From Basquiat to Banksy, a Paris Gallery Highlights Three Decades of Street Art
“Art is for everybody,” Keith Haring wrote in his journals. “I am interested in making art to be experienced and explored by as many individuals as possible with as many different individual ideas about the given piece with no final meaning attached.”
That sentiment would likely be shared by many of the artists featured in “Masters: Urban & Street Art,” a new show at Galerie Laurent Strouk in Paris. The wide-ranging show represents works from the early 1980s through the present, bringing the creations of iconic street and urban artists—including Haring as well as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Kenny Scharf, Invader, JR, FAILE, and roughly a dozen others—out of their original milieus and into a formal exhibition space.
That invitation off the street and into the gallery, so to speak, is further confirmation that urban art isn’t just graffiti; it’s an art form in its own right, increasingly finding a place in museums, galleries, and auctions. And, as the exhibition illustrates, the definition of that form is also expanding. Yes, urban art encompasses paintings, posters, and stencils, but also mosaic, sculpture, and installation.
Take KAWS, the Brooklyn-based sculptor, designer, and toymaker, who blurs the line between commercialism and art. He made a name for himself with cartoonish reimagining of pop-culture characters like Mickey Mouse and by designing Nike products and Kanye West album covers. The Paris exhibition features his trademark “Companion” sculptures: an action figure–like character with an “X” for each eye. Rendered in smooth resin, the human-animal hybrid is clownish and cheerful as well as grotesque.
Shepard Fairey, meanwhile, is perhaps best known for creating the “Hope” poster of Barack Obama that became a symbol of his presidential campaign. Fairey’s elegant Commanda (2007)—a silkscreen on wood, for which his wife, Amanda, was the model—is part of the exhibition at Laurent Strouk, alongside several other recognizable works.
There’s no mistaking Haring’s telltale pop-graffiti style in Sumi (1982). And, of course, a street-art exhibition wouldn’t be complete without Banksy. The famous, willfully anonymous guerilla street artist is the living embodiment of these contrasts and connections between commercialism and creativity, street art and fine art. That spirit—playful but provocative, lighthearted yet fiercely critical—runs through this impressive collection of street art’s heavy hitters.
“Masters: Urban & Street Art” is on view at Galerie Laurent Strouk, Paris, Jun. 1–Jul. 15, 2016.