Whether you call it graffiti art, urban art, street art, or post-street art, the work of spray can and sticker virtuosos has been moving toward the mainstream for decades. It’s commissioned as public art and shown (and sold) in galleries. It got its first major museum retrospective, Art in the Streets, at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in 2011. So it was only a matter of time before museums wholly dedicated to street art would show up.
But how do you institutionalize what began as, and for many still is, outlaw art? Four museums meet the challenge by being as unconventional as the art they display.
96 Boulevard Bessières, Paris
This street-art institution is within walls, but it’s as unconventional as a museum can be; in fact, on its website the word museum is crossed out. It’s actually a collection of gallery works by major street artists, including Banksy, Blu, and the iconic Futura (formerly known as Futura 2000), hung on the walls of an innovative computer school. The school, École 42, was founded by telecom mogul Xavier Niel in 2013 as a free peer-to-peer learning center for coding. Street art collector Nicolas Laugero Lasserre approached Niel with the idea of installing work from his collection. During a few hours on Tuesdays and Saturdays it’s open to the public; to visit and check out the art, you make reservations on 42’s web site.
The Street Museum of Art (SMoA)
The anonymous group behind this Brooklyn-based initiative rejects the very idea of putting street art in a museum, instead asking: “How can the current model for contemporary art museums be re-examined to conform with the energy of street art?” Their answer is to “museumize” the art out in the urban world by adding curatorial labels and didactics to the works in situ. SMoA “tags” art internationally (one London project is called Beyond Banksy) and has also made films and done billboard projects that highlight the art’s creators and traditions. “SMoA is the first public art project to adopt the guerrilla tactics of street art and graffiti culture in a program of illegally curated exhibitions,” the group writes. “Admission is always free and the hours are limitless.”
The Street Art Museum Amsterdam (SAMA)
Immanuel Kanthof 1, Amsterdam, Netherlands
This Dutch collection of street art is a museum only by virtue of being founded and curated by a single energetic expert, Ukraine-born Anna Stolyarova. It has a headquarters with a gallery space, but it’s essentially a large commissioning project that keeps street art on the street by inviting a mainly Latin American roster of artists to transform places in Amsterdam’s blandly suburban Nieuw-West neighborhood with murals, stickers, sculpture, and quirky transformations of street furniture. You “visit” SAMA by taking a two-hour-plus, €15 walking tour of an approximately 70-work collection that changes constantly as older works are painted over. Book the tour online.
URBAN NATION Museum for Urban Contemporary Art
Bülowstraße 7, 10783, Berlin, Germany
Scheduled to open in September 2017, the Museum for Urban Contemporary Art will be, in one sense, the most conventional of the four: an actual building solely devoted to, and containing, street art. But it will push the museum-design envelope to highlight street art’s scale, energy, and ephemerality. Architects are transforming an early-twentieth-century residential building in Berlin’s Schöneberg neighborhood by creating massive wall spaces inside and removable wall panels on the exterior that become murals, which then can be swapped out for other murals. The museum will draw on founder-curator Yasha Young’s years of commissioning and collecting under the banner of her nonprofit, Urban Nation.
To read about two more initiatives, check out Street Art Museum Update.