Street art was once the scourge of the urban landscape, a symbol of its descent into dystopia. Slowly, it became admired, then embraced and now, it is set to become fully integrated with these plans for a new ‘glass mural’ building in Detroit.
The development of street art has been contradictorily gradual and rapid. From tags around city centres for kudos amongst peers to a multi-million dollar buzzword, the story has been anything but linear or predictable. Months pass when nothing much is said, then suddenly, another dispute arises or a new artist-messiah emerges from nowhere.
With the coronavirus pandemic, street art has reflected the state of affairs, but has also been going through a quiet patch, like a lot of the art world has. Closures of museums and less human traffic on the streets means that the audience potential is thinning. Then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, an architectural firm reignited all of the stable street art talking points in an entirely new way.
Dutch agency MVRDV designed a four-storey office and retail building using the works of street artists built into it. Initially, it is set to preserve a preexisting mural by Denial, before adding another by Sheefy McFly - the two wrapping around the entire façade. This goes one step further than commissioning a wall inside a reception area or piece outside. It is, whichever side if the fence you sit on, much more of a statement.
It is already controversial and will, no doubt, continue to be. There’s no consensus either, which makes the whole ‘street art as art’ debate so fascinating. For the hardcore in street art and graffiti, this further level of integration is blasphemy. It’s pure cashing-in on a lifestyle, just as companies have done with punk in previous generations.
Still, these very same artists rely on large commissions to survive as artists, an internal struggle that many in the field are continually battling. It’s a balance, that’s true. But the moment you accept one collaboration with a brand, you’re now a part of the same system within which they operate. Maybe, then, looking at this building as some sort of ‘sell out’ or ‘cash-in’ isn’t the right perspective. Maybe it's an entirely new inroads into the way cities develop?
Especially boasting an ever-changing wall that will change through its own commissions, it's another way to integrate street art into professional life and a reframing of the separation between the two.
Many in architecture will object too. Architecture, a very forward-thinking and experimental craft, remains very elitist. For many in this field, buildings like this are an affront to the unwritten rules that govern their trade. Artwork, like murals, is something that goes on or in a building, it isn’t the building itself. The art of the building comes from the architecture.
For others, it is a ‘love letter to the city’, lauded for the innovative glass technology that allows the murals to be a part of the building, rather than having to work around windows.
What are your thoughts on it? Sell-out? Cash-in? Innovative? Incredible?
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