untangling the awkward relationship between art and money

Obey! Shepard Fairey Plasters Hosier Lane

And so, another instalment in my series of poor-quality photos – this time taken in the rain with my phone. But, I couldn’t help myself. Until Never (the gallery) is running an exhibition of noted American street artist Shepard Fairey’s work at the moment, and the wall that leads from the corner of Hosier Lane to the gallery’s entrance is completely plastered with a veritable gallery of Fairey’s most iconic images. It’s quite a sight to see.

The juxtaposition of the posters in their natural habitat with their presentation in the 2nd floor, white-cube gallery space, is curious and telling. On what was a chilly, drizzly Melbourne afternoon, the posters in the lane, which as you can see have already attracted the attention of taggers, were torn, discoloured and peeling off the wall in places. They have a texture and immediacy to them – you know they will continue to deteriorate, exposed as they are to the elements and the activities of other makers of marks on walls. Wait much longer, and there won’t be much left to see. And what better way to speak of commodification, dehumanisation and the industrial machine than to  churn out images on paper intended to be pasted on walls in the urban jungle and destined to end up buried under layers of street-art detritus, painted over by diligent council clean-up teams, or squished into great, coloured gobs of soggy torn paper? Knowing that these artworks are ephemeral makes the messages they communicate all the more powerful. And then, upstairs in the gallery, posters are transformed into commodities. Not that I should be complaining – I couldn’t resist buying an Obey Giant print. Yes, I can be a nasty, acquisitive beastie. But watching the transition of street art from the cobbled laneways to the austere confines of the commercial gallery space is intriguing. Relying, as it has, on subversive means of communication and guerilla tactics, how will the movement adapt to a radically altered environment?

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