“The privatization of street art and the preservation paradox”
Published in the double-blind peer-reviewed journal Visual Inquiry: Learning & Teaching Art.
Volume 7 Issue 1
Keywords: street art, commercialism, community, public art, contemporary art, art practice, authentication, site-specific art
Abstract: Impactful online and hyped in the media, street art remains an art world enigma: It’s commercial success is celebrated but its public iterations still exist somewhere between public art and vandalism. This article presents the street artist’s practice as a two-part enterprise, comprised of commercial works created for resale and public works intended as gifts to the public. Interdependent and inextricably linked, both elements exist as two sides of the same practice in a strategy informed by the success of twentieth-century street artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Conceptually centred around authentication, a street artist’s dual practice discourages the sale of public works by declaring them inauthentic post-removal, complicating their ability to be preserved for the very public for which they are originally intended. This article examines the consequences of this dual practice, focusing specifically on the paradoxical position of removed public works and the systems which enable their legal sales without the artist’s involvement. The article concludes with an argument advocating for the preservation of public works, in order to facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the street artist’s practice.