Outside In: Art of the Street
February 13–April 19, 2015

For immediate release: 1/15/15
For further information contact: Emmie Donadio, Chief Curator, at donadio@middlebury.edu or (802) 443-2240

Middlebury, VT— On Friday, February 13, the Middlebury College Museum of Art will celebrate the opening of the spring exhibition Outside In: Art of the Street. Organized by the museum’s chief curator Emmie Donadio and Museum Preparator Chris Murray, this exhibition presents works by 16 international artists or artist-teams. Although the artists represented began their careers on the streets, where they often used their graphic skills to register political and ideological protest, many have subsequently appeared in high-profile museum exhibitions, and several have been awarded public commissions. Among those included in this exhibition are some artists whose actual identities are concealed behind the names Banksy, Bäst, Blu, Faile, Swoon, and Judith Supine. In the same company, Shepard Fairey and JR are among the more immediately identifiable of those whose works are on view. Tracing the origins of current street art to the wave of vandalism that struck metropolitan New York in the 1970s, the selection of works here also includes documentary photographs by Henry Chalfant. These show legions of subway cars “bombed” (plastered) with spray-painted “tags” and graffiti.

Intimately associated with activism all over the world, street art undeniably strives to be polemical in nature—as is demonstrated by Shepard Fairey’s Global Warming, Blu’s Gaza Strip, JR’s Triptych, and Banksy’s Christ with Shopping Bags. Most of the works seen here are on loan to the Museum from private owners, although a few have been acquired for the College’s permanent collection. With artists from Italy, France, the U.K., Brazil, the U.S., Iran, and Japan, the exhibition is a testament to the global nature of today’s street art.

Early practitioners risked arrest and prosecution—for both vandalism and trespassing—in the making of their careers, and some street artists today still work by stealth. Banksy, among the most notorious of these, has achieved rock-star status while managing to maintain his anonymity, even while garnering an Academy Award nomination for the 2010 documentary film “Through the Gift Shop.” Like their precursors in the movement, the street artists of today continue to engage in protest and see themselves as social activists representing outsiders and underdogs. Claiming what they consider the greatest art gallery of all—urban public space—they seek to provoke, inform, indict, and cajole. Though their projects appear randomly and unexpectedly in big cities like Paris, London, or New York, they have also appeared in the favelas of Sao Paulo and in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. The internet and social media have made such sites accessible worldwide.

Street artists today no longer rely primarily on aerosol spray cans to leave their mark. Most, like Banksy, use silk screened designs, which can be applied both quickly and surreptitiously. And since such a production technique can also yield prints—whether on fine or cheap paper or in numbered or unlimited editions—many of the challenging works on view were in fact produced in distinguished print ateliers and exhibit high production values. They have been acquired by collectors at commercial auction, from artist websites, or through art dealers. So although the artists may wish to continue their work in a spirit of subversion and capitalist critique, the art world establishment has nevertheless embraced if not entirely incorporated them.

In addition to prints, the exhibition also includes two installations of wheatpastes mounted on actual wall surfaces that have been transported from the Brooklyn studios of Faile and Swoon. Another surface is covered with wheatpastes from the studio of Shepard Fairey. These recycled walls will bring the outside in, providing a sense of the street itself, as opposed to the framed prints on view. Ben Eine, the celebrated London artist whose work was a gift to President Obama from U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, will visit the Museum to paint one of the exhibition walls with a word rendered in his characteristic typography. Another locally produced installation features some thirty portrait photographs of student Friends of the Middlebury College Museum of Art. The inclusion of these portraits adds Middlebury’s name to the list of more than one hundred sites worldwide that comprise TED-celebrity-artist JR’s INSIDE OUT project. The students wrote a mission statement and volunteered to become part of the project, which seeks “to project messages of personal identity into works of art.” Mammoth portraits of these Middlebury students cover one of the walls and continue onto the floor of the exhibition.

In conjunction with Outside In, Henry Chalfant, documentarian of the late 1970s and early 80s urban efflorescence of graffiti in New York, will present his Sundance award-winning film “Style Wars” on Thursday, March 5, at 4:30 p.m. in Dana Auditorium in the Sunderland Language Center. Exploring the conjunction between the phenomena of hip hop and graffiti culture, Chalfant’s film vividly captures the gritty streets that spawned this renegade art. Sponsored by the Museum, the Departments of Geography, History of Art and Architecture, and Film and Media Studies, the screening will be followed by a question and answer period with Mr. Chalfant. The event is free and open to the public.

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