Though once a “low-art” phenomenon, relegated to spaces of urban decay such as abandoned subway tunnels and derelict buildings, the past decade has seen a shift in the perception of street art from a form of vandalism to a highly expressive and marketable artistic practice. Big name street artists sell out gallery shows and fetch exorbitant prices for their work at some of the world’s most prestigious auction houses. Celebrities buy their artwork and critics rave about them in art journals. Though street art’s marketable potential was first recognized in the late Seventies and early Eighties, ushered in by artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, the artists of the current street art renaissance have begun to eclipse their progenitors in terms of both celebrity and financial value.
While street artists begin to inhabit the high-profile spaces reserved for only a select few artists, the artists who have long enjoyed success in the pantheon of “high-art” are looking to more traditionally “low-culture” venues for their projects. Artists whose résumés boast international solo shows and retrospectives are starting to work outside of the institutionalized spaces of galleries and museums, and are collaborating with those not historically associated with the spheres of “high” art and culture. These artists are looking towards other venues for expansion, and art that once hung on the walls of galleries is instead used to adorn tee shirts, shoes, and skateboards. The streetwear brand has become the space where the excursions of high-profile artists into “low culture” phenomena intersect with the movement of newly upward-trending street artists.
No Soap Radio examines the dialectic intersection of “high” and “low” forms of art and popular culture. The project explores the blurring of lines between once-distinct categories that have, over the last decade, increasingly appropriated aspects of the other. This project gives rise to questions of how authenticity and creative integrity compete with modes of consumption and commercial success. No Soap Radio functions as a mock streetwear company, integrating printmaking, photography, and manipulated digital media to create custom hardgoods such as skateboards, clothing, and miniature models—all installed in a faux consumer environment. The project investigates the issue of the artist as a brand, and the impact of commercial and personal branding on postmodern artists’ identities. In addition, this project posits questions about brand identity—an exploration of how artists validate their artistic decisions while simultaneously navigating the commercialization inherent in producing consumable commodities.
The words “high” and “low” are presented in quotes to acknowledge and problematize the institutionalized bifurcation of art into vague, non-representative dichotomies. Part of No Soap Radio’s role is to recognize the semantics and nomenclature surrounding art vocabulary and call into question the hierarchy of value and worth that these words imply. The existence and continued use of these words says less about the artwork and the artists than it does about the social and cultural capital of those who choose to define the work of others by these binaries.