Indoor Street Art Show Doesn’t Do the Genre Justice
On April 2, the windows of the Donnell Library at 20 W. 53 St. were filled with works by well-established New York street artists. The show, called “Pantheon,” was supposed to provide a timeline of New York’s street art history. It didn’t. The show exhibited some varied work, but the history of street art was unclear.
Although the Donnell Library closed in 2008, the space was made available by the non-profit organization Chasama that works to enliven unused spaces around the city. The works of 33 artists were shown in the library’s six windows, and were a mix of paintings and sculptures. The star of the show was the window with the work of 907 K — the characters, cut outs and sculpture create a whole world, one whose colors you wanted to jump right into and become part of.
The remaining windows were where the exhibit faltered — although the works were cool and fun, the set up felt far too much like a gallery than the kind of environment that street art should be in — on the street. The windows had white wall backgrounds, just like in a gallery, and name and title cards which, though informational, took away part of the mystery that defines street art.
The exhibit was directly across the street from MoMA. Being in the presence of the city’s most prominent modern art museum added to the feeling that the show was far too organized to capture the part of street art that makes it so exciting — the ephemeral and the element of surprise. What street art can do that gallery art cannot is pop-up out of nowhere and color grey city streets with brightness and life; you might not know who painted the wall, or when, and you certainly don’t know if it will still be there by the next time you walk by.
The power of street art is that there is no curator with an agenda — it goes straight from the artist to the people. The artists and the audience can be liberated by the lack of sterile white walls, price tags and titles.
The pieces in Pantheon were certainly beautiful and interesting, but the glass windows broke the magic of finding art on the street.