September 19, 2019

Don't Put Graffiti in a Museum

“Graffiti tours have become a hot item in recent years, an in-demand product in the art services market. There are some neighborhoods in Tel Aviv where it’s hard to avoid running into groups of people who are gazing at a wall of some kind. You see them on Nahalat Binyamin, in the Levinsky market and Florentin; and in Haifa and Jerusalem as well. Many ads for the tours promise a great deal. Some make do with “exposure to street art,” but others invite the public to a “spirited tour” or one that will reveal “the secrets in the wall,” while there are those that seek “to discuss the philosophy that underlies the genre.”

Has the dramatic increase in the inscription of images on city walls led to a rise in the number of tours? Possibly. Or could it be that, instead of being content with the sterile conditions of museum or gallery spaces, the tours offer urban wandering in an open space, allowing viewers to get close to the works, to touch them, and – along with some impartial aesthetic observation – also provide time for a bit of shopping? This is internal tourism through cityscapes, which are transformed from neighborhoods where people live – often in crowded, cramped conditions – to places for exploration, for casting a curious gaze, for admiring the charming objects all around. To outside visitors, graffiti have become images of a neighborhood: dirty to a degree, arty to a degree, close to the materials of life itself.

Beit Ha’ir, the old Tel Aviv Town Hall in Bialik Square – which was renovated a decade ago and became, according to its website, a “singular museum center for urban culture in Tel Aviv” – has taken a logical step and introduced graffiti into its space, following in the footsteps of other museums and galleries in Israel and elsewhere. Its “Creative Collectives” project is currently hosting the French street-art collective Da Mental Vaporz, established at the end of the 1990s in the Paris suburbs. The group now consists of 10 artists from across France and is known worldwide for its large-scale wall paintings. Their art maintains the distinctive style of each member of the collective, while at the same time creating, in combination, works “of dark and tortured aesthetics,” in the words of the exhibition text.

The French artists spent two weeks in Tel Aviv, creating works covering the four stories of Beit Ha’ir. They painted on the inner walls, the floors and the ceilings; created an entrance of broken space, added plaster walls and hung acrylic glass from the ceiling; drew working sketches of the whole space and documented the act of assemblage on video. It’s all on display now in Beit Ha’ir, and the result is gloomy: graffiti revealed as insubstantial artistic work.”

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