It’s taken decades – but the acceptance of street art as bone fide art has finally come to pass. At least, for some people. For every shop owner who finds he’s won the lottery by waking to find that Banksy has painted his wall and for every gallery-goer who wants to ponder the inner meaning of some well-framed graffito, there still remain many who consider such works amateurish, even destructive doodlings.
Winning the hearts and minds of doubters is an on-going process, much as was the case with – over the 20th century – conceptual, Cubist, abstract and video art before it. Some graffiti artists left the walls behind and found approval within the gallery system – though retained a graffiti style, as with Jean-Michel Basquiat. More recently grafitti artists have had to tread a fine line between credibility and accusations of selling out: the worlds of street art – spontaneous, public, provocative, unsanctioned, cool – and of the wider art world – commercial, hyped, layered, critiqued, actually rather traditional – has never made for an easy fit.
That street art is on its way, however, is evidenced by Opera Gallery Dubai’s new show (marking the gallery’s tenth anniversary). ‘Urban Poetry’ is a gathering of pieces by some of the founding fathers of street art – Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf – as well as those from the likes of Ron English, Blek Le Rat and London Police; these younger artists having daubed the walls of La Mer, City Walk and Satwa, helping to change opinions – or at least spark debate – about street art across the region.
Not that the idea of graffiti is exactly new: the very earliest art might be considered cave graffiti. “The desire to paint in public locations has never faded. It’s deeply embedded within our soul and genetic heritage,” as Sylvain Gaillard, the director of the Opera Gallery puts it. “The 80s was the decade that established street art, particularly in New York City. Back then, a young generation of artists found that the best way to get their voices heard was to take their message to the streets or the subway.”
And as for accusations that graffiti blights the urban vista? “At the very core, the goal of these artists was to create something that will receive a reaction from as many people as possible, rather than what is often wrongfully perceived as a desire to degrade or appropriate a public location,” she says. Make your own mind up at the gallery from October 3rd to 17th.