‘Street Art: Contemporary Prints’ @ Nottingham Castle Museum

Using a specific form of printmaking, Street Art has been prised from its original location and is now being displayed in an intimate exhibition at Nottingham Castle, a setting where the very traditional meets the contemporary. The exhibition is split into four themes; Politics and Propaganda, Symbols and Characters, Influences and Image-Making, and the City and Street. The distinctly creative prints show a flourishing suburbia, created through a combination of visual culture and art history. Amongst exhibits of emerging and established street artists, both British and international, it isn’t long until you spot a name or two that you would associate with Street Art, e.g. Shepard Fairey, Swoon, D*Face, Miss.Tic, Sweet Toof, or the notorious Banksy. This rich, democratic exhibition recounts how Street Art has moved from the painted wall into a form of printmaking, enabling these images to become portable, accessible, and reproduced.

But is Street Art meant to be owned?

Surprisingly, the V&A has been collecting Street Art since 2004, when it was just starting to get noticed by mainstream museums. However, it was the Tate Modern that became the first major public museum to exhibit Street Art back in 2008. But why is it acceptable to exhibit this ‘art’ in government-sponsored institutions? After all, Street Art is unsanctioned and still classified as a street crime; many people feel that it is a type of vandalism that we can see everywhere, everyday.

It also raises the question: should we have to pay for an exhibition such as this? For this indefinable art form, that to some is moonlighting as a form of vandalism? Technically, the street is an open-air gallery and provides unlimited access to this form of art, which is why it’s quite controversial to make the public pay to see it. As a result of this surrounding controversy, Street Art has become very popular with auctioneers, collectors, and museums that all want to enjoy some of its publicity.

As a ‘freedom of expression’ (be it political, social, or personal), Street Art has been accepted into institutions with open arms. However, this defeats the original purpose and meaning that the artists set out to achieve. By moving it into galleries, the impact and ambience that it had on the streets is lost. A piece of Street Art that was once situated in a colourful, busy, area lit by street lamps, but has now been moved to an immaculate, carefully spot-lit gallery won’t have the same effect on people. It defeats the whole purpose of Street Art to preserve what was once painted on concrete and exposed to natural deterioration in a gallery. Conversely, by putting Street Art into notable establishments, it gives it a chance to be accepted as ‘art’, simply because of the credibility it gains from being viewed in a respected and reputable setting.

Either way, what the street artists are trying to do is not dissimilar in any way to what any artist is trying to achieve, and that is to convey messages about modern life and current affairs through recognizable images. Yet, by displaying them on the streets they make more of an impact on the world. Will Street Art ever die? No. As long as there are opinions, and as long as its remains an anonymous art, it will only increase.

So, should Street Art be shown in established art institutions? Well I think it should remain on the streets, but seeing as they make an impact on society, there is nothing wrong with displaying it the established art world.

Claire Tole-Moir

Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery is exhibiting ‘Street Art: Contemporary Prints’ (2 July – 25 Sept), courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

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