It's a strange time for culture everywhere.
I guess I'm an optimist. Because I've always expected the culture wheel to move forward rather than to go in reverse.
But that doesn't seem to be the case in a lot of Western countries at the moment.
And Italy is no exception to this.
It's a difficult time to be a non-establishment artist here.
That's not a new thing, but events in recent days point to the changing environment and to the luck of the draw- where you are, even in the same country can make things easier or more difficult.
Take for example what's been happening in Bologna in recent days.
The city has been painting over the work of street artists, including the highly respected artist BLU. It's made quite the show and dance about it, noting that graffiti does not have a place on its walls. Yet, at the same time, Bologna is playing host to a hyped up 'street art' exhibition that I have a feeling will play a huge part in the city's tourism campaigns over the coming weeks.
The exhibition, including works by the likes of Banksy - as well as works that have been transplanted from their original environments into gallery spaces can be interpreted as confirmation that these ideas and this kind of expression is acceptable only within enclosed spaces (where one I assume can also buy something).
Without the oxygen of public viewings and open spaces, and of course the street context, street art isn't really street art. Not when it's being produced for an exhibit and for a very specific, corporate sponsored context. That I think we can all agree is not really what the essence of street art is about. In Italy, Rome has put its walls to great effect. In the space of five years it has become one of Europe's street art capitals, precisely because it has encouraged the use of visible, outdoor spaces, especially in parts of the city that no one ever wanted to take a second look at.
The commercial side of the street art world reached its apex in many countries around 2010/2011. I remember back in my gallery days in Australia when the novelty of street art in galleries was already starting to wane - and that was back in 2008/2009. Since then, the concept of street art has taken on new meaning in some parts of the world, while in others the timeliness and social side of street art has become increasingly important. So while Rome says yes, places like Bologna say no.
It's tough being outside of the official art world in Italy at the moment. Italians by and large appreciate art, but lately, they're not all that big on supporting it.
In La Spezia, which is in the north of Italy, an artist's atelier recently featured some work by Rosanna Avery, a Barcelona based artist.
Three examples of Avery's work - pretty tame, and I would argue pretty conventional from a stylistic and subject point of view, and certainly not offensive - were displayed in the atelier's shopfront.
Complaints from passer(s)by which resulted in the atelier having to remove said artwork from the window after the city acted on the complaint(s).
Days later the works reappeared in view, but in censored form: the nudes now 'redressed' in paper underwear on which messages were scrawled. One message asked whoever it was that complained to come forward (and to get a lawyer).
Avery is now challenging the city's actions - and invoking a freedom of expression clause in the constitution.
Is it just me or are we increasingly being dragged backwards in time? And if we are, can someone please explain to me what good it will do us?
For more on the Bologna/BLU saga read here.
For more on the Avery situation, read this (in Italian).
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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