It's been around for over forty years, but where exactly is street art today? What does this generic name represent? We now talk increasingly of "urban art", indicating the subtle change of vocabulary needed to cover a many-faceted reality. With contextual and conceptual practices, graffiti, Punk rock inspired stencils, collages, muralism, subverted ads, ''artivism'' and ''hacktivism'', it has proved far too diverse to be really described as a movement… In any event, it is a means of expression that has spread throughout the world, while remaining very open, as we are told by Erica Berkowitz of the Haven Gallery (Northport), who is taking part in the 2019 edition: "Our artists can't be defined by a category of genre, because they are fired by a multitude of subcultures coloured by the influences of art history and popular cultures." This is illustrated to perfection by Zoé Byland's work. Girl and Bird out of Focus (€3,500), an image inspired by the history of photography, "makes play with the duality between darkness and light in a monochrome painting, focus and out-of-focus, the spray can and acrylic paint."
It is important to ask questions about this vague designation of "street art" to grasp the positioning of a fair like District 13, which goes very much against hackneyed clichés and aims to paint a broad portrait of urban art on an international scale. The main denominator covers street-based expression (Etnik with GCA Gallery, Paris; Sabek and Mario Mankey at the Swinton Gallery, Madrid), but some artists seek to be out of step, like Julio Anaya Cabanding (Plastic Murs gallery, Valencia), who moves into abandoned sites with paintings in the pure classical tradition, while others subscribe to more of a Pop vein (Ben Frost at the Fusion Gallery, Los Angeles) or Pop Surrealism (Miss Van, Bruno Pontiroli and Peca at the Fousion Gallery, Barcelona).
Subcultures Without Borders
What also makes District 13 stand out from other fairs is its "strike force," says Geoffroy Jossaume (GCA, Paris), with Mehdi Ben Cheikh, also director of the Itinerrance gallery, at its head. He managed to involve the inimitable Shepard Fairey from the very first edition (he has now created the poster for the fair, a screen print in a numbered edition sold on site, which will be the first prize for the Instagram #StreetandYou contest), and this year's talks will be attended by D*Face and Mono Gonzalez, the father of Chilean street art. The selection has been extremely strict. Only twenty-six galleries were chosen: "the most important in urban art and its subcultures", says Mehdi Ben Cheikh, forging his way through geographical borders to cover ten countries. So French and American galleries will be rubbing shoulders with their opposite numbers from Chile, Tunisia, Italy, Belgium, the UK and Spain. Nine are newcomers (including the Haven Gallery and Bahia Utópica), with several of them much impressed by the first edition, the selection, the programme and the venue.
So there will be some real discoveries for French audiences, particularly with artists exhibiting for the first time in Paris, like Sonac (Mazel Gallery, Brussels), and leading figures in the highly dynamic Chilean scene. "Valparaiso is a city that has become a hot spot for street art on a global level. This is where INTI comes from, for example, as does Juan Brito, whom we are presenting at the fair (between €2,000 and 4,000), and who has been living in Norway for over twenty years," says Bertrand Coustou, co-director of Bahia Utópica (Valparaiso). His selection also includes Un Kolor Distinto (€200 to €3,500), the signature of "a couple who have worked together for fifteen years in a Surrealist vein, mingling the themes of love, the couple, music, nature, ecology and social topics." In fact, a book recently came out on this duo, who have produced the largest fresco in Chile. Jennifer Rizzo of Hashimoto Contemporary (New York, San Francisco) is extremely "excited about presenting a new audience with a solo show by Penny, a British artist highly popular in the US. Viewers are immediately touched by the complexity of his work, and those who are not familiar with it are always amazed to learn that he works with stencils!" But longstanding artists will also be present, like Futura at the stand of the At Down gallery (Montpellier), which is also proudly presenting, for the first time, a collaboration between Atlas and Nasty, "two major artists in the graffiti culture," says Nicolas Pinelli (City Kingz Fotmat: €4,300). "They are part of the generation that saw graffiti appear and develop in France in the 1980s.
After over twenty years of activism in the street and a large body of work in the studio, they are collaborating together for the first time on canvas." Other galleries are returning with the same artists as last year: a way of promoting them in the long-term, as we are told by Adeline Jeudy (LJ gallery, Paris): "Swoon is the main artist we have sold well: mainly fairly small pieces at under €6,000. Andrew Schoultz, on the other hand, is still unknown to most people in Paris, but we are working hard on spreading the word! Hence the need to show him again this year, especially as he has a solo show at the gallery in October, during the FIAC, and will soon have a wall in the murals programme in Boulevard 13, in the 13th arrondissement."
District 13, set up in the marketplace represented by Drouot, is part of a network that is shaping the market in Paris, and all the professionals turn up to it. The event is ending with an auction, extending the connection between the two partners (with JoneOne, Shepard Fairey, Rero, with estimates between €600 and €18,000). The organisers are keen to boost the attractiveness of Paris and proclaim the city as the epicentre of the street art market. And the machine is up and running.