satisfies Abarca’s need for an intimate relationship between street artists and setting – in New York at least. However, her walls category contains mural-esque artworks done both inside and outside, for festivals, commissioned by the Urban Arts Fund or Australian Immigration Office. The fact the Elle defines herself as a street artist but that her portfolio contains works outside of that realm speak to the confusion of the boundaries of this art in contemporary society. She is an artist working between the walls, in the gaps of Street Art, graffiti, and mural art and she is not the only one. The two-man collective CYRCLE are quite literally working within these same walls. Their website has the unique distinction between Indoor, Outdoor, and In between art, a perfect symbol of Intemrual Art. Their Indoor art is largely gallery and installation based artworks while their Outdoor work consists of mainly giant-scale, mural-sized works. Their In between category, however, operates within and without, taking an outdoor mural inside and twisting conceptions of Street Art. One work utilizes a performer and focuses on poses and clothing, emphasizing the idea of Street Art as performative while ironically placing it indoors and centralizing the performance around fashion – a capitalist symbol. Others are done in office spaces, hotels, TV studios, and restaurants, bringing the mural art of the outside in and further complicating the definition of Street Art.
The distinction and categorization of periods or artistic styles is not to place one above another or to attempt to pigeonhole or constrict artists. It is simply to acknowledge that one type is different from another, and that a different approach is necessary for a comprehensive understanding of each art form. In understanding Street Art as a period we are allowed to step back and consider the smaller, illegal works in a different light than the larger murals, and the institutionally sponsored wall paintings, and to appreciate them all individually. Of course, there are always those who will defy categorization, but working within the gaps they are inherently Intermural artists as those “occupying the spaces in between in disruptive, innovative, boundary shifting ways.”It is truly exciting to see where such a freedom will lead and to experience the next phase in Street Art Now.
Author: Baylee McKeel
Baylee McKeel graduated magna cum laude from New York University with art history honors. She holds a BA in art history with minors in Italian studies and social and cultural analysis. She completed an honors thesis on Jusepe de Ribera’s early paintings and the dilemma of Caravaggism in early seventeenth-century European painting. She has previously worked in the curatorial department at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and with the collection manager at NYU’s Villa la Pietra in Florence, Italy. She has extensive research and writing experience, having written and published various articles for Musée Magazine. She recently held positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum of Art performing comprehensive research and assisting in funding and special events.