Urban Art

Urban artists stand out for their democratic production and take images from the streets to museums and galleries.

Urban art has become a worldwide phenomenon. Until recently, it was practiced in a marginal way and was restricted to building facades and walls. Today, it is present in galleries, museums, biennials, auctions and even in decoration projects. And Brazilian artists are among the most important on the international scene, thanks to the singularity of their talent.

This year, a series of events showed that the artistic language that was born from the graffiti tradition in the peripheries of big cities has definitely fallen into the graces of the public and specialized critics.

One of the great attractions of the International Art Fair of Rio de Janeiro was the parallel exhibition ART RUA, with artistic interventions in the streets of the port region that gathered more than 50 graffiti artists, among Brazilians and foreigners. “There is no doubt that urban art is an important aspect of contemporary art. The most renowned museums in the world have already held exhibitions entirely dedicated to it or to artists who have a work based on urban art,” says Jordons Francisco, of QAZ Art Gallery, in São Paulo, one of the sector’s leading artists.

Like QAZ, spaces specialized in urban art have recently emerged. In São Paulo, the Galeria Logo is already a reference in the field. “Some of our artists are among the main names in Brazilian urban art, but we position the work they develop in their ateliers in the broader context of contemporary art,” says Lucas Ribeiro, one of the partners. “Of course the particular relationship they have with the city influences the language, but the result is quite different from street art. Not that it is better or worse, it is something else”.

On the rise

There are few galleries dedicated to contemporary art that have also begun to contemplate the aesthetics of urban art in their collections. In São Paulo, Galeria Paralelo represents the artist Vermelho; Fortes Villaça, Osgemeos, considered the ambassadors of national street art; and Galeria Leme, Nina Pandolfo, whose solo exhibition this year has achieved great success. In Rio de Janeiro, Inox, in addition to a select range of contemporary artists, has Alexandre Orion and Smael in its portfolio; and Gentil Carioca, the artist Carlos Contente.

The success of these names already goes beyond the borders of the country. “I just had my second solo exhibition at the gallery that represents me in Paris, the Brugier-Rigail,” says Smael. The Carioca artist has already received several invitations to international exhibitions in 2014, one being a solo exhibition in Dubai and another with American Crash, a veteran of graffiti in Miami. The Red artist has been distinguished by award-winning scenographies that have given him promising contacts in Europe.

At major art fairs, urban language is increasingly represented. In the first edition of PARTE, in 2011, there were only three galleries dedicated to the style. In 2013, there were 20. “Urban aesthetics attracts both the most experienced collector seeking novelties and those planning to start a collection,” says Tamara Brandt Perlman, one of the organizers.

According to her, it is increasingly common for people to look at a work at the fair and recognize the artist for having seen works of his authorship in the streets. The opposite also happens: people start to distinguish in the street images of artists with works in the fair. “It is an enriching dynamic that generates a new source of pleasure, of looking at the street and the city with a renewed interest.

Traditional institutions of the artistic circuit have played an important role in the valorization of urban art. The Brazilian Sculpture Museum (MuBe), in São Paulo, held earlier this year the second edition of the International Graffiti Fine Art Biennial, which brought together about 50 artists from Brazil and abroad. This year, the International Biennial of Curitiba dedicated space to public art.

To show how the idea of public art was changing, Teixeira Coelho, curator of the Biennial of Curitiba and the Museum of Art of São Paulo (Masp), held the exhibition From Inside to Out, with great names in the segment worldwide. At the time, the city hall of São Paulo had decided to no longer approve the installation of busts in public squares with the justification that this type of art belongs to the 19th century and adds nothing to the current urban scenario.

Even on the streets, urban art is gaining a new status. This is the case of the São Paulo Open Museum of Urban Art (Maau-SP), a set of over 60 graphite panels designed on Cruzeiro do Sul Avenue, between Santana and Portuguese-Tietê subway stations in the northern part of São Paulo, one of the cradles of graphite in the city.

In Curitiba, Galeria Arte Urbana – Memórias de Curitiba, was inaugurated this year. Initiatives such as these reveal that urban art has reflexes in the cities, which gain a new symbolic dimension, and in the artistic system itself, which opens itself to experiences that break down the boundaries between the cult, the popular and the massive, giving rise to a less elitist and more democratic art.

From walls to museums

Urban art has as its cradle the tradition of graffiti, a style of mural painting made mainly with spray, from the 1970’s in New York, in the context of the so-called hip-hop culture, which brought together Latin and African-American communities. In the following decade, in the big metropolises, variations of this visual language emerged. Unlike the “graffiti”, focused on writing, the new painters began to incorporate figurative or abstract forms in their works.

The most prominent names today have a work based on a strong aesthetic project. This is the case of dozens of internationally recognized Brazilian artists, such as Carlos Contente, who began painting in the streets in the early 2000s and has a work focused on the encounter of drawing with the word, as shown in a recent exhibition at the São Paulo gallery Emma Thomas.

Regardless of their background, they are artists who have opened a new chapter in the history of art. They make art, not graphite. The new generation reminds us of outstanding names in history, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, who in the 1970s already painted walls in New York City with a style that blended the influence of images from the underworld of spray with a repertoire of pop art, already consecrated in the official artistic system.

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