To the Streets: Top Ten Public Works

Since my last post about Street Art Utopia’s “Best List” took off and caused a decent amount of response, I think it is important to involve the Cult’s own selection. Here you will find a carefully curated and crafted list of every imaginable kind of public form of expression and their respected historical contexts. More after the jump.

Rachel Whiteread is a conceptual contemporary scultpure artist who broke into the scene in the early 90s by claiming the Turner prize with her work entitled House (1993, above). Whiteread scoured the British countryside for abandoned buildings, poured cement inside them, leaving a cast of the original interior. What this represents for me is the lonliness of a former occupied space, something everyone relates to. It is more than just a large scale “awe” moment – it’s the science of personal belongings and the familarity of safety in any place you’ve stayed a long time.

Keeping with the Space vs Place theme, we see Martin Creed in the list. Creed is another Turner Prize recipient, for his conceptual work that caused a lot of controvery for its generic approach. The work pictured above (Work #850 2001) involves several sprinters running through the Tate Modern in London, occupying the museum as a wonder instead of a place for relics. While you either love or hate Martin Creed’s work, the fact remains that it makes the public’s view of the performance a pause and ponder moment, which I believe is the telos for every public space piece.

(another from #850) Pretentious? Hear him talk about this piece and see the sprinters here.

Jenny Holzer is a world-reknown visual artist who uses projectors and other text-based mediums to publically broadcast feelings. Poetry, selected texts and famous words are the subjects Holzer touches on, as her words light up the darkness and the ambigious meaning creeps in. What I love about the above image from Berlin, 2001 is the  ominous message displayed in a country that was torn apart by a dictator and uneven powers in the goverment.  I chose this piece because I felt the strongest connection with contemporary political times and the need for change. Her work is social commentary at its finest, the message of her public pieces are truly effective street artwork. Strong and enigmatic.

Keith Haring made his debut in the NYC subway by drawing little characters on the chalkboards. Accesible and not as esoteric as most of his contemporaries, Haring drew for the public on their way to work. Untitled 1983 as seen above is a bright reminder that their is light at the end of the tunnel. Haring became rightfully famous for his ridiculous arrest on counts of vandalism, which allowed for his skills to be comissioned by AIDS foundations (which he eventually died from) and children’s projects.

Felix-Gonzalez Torres was diagnosed HIV/AIDS positive in the late 80s-early 90s and chose to document his life in a way that most couldn’t. His former lover passed with the disease, and his reaction was Untitled 1991, a series of billboards depicting an empty bed. Torres took the roll as the mourner in the street, and with each passing glance you can feel the static of a passing life. In this respect, this work is so deeply personal and emotionally profound that it is inspiring to grasp the idea of creation through pain.

Blu is for the die-hard, back-to-th-roots-paint-on-walls street art fan. Blu’s real identity is unknown and based out of Italy. His work is so strange and beautiful that it is hard not to mention when you talk about street art. Pictured above is Evolution of Men circa 2009. I think this is one of the best pieces for its large scale size, the meaning behind the concept of humanity/creation, and the simplistic style of sweeping paints and brushes. Not only does Blu do these giant drawings of creatures, but he also puts them to life in little animations he calls MUTO. Warning: MUTO will make you feel lazy.

French photographer JR is an amazing human being. Famous for his quote “the streets are the largest art gallery in the world,” JR traveled to third-world Kenya and applied vinyl photographs to the falling roofs of the community there. His large scale photographs became part of the documentary Women Are Heroes, which documents his process.  This flavor of street art challenges the conception of advertisements in the west, as well as the poverty-stricken areas of overpopulation, where corporate greed has crowded the inhabitants and stifled their own voices. This year, JR received the TED grant, allowing his future projects to continue in anonymity.

New to me, but definetly not to the guerilla post-and-run scene, Robert Conal deserves a spot on the list to say the least. Politically fueled and grotesquesly beautiful, Conal’s posters are the pure grassroots artform for the people – not gigantic corporate trends that were once artistic until it become profitable. Did anyone see Contagion? Conal did a piece of Jude Law for the film, and although a large film, the creative direction was perfect (the movie was pretty well done as well). Recently described as ” the grandfather of street art” by Amir, I can’t believe that I was in the dark on this. I chose the above series of  posters/paintings (all of his wheatpastes are liths of the originals,) because it conveys his sense of politics, poetics and agressive progression through art.  Every time I see stuff like this, I gather up the black clothes… (I beleive the above triptych is entitled after each person: Ghandi, DMLK, and Dahli.)

Olfar Eliasson was comissioned by Tate Modern for their annual in-house design project within the museum’s Turbine Hall. The Weather Project (2003) took off like no other art initiative before. Eliasson made a giant sun and humidfied atmosphere that was reflected by a giant mirror on the ceiling.. People attending the project stayed for hours. London is known for its dreary weather, but this escape invited a large crowd to enjoy a faux sun. They laid on the ground like they were at the beach soaking up the rays. Workers stopped by on their lunch breaks. The best part was that the whole deal was FREE (the best kind of art!) . It was a spectacular sight to say the least, and a great piece with regards to socialogical studies.

I top off the list with my favorite street artist, the famous Banksy. Banksy is how I was introduced to street art and the political underlyings of a system that doesn’t work. I mentioned his book before, where he describes the perfect city as something along the lines of a giant collaboration of the people that inhabit it. While most people consider anything spray-painted out of  the ordinary or not in its place, a crime rather than artwork, I always agreed with Banksy that a wall with ANYTHING on it is better than the wall itself. Even if the graffiti is gang-related or meaningless, it’s up to the people living around the piece to change it accordingly. Boring (South Bank, date unknown) was done with a fire extinguisher filled with pink paint and represents for me, the ultimate form of street art – simple, message received, and a call for change. It goes back to the basic principal that the public needs something out of the ordinary before we descend into madness from the dreary and bleak colorless future.


Please comment your own favorites I didn’t mention! Should someone have made the list?

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