Blight Might Make Right

Street art has gone from subversive to respectable over the past decade, what with Banksy becoming an Oscar nominee and Shepard Fairey mounting career retrospectives in white-walled museums. It’s an object lesson in Joe Strummer’s maxim, “He who fucks nuns will later join the church.” The form has now also been granted the ultimate stamp of legitimacy — a lavish Taschen book, Trespass. A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art. It’s enough to make a purist take to the streets. But the thing about street art is that it can never be completely mainstreamed, no matter how many times it’s appropriated by Krylon-wielding viral marketing teams or exhibited to the art world elite. As long as there are disenfranchised young artists, it’ll remain vital and anarchic. The author/editors of Trespass are wise to celebrate this restless quality instead of attempting to preserve the form in amber. The book documents street art’s history, from Keith Haring and Jenny Holzer to the Guerrilla Girls and Banksy, while treating the form as an ever-moving target, a defiant act of social protest and guerrilla urban renewal. To celebrate the book’s release, editor Ethel Seno interviews Jack Napier of the Billboard Liberation Front about how street art and its endlessly defiant spirit became an (official) global phenomenon.
Thu., Feb. 17, 7 p.m., 2011

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