by Luisa Grigoletto
Tell us about your participation in the 2018 edition of Moniker Art Fair.
We have a bookstore dedicated to street cultures in Paris, but all the books are also on sale in our e-shop. In spite of Amazon, every day we send books anywhere in the world! In the past few months, we decided to meet the increasingly numerous audience who is interested in these phenomena, thanks to some partnerships. Moniker is the most important urban art fair in England. Tina (Ziegler) and her team are fantastic. The problem has never been whether to be present or not, but to understand how to transport hundreds of books and shelves across the Channel.
What can you tell us about your Le Grand Jeu project? I know that you will launch the new site soon…
The site is still a work in progress, while the new webstore is already online. We also finished the first round of renovation work in our new store in Paris, which we are transforming into a one-of-a-kind space, where you can find a huge selection of books, catalogs and fanzines made by artists, authors and publishers that have always been interested in such cultures as graffiti, street art, tattoo, skate, surf, sneakers. And 2019 is likely to bring about some new surprises…
What prompted you to specialize in street art?
I studied and taught art history for more than ten years, first in Italy and then in Paris. Working in Rome, in contact with Nufactory and artists like JBRock or Agostino Iacurci, I realized that the academic world was completely ignoring an artistic scene that has a lot to say. I left the university and founded Le Grand Jeu to fight against the inability of the art industry to integrate those pop(ular) components that are in the urban art DNA, without distorting them.
In 2017 you curated a section of the Cross the Streets exhibition at MACRO in Rome. What can you tell us about that experience and the significance of that show within the Italian scene?
Cross the Streets was a fantastic experience. I think that only a few people fully understood how important it was for Paulo and for Drago to gather around themselves those artists, those people and those friends that Drago has been supporting for almost twenty years through its books and projects. Not everyone understands that this scene is first of all a big family.
The section on Writing in Rome that I curated was a tribute to some of those writers who made the history of this culture in Italy and in Europe. It was also intended as an experiment, aiming at integrating a language that was not intended for museums into an institutional space. Each wall was conceived together with the writers, in order to find the best way to tell what each of them had to say.
What projects are you currently working on?
We are managing the production of the book/catalogue that Red Bull Arts decided to make in the context of RAMMΣLLZΣΣ’ exhibition in New York.
We are also hard at work at the bookstore, both to have more titles on the shelves, and to find new partners. Next month, for instance, we will be managing pop-up bookstores in such events as Mister Freeze in Toulouse, the skate and surf film festival PSSFF2018 in Paris, Moniker in London, Art Elysées and Urban Art Fair in Paris.
Why do you think street art is so popular nowadays?
Because what we call contemporary art these days is, more often than not, only a parody, a failed imitation of art. Or because museums require an enormous wealth of knowledge to understand what is on show. People get discouraged. By being pop, street art is more direct. It reaches you like the latest episode of the Star Wars saga or as the latest Rihanna album, but this doesn’t mean that it is less intelligent and profound than much contemporary art around.
If you had to identify the highlights in the history of street art, what would they be?
As I type my answers to you, I’m on a plane to Moscow. I’m leafing through Igor Ponosov’s book “Russian Urban Art: History and Conflicts” and reading the story of Ilya Zdanevich and Mikhail Larionov who, in their “Why we paint ourselves” manifesto , written in 1913, urged the artists to swarm cities.
We keep repeating a story that says it all started with graffiti in New York and led to Banksy, passing through Keith Haring and Basquiat. I would like people to stop believing these bullshit, but I don’t believe we need to find new noteworthy moments, or new myths to celebrate (and sell). We need a collective history of street art, which integrates the Chinese dishu, the pixaçao of Sao Paulo and the Russian avant-gardes, because what matters is not the work of the individual but the overall movement. It is no coincidence that Barry McGee increasingly exhibits works by other artists in his solo exhibitions, just like Banksy at Dismaland. Street Art is gang art. Alone, you’ll never make it.
Which is the artist who has revolutionized the street art scene the most so far and why?
Many would say Banksy. This is partially true. In Italy, however, one of the highest moments of participatory urban art was Berlusconi’s election posters in 1994. Do you remember them? Never seen an action of collective detournement as effective and massive. Stuff that would put to shame even the American culture jammers of the 80s.
In your opinion, which street artists have not yet received the attention that their work deserves in the world?
During the last edition of Outdoor Festival, I invited Paolo Buggiani to join a group of artists who were much younger and much less experienced than him. Many – and perhaps Paolo himself – were surprised, not to say disturbed, by the pairing. In fact, what interested me was to debunk this idea that the street is street art’s goal, thanks to the works of an artist who used the street as a tool to investigate the relationship between subjective and objective time. One of the typical attacks against Street Art is that it’s a fleeting trend, a shallow phenomenon. In part it’s true, because every culture generates its memes, but this does not mean that there are no real artists who have chosen the street, as opposed to more institutional art spaces, to carry out their research.
Italy, then, should give much more visibility to the work of the Bolognese duo Cuoghi & Corsello, and not just because they made roller graffiti in Bologna, while Revs and Cost did the same thing in New York.
In your opinion, have musealization and collecting affected the most irreverent and anti-system component of street art?
If your relationship to Street Art is limited to scrolling through your Instagram feed a couple of times a day, probably yes.
Over the past few years, also the big fashion brands are appropriating the language of street art. With what consequences for street art?
None, except for more money available to carry on more ambitious projects. That, it’s obvious that some may not like it, but, as Shepard Fairey says, “People like to talk shit, but it’s usually to justify their own apathy”.
What are the “hottest” cities in the world for street art?
Those in which people are not limited to just looking at the walls. Voyeurism is fine, but sometimes we’d need more action, guys…