I went to the opening of "Outpost: Art from the Streets" last night on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour...
What's the significance of street art? Is it "art"? what defines street art? Who makes street art? The Outpost festival explores these questions and an awful lot more.
What defines street art? To me it has a lot to do with a graphic style and use of particular techniques (spray paint, stencils) but in many ways to try and put boundaries around it defeats it. My colleague had the best short definition, that it's defined by the attitude of the artist. Rebelliousness, counter authority. When the law says you can't do something, then its fair game for street art. (Which was sort of ironic given that there were conspicuous signs at the venue begging visitors not to tag the place. I think it was appealing to a sort of honour amongst thieves spirit.)
The works are many and varied, often with a strong narrative and (literally) call to action, and the grungy industrial fabric of Cockatoo Island is the perfect location for the Outpost festival.
But there is a funny sort of risk about what happens when some street art gets too cool for its own good, and becomes collectable by orthodox art museums. Think Banksy. Does that de-legitimise it? Media reports leading up to the opening of Outpost and rumours last night said Banksy was in this show, but if he is, he was nowhere to be seen. Other rumours said he is now so collectable that there was a risk the works would be stolen. Again, perverse sorts of irony.
Anyway, the show is great and poses many questions about the nature of outsider art. Questions a museum like ours needs to think about too.