Seattle Street Biennale 2010 (Rainier Room)
Attempting to preview this exhibit back on Tuesday required a breathing mask. The young artists, also prudently wearing masks, were filling the air with the spray and smell of spray paint. Giant exhaust fans were pushing the air outdoors. Plastic sheeting hung in each door frame, to keep the paint droplets inside. It was a bit like a futuristic, dystopian movie set--every possible surface covered with graffiti or spray paint.
In short, the room wasn't yet finished to preview properly. Curator and artist NKO was among the masked men at work. Others who are participating in the project include Katsu, Angel 179, Ego, Aerub, Baldman Watching, and Joey Nix. A host of other local artists and crews, including NTG, New Mystics, HBF Crew, Gretchen Bennett, Jesse Edwards, 1+1=3, and Blink and Pars.
Saturday update after the jump...When was the last time you found a Dumpster dragged inside a gallery? Or abandoned news boxes? (Those perhaps from the defunct P-I?) They're precisely the kind of eyesore street furniture that tends to get tagged by graffiti artists: No one really claims ownership, unlike the side of an office building or home, so no one cares that much about the spray paint and magic marker that have been applied.
There's a whole series of Dumpsters and news boxes inside the Seattle Street Biennale, almost like portable sculpture. And though the show is a one-off, with paint meant to be impermanent on the gallery walls, there are also some individual canvases hanging--not so street, in other words. A pair of videos show taggers and skaters in action; and the large interior space of the Rainier Room has been broken up with several temporary interior walls. You can wander back and forth as if through an alley or maze to admire the colorful murals, which seem somewhat incongruous indoors. Often, according to the broken-windows school of sociology, graffiti is an indicator of neglect and decay--one of Malcolm Gladwell's tipping points. (See the old Tub's building at Roosevelt and 50th.) Once building owners stop scrubbing it off or painting it over, conventional wisdom would have it, there goes the neighborhood.
Indoors, however, the street art is stripped of that baggage and menace. It's not blight. There are no muggers lurking in the corners, no smell of urine. (All the paint fumes are gone, too, so the gallery air is 100 percent safe for kids to breathe.) It's been lifted out of context (less street and more gallery) and made more cheerful in the process. But indoors, at such scale, the art is virtually impossible to sell or move--unless you want a colorful Dumpster in your home. Outdoors, the tags and graffiti serve almost as advertising: If you see something you like, if the artist has appended a URL, you can shop for something more portable (painting, poster, T-shirt, whatever). But then, the gallery scene and commodification of art aren't very "street," and its talented practitioners may be reluctant to relinquish their anonymity.