When the National Gallery of Victoria’s new director, Tony Ellwood was asked for his opinion of street art, Ellwood said it was “a very real, a very present art form” but he probably wasn’t expecting a present from Melbourne’s street artists. The Trojan Petition organized by CDH featured panels by 20 people involved with Melbourne street art was delivered to the gallery late Sunday night.
Full disclosure: I am one the participants in this action, sometimes a journalist has to take sides and I was an embedded reporter working with the front line troops. I am not a street artist but I did want to record the impact of the internet on street art on the panel the CDH asked me to do – so I included a piece of text from this blog about the internet and digital cameras on my panel. (For the full text see my blog post Street Art, the Internet & Digital Cameras.)
Not since Ivan Durant dumped a dead cow in the forecourt of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in 1975 has such a large work of art been dumped so provocatively in that location. Melbourne writer, Barry Dickens explains: “I recall turning up to The National Gallery of Victoria when it existed in St Kilda Road, and enjoying the bizarre but perfectly natural sight of a butchered cow draped over the arch, like an invitation to take up butchery instead of Impressionism. But folks were nauseated, and the media courted Mr Durrant, called him several things, but not genius. Dr Eric Westbrooke was then Minister for the Arts, and he purchased a new Durrant, which was the perfect model of a fibreglass butcher’s shop window, complete with replicant pigs’ snouts, imitation Black Pudding, or Tubular Pig Blood – bloody delicious they are; and trays bearing mounds of dead-spit cutlets, right-on-the-money lamb chops and lambs’ brains you wanted to crumb and sizzle upon the spot.” (ABC Radio National 11:45 Sunday 23/05/2004)
It wasn’t such an easy mission for CDH and the crew that including Fletch and Calm. The huge work had to be bolted together in the park opposite and by that time the NGV had sent over its spy, Sylvia to find out what was happening. Sylvia works in “assets and facilities” at the NGV and after some initial bullshit she did enter into a 30+ minutes of negotiating with CDH about where the petition could go. CDH slowly wore Sylvia down and a compromise was agreed to: the petition could be left on the forecourt (but not standing up for reason of health and safety) after the wedding party at the NGV departed. Taking the petition across St. Kilda Road proved to be one of the easier parts. Tomorrow morning the curators will have to decide what to do with it – throw it in the rubbish or take the Trojan Petition into the bastion of gallery.
Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
The full text of the petition on the central panel reads:
We didn’t say please. Does that void artistic merit?
Melbourne’s street art is consistently ranked among the top in the world [1-6], unlike any of Australia’s fine art institutions. Street art is also inherently egalitarian and freely accessible. However, rather than being endorsed with substantial tax payer subsidies  street art is actively stifled by the State Government; the Graffiti Prevention Act (2007) requires artists to provide lawful excuse if caught carrying a graffiti implement (aerosol can, sharp object, pencil) and thus reverses the burden of proof, to a presumption of guilt [8,9].
For the State Government, propriety in street art begins and ends with property rights. We believe the hallmarks of urban neglect (extensive tagging, peeling paint, cracks) demonstrate an owner’s tacit indifference to a site’s appearance. Formal permission is unnecessary; it is already implied. Unsolicited mural painting of a dilapidated site doesn’t damage the property or the community aesthetic. As community stakeholders, civically minded citizens have a right to intervene to restore dilapidated sites, to the betterment of the community. As we hold this alternate philosophical view on community enrichment, the State Government deems us vandals, criminalizes us and denies any cultural value or artistic merit in our efforts.
1. ‘The 9 best cities For street art spotting’. The Huffington Post. [Online] 03 09, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bootsnall/the-worlds-best-cities-fo_b_1327741.html.
2. Five great cities for street art. The Guardian. [Online] 01 29, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2011/jan/29/street-art-cities.
3. The World’s Best Cities for Viewing Street Art. Internaltional Business Times. [Online] 10 08, 2010. http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/69974/20101008/best-cities-street-art.htm.
4. The Best Cities for Street Art. Travel and Leisure webzine. [Online] 06 2009. http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/the-best-cities-for-street-art/1.
5. Cities that bring art to the streets! Total Travel. [Online] http://au.totaltravel.yahoo.com/travel-ideas/galleries/g/-/13073266/1/cities-that-bring-art-to-the-streets/?src=y7homepage&fb_source=message.
6. Best street art cities on Earth. Travel Glam. [Online] http://www.travelglam.com/best-street-art-cities-on-earth/.
7. Funding Summary 2009-2010. Australia Council. [Online] http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/about_us/strategies_and_policies/funding_summary.
8. The Graffiti Prevention Act  s.7. [Online] http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/Domino/Web_Notes/LDMS/PubStatbook.nsf/edfb620cf7503d1aca256da4001b08af/39F11E47CBDA184FCA2573A000165AAF/$FILE/07-059a.pdf.
9. Clamping down: The Graffiti Prevention Act . Images to live by. [Online] 09 16, 2008. http://imagestoliveby.wordpress.com/2008/09/16/clamping-down-the-graffiti-prevention-act-2007/.
P.S. 10th Sept. 2012
The following day the Trojan Petition was moved inside the NGV International and installed in the foyer where it will stay for a week. The NGV has a policy not to accept donations from living artists so could not accept the Trojan Petition as a gift. After it has been displayed in the NGV the Trojan Petition panels will be auctioned and the funds used to support street art projects in Melbourne.