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College hosts ‘street art’ exhibit

MIDDLEBURY — The collections of the Middlebury College Museum of Art showcase thousands of years of human creativity, from ancient Greek vases to classic Roman sculptures, old Chinese scrolls to European and American paintings from throughout the centuries.
But starting this week, the museum’s second floor will host art with a strictly modern inspiration: the urban landscape. A new exhibit, called “Outside In: Art of the Street,” will present the work of 16 street artists who use their art to encourage political or social change.
It will include the work of well-known street artists from around the world, including Banksy, Bäst, Blu, Shepard Fairey, Faile, Swoon, JR and Judith Supine. It also features artwork created on-site by Ben Eine.
See the Independent’s profile of Ben Eine
In place of traditional mediums like oil or charcoal on canvas, the art showcased in the exhibit makes use of unorthodox surfaces, like butcher paper, plywood, metal siding and the exterior of subway cars. Street art, which traces its roots to graffiti art in the 1960s and ’70s, encompasses a wide spectrum of art in public places.
Museum curators Emmie Donadio and Chris Murray said the exhibit was inspired by a 2011 TED Talk given by French street artist and photographer JR, in which he described how street art can be used to upend social norms and invalidate stereotypes.
The talk will play continuously on a television at the center of the exhibit. A hallmark of JR’s work is photographing portraits of everyday people, encouraged to make strange faces and express themselves as they choose.
His work gained widespread recognition after he visited Israel and Palestine and photographed citizens of each state who worked at the same occupation. He posted the photographs side-by-side in Israeli and Palestinian cities, which angered some onlookers.
“He’d ask them, ‘Can you tell me which is which?’ And they couldn’t,” Murray said. “That’s the sort of activism (street art) can do.”
Donadio said JR’s work is an example of what street artists have been doing for decades.
“It’s about art activism and artists as activists in the world,” she said of JR’s work. “There are a lot of stereotypes that are blown up by street artists.”
That experience inspired JR to create the “Inside Out” project, in which he and other photographers take portraits of everyday people. The Middlebury exhibit will feature portraits of current students, who are now numbered among the people from 112 countries who have taken part in the project.
One goal for the “Outside In: Art of the Street” exhibit is to draw students to the museum that might not otherwise visit.
“We’d been talking about trying to put together an exhibit that would appeal to the students,” Murray said. “While we have this great museum, not all of the students take advantage of it.”
Murray said he and Donadio chose the artists for the exhibit based on a massive list they’d compiled of street artists from across the globe.
“It was difficult for us to pare it down to these 16 artists,” Murray said. “These are among the most influential artists in the street art world.”
Many of the pieces showcased are not originals, but numbered prints. Murray said the museum sought to purchase prints rather than originals to make the exhibit more accessible — anyone with a few hundred dollars could purchase a similar work.
“We’re purposely only showing works on paper or editions,” Murray said. “Their original works at galleries can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. But here, like all the work you stumble upon on the street, is accessible to everyone.”
As opposed to artists who sell their work at auction or in galleries, Murray said many of the street artists featured sell their work online, where anyone can purchase it. But you’ll need to have good timing: The work — especially by world-famous artists like Banksy — sells out in minutes.
The exhibit will open Friday and run through April 19. More information and museum hours are online at museum.middlebury.edu. Donadio and Murray will give a gallery talk on the exhibit on Feb. 19 at 4:30 p.m.

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