I readily confess that it was with a mixture of conservative trepidation and revolutionary fervour in roughly equal measure that I looked forward to viewing this show – on paper and through my portal router it looked really very compelling. The Palazzo Pepoli itself is a wonderful place, but I was of course minded that as much as art represents itself within the context of its institutions, the institutions themselves come to represent the container and context for that which is shown in its confines . This historic former grand palace of a wealthy Italian dynasty raised one eyebrow then, but of course the juxtaposition sets in train some intriguing narratives around establishment and the topical take on ‘property as theft’  – on which more later.
The space within the Palazzo is spectacular and really very friendly to contemporary art; it is large, airy and spacious, with some extraordinary opportunities to display large scale ambitious works that can be viewed from landings, staircases and the elevator areas. I mention this because some of the best curatorial moments in the show take advantage of the space and it’s rather unusual multiple viewing points or platforms – so far so good. The show (open until the 26th of June) is rather well curated by Luca Ciancabilla, Christian Omodeo and Sean Corcoran; I was going to say well ‘hung’, as ‘curation’ in the normal sense of the word in relation to a show of graffiti somehow seems a rather overblown term.
There are some really great works in this show, with the standout works coming from Banksy (of course), Dran, Blu and art of trespass’, John Fekner. On the plus side, yes there are some great individual and serial objects that are self-contained, free standing statements/narratives that stand credibly as great artworks that will stand the test of time, politics and competition from other great art. Yes there are some incredibly funny, astute, poignant site references and material innovations. Yes there are feats of bravado/daring/stupidity that defy rational cause. Yes, Banksy (whose name is serious box office of course) is brilliant. What I love about (the best) street art is that it manages to be raw, honest, political, courageous,subversive, super satirical, sassy, inciting and absolutely in-your-face.
The challenges I find with this show therefore aren’t really to do with the content per se, but they are manifold. I mean, whoever thought that re/dislocating so many of the site-specific works into the environs of a museum was not going to be fraught with difficulty? Many works simply lose their meaning and have become transformed by the trappings of museum culture and presentational convention into meaningless flotsam. Surely turning these often edgy narratives into museum content is completely missing the point – unlessing of course the point is that it now becomes fodder for the art market. As if to accentuate this, many of the works are in more or less rarified private collections. My frustrations are borne of the unassuageable, vampirical thirst of capitalism for slowly sucking the life blood out of the best and edgiest of culture through its transformation from content into product. As much as museums become implicated as public markers of cultural value, it is in relation to ‘street art’ specifically that I highlight the flip between artistic merit and its monetization; for me, the art of the street throws this dichotomy into uncomfortably sharp relief.
My earlier reference to ‘property as theft’ (a book in itself in relation to the arts), does not refer solely to the anarchistic tension between societal and cultural ‘have’s and have not’s’, but also to the (dis)location and removal of street art from what might be seen as public ownership or at least work within the public domain, put up for sale in the private sector commodities market. The numerous and well-documented thefts, removals and disappearances of some major urban works might in and of itself be seen as a self-inflicted indictment of the market and a further indicator of societal division in relation to the acquisitive capitalist consumption of art and the democratizing intention of the producers: If one takes an altruistic view of production of course, which I always do.
I already mentioned of course the exceptions to this double-bind, and, as much as Banksy is the name and the star, the other stand-out artist in this show – at least in my view - is John Fekner. Fekner stands outside of this genre, both generationally and in terms of a broader conceptual practice that sits more easily, and more articulately, within the space of this show. Fekner states: ‘As an artist, the concepts of memory, perception and transformation have remained an integral component of my creative explorations throughout my entire career. Combined with my love of poetry, I connected something that was extremely personal with a greater need to express and communicate directly in the outdoor environment.’
Fekner states: ‘As an artist, the concepts of memory, perception and transformation have remained an integral component of my creative explorations throughout my entire career. Combined with my love of poetry, I connected something that was extremely personal with a greater need to express and communicate directly in the outdoor environment.’
There are over 250 works in this show, and to highlight any individually doesn’t help but give a false impression. Buy the catalogue, see the show and make up your own mind. I came away seething quietly – and strangely, maybe that’s what I had hoped for, just not for the same (or even for the right) reasons.
 Here I use the word ‘confines’ advisedly and not without irony of course.
 Qu'est-ce que la propriété ? ou Recherche sur le principe du Droit et du Gouvernement, (1840) Bibliography: Proudhon, P.J. (2001) Quest-ce que la propriété? Ou Recherches sur le principe du droit et du gouvernement. Adamant Media. In-line Citation: (Proudhon, 2001).