The Internet was recently abuzz with news of London-based street artist Ben Eine's team-up with Virgin Atlantic to create a 'Gallery in the Air' at 35,000 ft, an exhibition of specially commissioned work by the street artist.
Best known for his alphabet lettering street art, Eine was announced as the first artist commissioned in Virgin's brand-new initiative to highlight their £100 million investment in the airline's Upper Class cabin.
The news was met with much criticism on the part of Eine. A street artist getting into bed with a huge brand - isn't that a contradiction in terms? Doesn't this undo all that his street art served to represent? Hasn't he given his art and his soul?
It's easy to approach this with cynicism, especially if you're a fan of street art, like myself. Eine even seemed uncomfortable with a particular aspect of the art scheme, in that it's reserved exclusively for Upper Class passengers: "I fly economy most of the time, and I'd like to be able to see my own paintings."
However, I think that what Eine saw in Virgin's idea was something that we at Acrylicize have long been championing - the notion of art outside of the gallery space, something that stands at the heart of street art.
For us, this news was so much more than a street artist "giving his street cred a slight battering", as one journalist put it. For Virgin, it was a perfectly tuned PR coup to promote their Upper Class cabins. For Ben Eine, it was about self-promotion, but I think it was also for art. Ben's participation serves to highlight acceptance of appreciating and buying art outside the confines of the often intimidating and stuffy art gallery.
Yes it's fair to say that this activity is still restricting art to the monied, much like those that would usually venture to art galleries. However, just through association with the hype machine that is Virgin and Richard Branson, the word has spread and now more people are aware of a talented street artist.
When we heard the news, we tipped our hats to the team at Virgin for bringing the concept into the mainstream. The 'Gallery in the Air' perfectly encapsulates that art can work in all manner of spaces.
I myself like that modern art, in many of its forms nowadays, reaches out to people beyond gallery frequenters. I admire that someone can enter a commercial building, or in this instance, board a commercial flight, and have a relationship with art. I've been lucky enough to exhibit both in and outside of galleries; I don't feel that one is any more representative of 'art' than the other just because of the gallery environment.
As an art collective we have amazing experiences working with the commercial forum to bring art outside of the gallery space and into people's lives where you'd least expect it. This includes airports, hospitals and stadiums, including Wembley and Twickenham, as well as office spaces and meeting rooms. We've even produced pieces for toilets and oil rigs. Art in these sorts of spaces makes everything more engaging. Like Eine said, a transatlantic flight is a mundane thing, so the gallery adds some spark. In the same way, we hope our artwork in workspaces creates engaging experiences for employees and visitors to the spaces.
It's for this reason that Ben Eine shouldn't feel uncomfortable. He's used his profile as an esteemed street artist (even Obama has one of his artworks hanging in the White House) while Branson's played on his flair for gimmicks. Combined, they serve to highlight an exciting trend in the art world.
We hear that Inkie, another street artist, has been commissioned by Bristol Council to inject personality to the station terminus. Even better is that Ben Eine is just the first of a number of artists commissioned to exhibit in Virgin's Gallery in the Air, hopefully making the art scene even more accessible.
Maybe for the next announcement, they could open it up to all cabins and all passengers, and explore even more areas - art on the baggage carousel, artists in residence at the boarding gate! The creative opportunities are endless.
James Burke, Creative Director, Acrylicize