By Matt McQuaid
To an outsider, the art world can seem to require a certain pedigree. Artistic culture is traditionally wrought with the pitfalls that characterize many a creative industry: It’s nearly impossible to gauge how audiences will respond to your work, access to mainstream venues is highly selective, and there are more failures than successes (at least financially).
But it’s a new era: The digital age has connected countless musicians with audiences they never would have found relying solely on radio. Comedians who would’ve previously had to spend years cutting their teeth in gritty clubs and countless auditions can propel their careers with a successful YouTube video. And for artists whose work doesn’t appeal to the conventional, Newbury Street-esque gallery clientele, there’s venues like Fourth Wall.
“We don’t have any donors, we don’t have crazy clientele who come in here to buy $20,000 pieces on a regular basis like normal galleries do, but we fill a function, showing a lot of art,” said Oliver Mak, Fourth Wall’s gallery director. “We’re happy to cultivate the scene that exists here and have enough resources to bring in artists that we respect, who are being overlooked by local institutions and galleries.”
Founded in 2009 by the Bodega Crew, the Fourth Wall Project was created with the intention of turning a dormant commercial space into a viable art venue for alternative exhibitions. As an institution that doesn’t follow the conventional model of for-profit galleries, Fourth Wall has seen a tremendous amount of success in developing new artists and earning them support from the surrounding community, in addition to exhibiting more established names. Exhibitions have included work from Kostas Seremetis, the Anonymous Boston project, and an annual benefit for Boston’s Bike Messenger Association.
So it makes sense that Fourth Wall would venture upon its most recent installment, Street Wall. The street art genre sets itself apart in a few ways: It’s submerged in the underground. It's a reaction to urban living. It resides primarily in public spaces. And above all, it’s completely free of the constraints of the usual venues.
“Generally, a typical fine arts exhibition would have the artists box up the work and mail it for others to hang,” said curator William Stitt. “We wanted to bring the style of street art to the gallery and excite the typical white box of the space.”
The work itself seems to break the chains of convention. Featured artists include L.A.-based artist The Phantom, who is best known for designing the cover art for Rage Against the Machine’s The Battle of Los Angeles, and local artists Blackmath and Zatara, the latter of whom uses collected screen images to create disturbing visions of Armageddon. Street Wall even includes animated line work from Nanook, a Baltimore-based street artist. And in a reaction to the mass-production of art, Geoff Hargadon’s “Cash for Your Warhol” signs are displayed prominently.
Another interesting aspect of street art is its crossover with graffiti. As the arrest of Shephard Fairey in Boston two years ago proved, getting caught could mean heavy fines, a felony record, and even jail time. But the risk involved with street art embodies the anti-establishment ethos and retaliation against the commercialization of creativity associated with it.
"If you can't get a gallery show, you're going to have to go into the streets," said Mak.
Work that bucks the trends and challenges our notions should always be welcome in any creative field, but it should especially be encouraged in visual art. The notion of society is ever-changing, and as human creativity mimics the world around us, it should seek to be in a state of constant flux, continually breaking barriers, shocking, and marveling.
“It calls into notion the ‘Kill All Artists Manifesto,’ where it questions if making art were made completely illegal under the penalty of death, would you still make it?” said Stitt. “This exposes an artist's integrity, and I think that plays a role in the creation of street art.
“Street art has an honesty in its voice that demands to be heard,” he said.
Street Wall runs from Saturday, Feb. 4 to Thursday, Feb. 23, with an opening reception from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday. Fourth Wall Project is open 1 p.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 1 p.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday; the gallery is located at 132 Brookline Ave., Fenway.
Photo by ▲L N Y▲ (Flickr)
About Matt -- I'm a lifelong Democrat and writer of a politically-oriented column, "Banned in D.C." Hobbies include watching TV and listening to super-intense bands with mad-scary dudes that have tattoos and stuff.
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