I consider street art to be one of the most vibrant and versatile art forms of the 21st century and just like many other art forms, it has a significant impact on our built environment and our cultural Street art went from being considered a marginal and illegal artistic manifestation to a worldwide movement, accepted and recognized in the context of traditional artistic practices that encourage different styles and techniques.4Ana Maria Vera-Jaramillo (2018). Les murales Street Art comme pratiques artistiques urbaines: Les discours sur la conservation et le statut des œuvres au sein des institutions muséales. M.A. Thesis, UQÀM, 1. My interest in street art increased as I started working on my master’s thesis and noticed that there was a lack of street art and mural art scholarship from a museological perspective. For this reason, a good section of my thesis was dedicated to retracing the history street art murals within the vast and complex world of street art. This proved difficult as there is a lack of consensus on the origin of street art practises over the years and the different denominations used to designate them.5Ana Maria Vera-Jaramillo (2018). Les murales Street Art comme pratiques artistiques urbaines: Les discours sur la conservation et le statut des œuvres au sein des institutions muséales. M.A. Thesis, UQÀM, 9. However, the street art murals we see today are mostly associated with and derived from the graffiti tradition that emerged in New York and Philadelphia in the 1960s and 1970s.6Ana Maria Vera-Jaramillo (2018). Les murales Street Art comme pratiques artistiques urbaines. M.A. Thesis, UQÀM, 10.
Another aspect of my research involved how museum institutions perceived and consequently integrated street art murals into their exhibitions, collections and archives. I also noticed that there was a lack of institutional protocol in terms of how street art is indexed and documented in their databases as well as discrepancies when it comes to criteria for determining which artworks are included in institutional collections and why.7Ana Maria Vera-Jaramillo (2018). Les murales Street Art comme pratiques artistiques urbaines: Les discours sur la conservation et le statut des œuvres au sein des institutions muséales. M.A. Thesis, UQÀM, 4. Therefore, with the “Mural Art Project,” I intended not only to explore Artexte’s collection, but also offer visibility to interesting records on the subject. Furthermore, I wanted to emphasize the importance of street art as a subject of study for any cultural institution dedicated to the promotion, research and diffusion of art.
The project was comprised of two components. The first one consisted of creating the “Mural Art, Street Art and Graffiti Bibliography” by thoroughly researching and consulting Artexte’s collection. This bibliography, which is available for consultation online, includes 51 individual records as well as 10 different files, 5 of which were created while I was working on the project.8Ana Maria Vera (2018). Bibliography on Mural Art, Street Art and Graffiti. Artexte. One of the challenges I faced during the process was setting selection criteria and defining the scope of the bibliography, which was in itself a tough decision as the street art world is a complex one. I identified pertinent files in the collection related to the subject and went through both physical files and digital documents. Many of the physical documents were located in the backlog section of the collection, which I classified, catalogued and filed to render them fully accessible to future researchers. The second part of this project also entailed the photographic documentation of Montreal’s murals. Since the MURAL Festival file was one of the few files being constituted during this project, I decided to document the murals created for this festival. A total of 61 murals created for the festival between 2013 and 2017 were documented by myself, 53 of which were still visible in the fall of 2017.
The process involved photographing each of these murals and creating a spreadsheet that could serve as a database to enter the artists’ names; their country of origin; the murals’ year of creation as well as its location; and whether they were still visible to the public, since many of these murals deteriorate or are erased to make space for future murals to come. The creation of a separate set of lists containing the names of Canadian Street artists and, collectives, the name of other street art festivals and the names of galleries specialized in street art was a resource for Artexte librarians to locate new artists, determine new acquisitions for the collection and provide further assistance to researchers on publications available in nearby libraries.
The documentation of Street Art is not a new phenomenon. In fact, documenting graffiti and street art started mostly with photography in the 1970s and 1980s with the works of Cynthia Cooper and Henry Chalfant.9Jerome Catz (2013). Street art, mode d'emploi. Paris: Editions Flammarion, 32. Consequently, many magazines specialized in the subject emerged, as well as websites with the advent of the Internet.10Jerome Catz (2013). Street art, mode d'emploi. Paris: Editions Flammarion, 32. We can see this through the many online platforms dedicated to the dissemination of street art news, events and artists’ biographies such as Street Art News, Wide Walls, Global Street Art, and so on. In addition, the appearance of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) has allowed artists to publicize their work around the world, share it with followers and aficionados alike.11Vera-Jaramillo (2018). Les murales Street Art comme pratiques artistiques urbaines. 15.
