Yet another museum has arrived in Brooklyn, only this one claims to be unlike all those that came before. The Street Museum of Art (SMoA) is completely free, open at all hours and publicly curated (one might say crowdsourced). If you live or work in Williamsburg you might already have stumbled across some of the exhibition, which launched 6 weeks ago, although parts of it have already been dismantled and replaced because the streets don’t have security guards. SMoA’s online description has the intriguing words “guerrilla” and “illegally” in the online description, so of course we had to find out more.
The Founder and Director agreed to an interview but only via email in order to safeguard his or her anonymity.
Could you tell me a bit about the origins of this project? Where did the inspiration come from and how did you get the whole thing started?
The idea came together a year ago, after Jeffrey Deitch’s Art in the Streets exhibition opened at MOCA. The museum received record attendance numbers for an exhibition of artists whose work can already be seen around their cities on any given day, and for free! The exhibition was great in that it put many of these artists on the map for the museum-goers who may have never really known about street art but this was not an exhibition of “Art in the Streets.” Instead of modifying or replicating this inherently public art medium, we decided to re-evaluate the current model for contemporary art museums by adopting the guerrilla tactics and radical energy of the street artists. The answer seemed simple — we would bring the museum to the streets.
So you’re operating anonymously, but could you describe the group or some of the people behind SMoA?
It is important for us to operate anonymously for many reasons but mainly because our individual identities are not what is important. The Street Museum of Art is a project that is entirely reliant on the reaction and participation of the public — SMoA can be anyone, or everyone.
How long has the exhibit been up and what has public response been like?
In Plain Sight was launched 6 weeks ago, however, much of the work had been put up by the artists long before we came along. Within 24 hours Gaia’s Cat Eating Mouse piece on Kent Avenue had been buffed out by another artist. Jaye Moon’s mosaic piece constructed from LEGO blocks was ripped down a few weeks later and taken by someone from the corner of North 7th and Bedford. That is just the nature of street art — it is ephemeral and is in a constantly changing dialogue with the city.
I saw that the public can request art labels and participate in curating this exhibit; has anyone taken advantage of that yet?
People have been submitting photos of the work they find all around the city! Aside from our program of curated exhibitions, the Street Museum of Art is providing the public with blank, self-adhesive labels on the website — ready to be filled out with their own personal descriptions. Photos of the labels that simply read “This is Art” c. 2012 will be added to the museums online collection. It is our way of encouraging the public to get out there and start looking at and rediscovering their city through a new lens.
Labels were also mailed to the directors of every major art museum in the city, critics, historians and the city’s public art organizations. However, it seems the ‘artworld’ insiders are going to be the hardest ones to convince that this is an art form worth supporting!
How has the project proceeded as expected, and how has it surprised you?
It is always surprising to watch a person’s reaction when they walk past one of SMoA’s labels unexpectedly. Crowds of people can walk by in a day without anyone even noticing a work of street art on the wall. Then as soon as one person finally stops to read the description, take a picture or simply look at what is in front of them, it triggers others to do the same. We hope that The Street Museum of Art will similarly spark a change in the way the public view their city and cause others to start exploring and questioning what they see around them. This is only the beginning for the Street Museum of Art though and we are excited to see how things continue to progress!
On your website, you describe the museum as a program of “illegally curated exhibitions”. How illegal is illegal. Are you expected any kind of backlash or dismantling of the exhibition?
Well for starters, mapping out our exhibition with the placement of Plexiglas didactic labels around the city does not exactly sit well with the police. Many of the artists talk about a fight to reclaim public space when discussing their street work and this is because there are many laws preventing the public from total freedom of creative expression in these spaces. SMoA is adopting the guerrilla tactics of a street artist in as aspects of our operations.