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Jan 16, 2009

For the past five decades, street artists have been turning urban lifestyles into an art form.

For decades, artists have looked to the streets for inspiration, using them as backdrops for political statements and canvases for cultural expression. But the practice has often been discredited and labeled as vandalism, and its practitioners treated as outcasts and even criminals.
Now, an exhibit at the Bronx Museum aims to set the record straight by portraying the history and evolution of street art.
“I wanted to open up the notion of street art,” says Lydia Yee, curator for the exhibition Street Art, Street Life. According to Yee, the term street art has become a cliché associated with graffiti, hip-hop culture and stickering, which blurs the long tradition of a legitimate art form.
By Yee’s definition, street art includes any artists who engage with the street as subject matter and as a source of material for their creations. To that end, the show explores a range of themes related to the street: from documentation to political activism, violence, crime, identity, advertisement and gender roles.
The roots of the genre lie in the 19th-century Post-Impressionists, who were the first to paint outdoor street scenes.
It was carried into the early 20th-century by the Futurist movement, whose adherents took an interest in the busy lifestyles of urban environments and the burgeoning automotive culture taking over city roadways.
But it wasn’t until the 1960s that the streets emerged as an alternative to traditional art spaces. It was in this period that artists looked outside to create performance-based work for a new audience—one that was much different from those attending gallery and museum shows.
On the following pages, Lydia Yee offers her interpretation of some of street art’s most compelling works from the past five decades.

Urban Legends: Over the decades, well-known artists from other genres have produced some of the most interesting street art. FLYP’s interactive story lets you explore five decades of art inspired by and made on the streets, from the Fluxus movement of the 1960s to Fatima Tuggar’s street scenes of the current decade. Each decade is accompanied by video, a slideshow and audio from curator Lydia Yee.

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