More recently, we have seen the emergence of street art archives, libraries and research centres. One such initiative is the Google Street Art Project, which not only documents and geolocates street art around the world but also suggests tours in the cities as well as “virtual tours.”12 (). Google Street Art Project . Another example is the Open Street Art Data Initiative, a street art database containing information about street artworks, artists, and the geo-locations of murals around the world, as well as their status.13Street Art Cities (). Open Street Art Data Initiative. These different initiatives are important in the context of contemporary art because they don’t come from an academic setting and they have demonstrated that street art deserves a place in the conventional arts world, in institutions and in academia. A final example is the creation of institutions devoted to the collection, promotion and research of street art, such as The Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art in Berlin, whose library houses the unique book collection of renowned photojournalist Martha Cooper. The museum has the intention to expand its library and make bibliographical resources available to researchers.14Urban Nation (July 2016). The Urban Nation Museum for Contemporary Art. Urban Art: Creating the Urban with Art Proceedings of the International Conference at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 15-16, 165-166.
Documenting street art is important because it is, mostly, an ephemeral art. Street art murals are an in situ art, as they are born in a particular context and space, namely the streets, and consequently become a very important component of the urban landscape.15Vera-Jaramillo (2018). Les murales Street Art comme pratiques artistiques urbaines. 27. Their ephemerality also creates a feeling of unexpectedness and has the power to surprise passers-by, who suddenly realize the existence of a work that was not there before.16Peter Bengtsen (2014). The Street Art World. Lund : Almendros de Granada Press, 139-140. Since works are created in the streets, they are regularly exposed to being erased, covered or degraded by exposure to the elements. The recognition of street art as a contemporary artistic practice like any other has generated a preoccupation for keeping a record of it and created a need to counter the ephemerality of works.17Vera-Jaramillo (2018). Les murales Street Art comme pratiques artistiques urbaines. 26. As a result, all the aforementioned initiatives are important because they not only play an important role in the dissemination and visibility of street art, but they also have the objective of enriching the documentation ephemeral works and making these data accessible for future research. While working on my thesis, I found out that institutional notions of documentation, preservation and cataloguing of artworks by street artists is still very ambiguous and part of this is related to institutional perceptions on what street art is and on what street artists envision for their work in institutional settings.18Vera-Jaramillo (2018). Les murales Street Art comme pratiques artistiques urbaines. 48. Perspectives on the integration of street art inside museums and other cultural and artistic institutions are still very much divided. Furthermore, street art is often treated and documented differently to the rest of the artworks inside museums, for example, and it is hard to establish whether this is because institutions intend to respect street artists’ trajectory and practice in relation to the ephemerality of their works, or because there’s still a reluctance on the part of artists and institutions towards works being documented, catalogued and collected.19Vera-Jaramillo (2018). Les murales Street Art comme pratiques artistiques urbaines. 72. Despite the many controversies surrounding the subject of street art and its institutionalization, documentation is a crucial procedure of for institutions and I still believe that documenting street art ultimately nourishes and immortalizes our memories of it; allows to contextualize each stage of elaboration, and helps us understand and interpret our visual and popular culture in a different way.
While the topic of street art is too expensive to this project to have been exhaustive, my intention was to provide tools and resources for future research. I am aware that the project is also subjective and a reflection of certain choices I had to make as a researcher and cataloguer throughout the process. That being said, I hope I was able to highlight the importance of street art as a subject of study and as a practice that deserves a place in the contemporary art world. I also wanted to identify Artexte’s holdings on street art and give recommendations for the future development of its collection around the subject.
By becoming interested in a subject like street art, institutions are opening up to engaging in new dialogues on artistic practices and recognizing their historical, cultural and artistic value in today’s society. Much remains to be done in terms of documentation approaches and research of street art at the institutional level, but the future seems promising thanks to different initiatives created by individuals and entities interested in it.