As the opening of the Postal Plaza Gallery draws nearer, the museum staff has been having conversations about branding and identity for the Gallery and the OSUMA. In one recent brainstorming session, the word “unexpected” emerged as a leading concept. Many things about the OSUMA are unexpected—to be honest, the fact of our existence would have been pretty unexpected just four years ago! Since then, we’ve capitalized on the unexpected, surprising people with the breadth of our collection, which ranges from ancient art right up to contemporary, and with engaging programming across campus that draws in passers-by and keeps them excited and enthralled for hours.
I spend part of each summer with family in London, and I take advantage of my time in one of the world’s art capitals to see as many exhibitions as possible (this year I visited over thirty exhibitions in under three weeks). Many of the galleries and museums I visit are intimately familiar; but I always try to find something new—something unexpected.
Somewhat unintentionally, a theme emerged this year: of unexpected venues, as well as unexpected artwork. What happens when art moves outside its prescribed spaces?
We experimented with that idea at the OSUMA last spring, when visiting artist Yatika Fields led a live painting workshop that culminated in a performance on the Student Union plaza. An active graffiti artist, Fields has plenty of experience working outside museum and gallery walls. I thought of him as I was taking a tour of street art in east London—which epitomized the idea of art in unexpected places.
Stik (London), untitled, ca. 2013. Stik went from homeless to celebrity in less than two years when he started painting these distinctive stick figures around the east end of London. In this work, the leaning contrapposto of the figure acknowledges the presence of the dumpster.
(As with most photos on the blog, you can click the images in this post to see a higher-resolution version.)
Bansky (Bristol/London), “This Wall Is a Designated Graffiti Area,” before 2004, stencil. Having a painting by Banksy on your building raises its value by up to three quarters of a million dollars. Many of his extant pieces are protected with Plexiglas. This has contributed to the impression in the street art community that Banksy is a sell-out, and above the law—although this piece, first created before Banksy was well known, is typical of his early manipulations of viewers’ expectations and public conventions to create a space for street art.
Augustine Kofie (Los Angeles) and Nawer (Cracow), untitled, 2012. Painted during the week of the “Futurism 2.0” exhibition at Blackall Studios, which was the first exhibition to explore the emerging street art movement known as “graffuturism.” Taking inspiration from the Italian Futurists of the early 20th century, graffuturism uses abstraction to explore the aesthetics of the postmodern, global urban environment.
Conor Harrington (Cork/London), “Gonna Take My Problems to the United Nations,” 2012. Painted for the Whitecross Street Party, this piece has Harrington’s signature mix of period costume and contemporary flags. Harrington works from elaborate photos that he stages himself. In the foreground of the photo, hand raised, is our fantastic guide, Karim, from Street Art London.
Pablo Delgado (Mexico/London), untitled, 2013. Delgado’s tiny figures, complete with painted shadows, are designed to be discreet. “We need to be less,” he told an interviewer from hungertv.com in 2012. “We are too many in the world and that small size is the opposite of the stupid necessities and immense resources that we use. … Not being obvious was the purpose.”
Ben Wilson (London), “Untitled (Old Street Station),” painting on chewing gum outside Old Street Underground Station, London, 2013. Wilson paints tiny vignettes on the blackened blobs of discarded chewing gum that are ubiquitous in urban environments. Technically, this means his art is not illegal, because he is not defacing original surfaces.
Where will I find art next week? In a parking garage!