23 May – 25 August 2008
In the first commission to use the iconic river façade of Tate Modern, the gallery will present the work of six internationally acclaimed artists, whose work is intricately linked to the urban environment. Street Art at Tate Modern, sponsored by Nissan QASHQAI, opens on 23 May and is the first major public museum display of Street Art in London.
All six artists are represented in major collections around the world and regularly shown in gallery exhibitions and biennales but their work began in public urban spaces and remains indebted to Street Art and graffiti traditions. The artists are: Blu from Bologna, Italy; the artist collective Faile from New York, USA; JR from Paris, France; Nunca and Os Gemeos, both from Sao Paulo, Brazil and Sixeart from Barcelona, Spain.
Street Art at Tate Modern brings to the fore an important aspect of current art practice and one that has influenced acclaimed artists, including Basquiat and Picasso. Although the term Street Art has been used since the late Seventies, the work, by its very nature, is in constant flux and hard to categorise. Broadly speaking the term has come to define the more visual and engaging urban art as opposed to text-based graffiti and tagging.
Blu (Bologna, Italy) works primarily with drawing, albeit on a large scale. His images often portray a mildly macabre fascination with death and the inner workings of the human body. His work begins as a sketch before being transferred directly on to walls using many traditional painting techniques. Blu’s inspiration, like many Street Artists, stems from the desire to transform ordinary decaying places into beautiful and interesting environments.
The artist collective Faile, from New York (formed 1999) take inspiration from the detritus of the city wall, which often includes deteriorating advertising and flyposting, to present their own take on traditional comic book imagery. These instantly recognisably pop culture images have allowed them to diversify into other areas including sculpture, design and music but their work remains heavily indebted to printmaking and stencilling traditions.
The work of photographer JR (Paris) is driven by a strong political and social impetus. His work often features dramatic close-range black and white portraits of young people which, when pasted in particular areas, provide political meaning. A project in Paris saw such full frame portraits of people from run down deprived outer suburbs of Paris pasted up in areas which had become more affluent. During a recent project in Israel and Palestine he photographed inhabitants living in embattled locations to reveal the human side of conflict.
The work of Nunca (Portuguese for Never, Sao Paulo) is heavily influenced by the geometric patterns and colours found in the indigenous artwork and culture of South America. By placing images of native rural people from South America within the urban context of Sao Paulo his work comments on the history and culture of the city and country. His work also includes carvings, installations, sculpture and works on canvas.
Os Gemeos (Portuguese for The Twins, Sao Paulo) are twin brothers Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo. They started painting graffiti in 1987 and gradually became a major influence in the local scene helping to define Brazil’s own style. Their dreamlike subjects, often depicted in bright yellow, range from family portraits to commentary on Sao Paulo’s social and political circumstances as well as Brazilian folklore.
The work of Sixeart (Barcelona) mixes psychedelic abstraction with comic book inspired figuration. His work pays visual reference to Surrealist artists such as Joan Miró. Similar to Miró, Sixeart’s work has a childlike innocence that is combined with a almost hallucinogenic sense of second sight. His gestural and painterly works are often large scale although he does also work in sculpture, on canvas and with screen prints.
Street Art at Tate Modern opens at the same time as Tate Modern’s four day festival of art and performance, UBS Openings: The Long Weekend on 23 May and fits with the theme for this year’s event – States of Flux. For more information on this programme of events please visit www.tate.org.uk/thelongweekend2008. Street Art has been curated by Cedar Lewisohn of Tate Media. A fully illustrated book on Street Art by Cedar Lewisohn will be published by Tate this May.