So Much More than Banksy - 'Beyond the Streets' at Saatchi Gallery

I have loved street art for years. Seeing ‘Exit Through the Giftshop’ - Jaimie D’Cruz’ 2010 documentary closely following Banksy and Mr Brainwash - as an early teen was a lightbulb moment for me. The creative world of street and guerilla art was exciting and ethereal, a place full of people at the right place at the right time, of community and constant evolution. That world was so different from rural Northamptonshire, where I was growing up. I printed out my own stickers using sticker paper you could buy in WHSmiths and my dad’s printer and put two or three on lampposts when I visited Oxford. Street art is one of my first art loves and yet it was only when stepping into ‘Beyond the Streets’ at Saatchi Gallery that I realised quite how little I knew. It was a full-circle moment when the first artwork one sees walking through the door was an installation of Jaimie D’Cruz’s videos. 

What the Saatchi team - Roger Gastman (curator and founder), Kim Stephens, Evan Pricco and Raoul Shah (co-curators), Caleb Neelon, Caroline Ryder, Toby Mott, Andrew Hayes, Rob Fever, Claudia Gold, Sean Corcoran (curators and historical researchers) - have mastered in this exhibition (and which I believe dictated the success of the whole show) was the creation of spaces within spaces. Paul Insect’s ‘Rubbish Stuff’ puppet repair shop and the Trash Records store were fantastic examples of recreating the spaces which were instrumental in the birth of street art as we know it and gave visitors a more authentic experience of the movement’s history. Authenticity had been one of the concerns for audiences on hearing that this retrospective of street art - which has been led by the working classes and POC - was being staged in one of the UK’s wealthiest white cube spaces. 

In addition to making the exhibition a more authentic view of the history of street art and the venues in which the art form was best nurtured, the addition of distinct separate environments (such as Kenny Scharf’s ‘Closet #42’ neon room or Priest’s lego crime scene ‘Toy Alley.. after the Murder’) was a clever curatorial decision to bring in audiences who want to feel part of a cultural phenomenon, to have their participation photographed and shared on social media. Like Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Infinity Rooms’ at Tate Modern before it, ‘Beyond the Streets’ has taken Instagram by storm with punters lining up to have their photos taken with exhibits, which can only be serving Saatchi’s box office well. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with playing to this new way in which art is consumed and shared. 

The inclusion of sculpture and immersive spaces kept this enormous show interesting and dynamic, even for viewers with the shortest of attention spans (like myself). By not just simply including street art which could be affixed to walls, the show demonstrated quite how varied the art form is. There is a common, limiting view that street art came about in two stages: graffiti sprayed on NYC subway carriages, then Banksy. ‘Beyond the Streets’ successfully showed quite how much of culture between 1970 to today has been directly influenced by, incorporated into, or is inextricably linked to street art. I didn’t know, for example, how many underground galleries, curators and art schools had a foot in the street art scene and in quite how many ways the traditional and graffiti art worlds overlapped and continue to team up as well as for music, dance, and fashion design all of which were represented very well in the show. To see street art as niche and contained is reductive and the absence of Banksy’s work in the show entirely demonstrated clearly quite what a small role the British street art legend plays in the street art cosmos, far from being its apex.

It was fantastic to see several artists with artwork available through Artscapy’s Marketplace included in the show. KAWS had two works in the show, Imon Boy had a painting included which was one of my standout highlights of the entire exhibition and Keith Haring’s influence was well represented in ‘Beyond the Streets’ in the form of articles of clothing. 

It is only the price of the tickets that would put me off recommending this show to everyone. £25, in my mind, is simply too high, especially given the socialist spirit of street art itself. However, for those happy to pay the entry, I would urge you to dash to get tickets for the few weeks remaining of ‘Beyond The Streets’. The brilliance of this show comes in its variety - those ‘in the know’ will see familiar favourites, those who prefer ‘traditional’ art will have their understanding broadened and art novices will find at least one artwork or themed room that truly speaks to them.

 

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