In our time, there may be no art form more divisive than street art. For decades, the public has debated the merits of the form -- from the criminality of the act to the skill and creativity involved.
The Station Museum of Contemporary Art enters this debate with "Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know" -- a massive show featuring 21 artists known for their work across Houston doing their thing right on the museum's walls.
It's a busy show, from the big wall pieces by Ack! and Eyesore to a whole room devoted to impressive portraits by Lee Washington. Given the number of artists, there's a variety of topics, too, including a powerful cityscape by Wiley Robertson and Bryan Cope across the street on the gas station; Vizie's overpowering memorial graffiti artist NEKST; the mysticism of Angel Quesada's Aura Rising; and overtly, politically charged works by Anat Ronen, Deck WGF, Michael C. Rodriguez and Empire I.N.S. that touch on drone warfare, war mentality and civil liberty.
Despite its open title, the Station Museum is pretty firm on where it stands. The introduction to the show observes that the work is "street art that has become fine art," an "important new contribution to contemporary art in Houston."
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This is never more prevalent than in the work of Daniel Anguilu. The graffiti artist has tagged much of Midtown, but rather than be derided, he is celebrated by none other than the city itself; recently, the artist was proudly outed by Metro as being none other than a Metro employee. Here, half of the artist's contribution is actually leftovers from the museum's last big show. He's expanded on it for a work that stretches nearly around the whole room with its colorful abstract, Aztec-esque design, which prompted one gallery goer to exclaim "I want to live in here!" on a recent visit.
While Anguilu is a celebrated public figure, some of his colleagues prefer anonymity. This is evidenced by a video by KC Ortiz of graffiti artists in action. Most faces are blurred or obscured -- a reminder that there can be consequences for this form of expression.
Whether you agree that it's fine art or not, one thing is for certain -- street art is fleeting. Given their disposable nature, these murals are pure expression -- refreshingly done for the sake of it, and not for a potential sale. Whereas most public graffiti art pieces can be covered up at any time, these at least have an expiration date -- the show is up until August 25, at which point the walls will be painted over and return to white.
"Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know" at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, 1502 Alabama Street, runs now through August 25. For more info, call 713-529-6900 or visit www.stationmuseum.com.