The other night, a mate of mine was turned back from a Berlin club—a club of the edgy-looking sort, drifting loose in a subtly manicured urban wasteland—because he wasn’t dressed up enough. I was always quite sure that the point of wild partying in an ex-Ossi warehouse is that there isn’t a dress code. But grunge is hip right now, and from H&M’s stencil tees to major-label dubstep, the street sensibility is widely acknowledged to be hot shit.
And lucrative shit, to boot, which is perhaps what underlies the sudden proliferation of corporate attempts to co-opt subculture for commercial ends. Whether this represents a total sell-out or a justified flourishing of really good art is a matter of opinion, and is probably a case-by-case question.
Some things, though, just push it too far. Consider this from a few years back. Vespa’s sneaky wheatpaste tactics are hard to see as anything but a cynical exploitation of innately rebellious art forms for the sake of bottom line.
It would be terribly outdated to insist on the moralist goals of art—or even on l’art pour l’art in every case—and some of the world’s greatest art has literally been commissioned by ideologues, patrons and religious institutions. But this is different. This isn’t art; it’s a commercial masquerading as art. Street art gets special attention, and is sometimes even omitted from normal legal reprimand, because it is a modality that is inherently accessible: it’s art by anybody for everybody. So we presume that street art is a voice from beyond, an alienated position that occupies a unique space of rebellion against dominant artistic and social paradigms.
To free ride on that singular role as voice for the voiceless is even more cynical than the commercialization of hip hop It’s not even a sell-out; it’s a buy-in—a buy-in into a world that we never consider a market.