Graffiti by invitation?

As usual, I’m a few months behind on editing my own photos. I’ve just uploaded a set from visiting the Wynwood Walls last December. It’s a place I very much enjoy walking around, but also find deeply weird.

Time machine

“The world’s greatest artists working in the graffiti and street art genre” [I’m quoting the place’s own publicity materials] have been invited to decorate a restaurant and its grounds, and some of the work spills over into the surrounding area. On the one hand, here is a free-admission gallery showing some really great art. On the other, I can’t help feeling that this type of art is inherently corrupted by being commissioned, exhibited and used in this way.

Traditionally, graffiti has been the ultimate outsider art: people with very limited resources claiming whatever space they can to both make and exhibit work. It feels a bit odd to me to have graffiti superstars at all, never mind to have them commissioned and flown in from around the world. At the same time, much of the most involved, beautiful graffiti I’ve seen around has clearly been in places where it’s at least tacitly tolerated, because who wants to put that much time into something that’s likely to be painted over next week? But I think there are some key differences between somewhere like the South Bank skate park in London and the Wynwood Walls:

The skate park, while it’s clearly something of an officially sanctioned graffiti area, feels like it’s been decorated by its users, for their own benefit. The Wynwood district feels every bit as commercialised as Pop Art, with much of the work quite clearly there to sell stuff:

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The skate park, like any skate park I’ve ever seen, feels deeply connected to its local area. The Wynwood district is a collection of art brought in from all over the world, that could have been installed anywhere there happened to be an interested developer with a block of land to get things started. This was the only piece of invited art I could find that clearly referenced what came before:

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While it’s generally presented as [I paraphrase] “these saintly developers swooped in and rescued a blighted area”, the district clearly has a large number of warehouses and businesses that predate its being a graffiti mecca. Ironically, many of them have rather lovely murals advertising their wares:

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…which I suppose is the one way in which this project does converse with its location, but it’s jarring how much the older murals feel like a world apart from the new work. I think this was the part that troubled me the most. Unsanctioned graffiti will always find a space, and co-opting some of it doesn’t squeeze the rest out, but redeveloping an area of cheap land used by small businesses does push them out to make space for the expensive restaurants and art-as-investment galleries. All of which made it feel rather ironic that 2011’s newer pieces included a distinct theme of unrest and disaffection with the present economic system:

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