General, Market Reports
Laura Roughneen4November 12, 2012

Tell me again, is it Urban Art, Street Art or Graffiti? Toronto in debate.

Toronto. November 2012. A panel, consisting of five city staffers with backgrounds in “the arts, urban design, architecture and other relevant disciplines” has been officially set up to decide on issues of the preservation of street art.

On one side of the argument, panelists must face off against property owners who argue:

“Even if it’s Picasso, you’re not allowed to paint on other people’s walls,” says Elyse Parker, a city official who is leading Toronto’s crackdown on graffiti.

However, street art/urban art/graffiti (the politically correct term is under dispute in the article) is gaining more and more merit in the art world.

Toronto’s council has already given its blessing to what is known as Graffiti Alley, a series of colourful backstreets only a few blocks from City Hall.

David Liss, the director of Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, who also has some background in street art, applauds the move.

And so the age-old argument prevails between street art and “the man”. However, it is interesting to note that the 2011/2012 Annual Artprice Contemporary Art Market Report  contains a section dedicated to Urban Art: The Next Generation. In 2008, London’s Tate Modern held it’s Street Art exhibition, quickly followed by galleries showing interest and exhibiting urban art shows.

The vast and complex genealogy of this trend is intertwined with the history of 20th century art, set against a backdrop of major socio-political and technological upheavals . Initially, the pio- neering experimentation with urban space led in the 60s by artists such as Daniel Buren, Allan Kaprow and Ernest Pignon-Ernest profoundly changed the envi- ronmental dimension of art and paved the way for a new field of study. In the late 70s, the new territory for creation offered by modern living space saw the birth, in the streets of New York, of a fundamental practice in the evolution of urban art: graffiti.


Tags by Jean-Michel Basquiat, working under the pseudonym SAMO (Same Old Shit), and Taki 183 flooded the Big Apple, contributing significantly to the explosion of the phenomenon in the following decade . The subject of hot debate for many years, the artistic character of urban art had to struggle to acquire its current recognition .

In 2011, during Art Basel Miami, the American city was transformed into a key theatre for international urban art, with big names and emerging artists invited to create dozens of walls in the Wynwood district .

Over 40 years after its birth in New York, urban art has crossed the thresholds of museums, galleries and auction houses in no uncertain manner, breaking nume- rous records along the way . With a growth rate of over 90% in urban art sales over the last decade, the movement proved to be dynamic on the international market place .

With the success and market for work by Jean-Michel Basquiat recently, it the argument for street art appears to be heating up once again. The 2011/2012 artprice report digs deeper to take a look at the next generation of urban artists. (See report for details)

Graffiti: is it art or vandalism? (The Art Newspaper)