Contemporary Avant-Garde Work: Street Art

-Michael Melvin

Ukrainian Artist Homer

In this essay, we will be discussing Contemporary and Avante- Garde forms and how these concepts fit perfectly within the contemporary world of street art. While the definition of contemporary art is very loosely translated, the ‘art’ can be seen as the ‘art of today.’ Naturally, since contemporary art goes against classical forms of art, this concept can be a popular choice for those looking to explore the Avante Garde.

Dai East
Wuhan, China

Stressing formal opposition Avante- Garde fits perfectly with the contemporary art format. The need to express art past its initial format is recognizable as having some type of respect in the contemporary art circle for people who are finding themselves. This has been seen in contemporary street format by the artist Dal East in Wuhan, China. He used the entire building facade for his spiritually unraveling street art masterpiece. This piece is a large-scale acrylic painting with influences from eastern philosophy. Looking at the piece, there are many Eastern influences(Schacter). The film that most notably pops out for this art piece is the Chinese animated film, Big Fish and Begonia. Big Fish and Begonia comment on the relationship between the spirit world and the reality we live in. Dal East seems to be commenting on the disconnect between modern-day people and their ties to the older generations. We can see this as energy slowly unravels into a whale made up of beams similar to the cursed warthog in Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke. What makes Dal East’s art avant-garde is the format he uses for his painting. East can extend his art to a larger audience that would not necessarily see the art in a studio setting by taking up the whole facade of a building.

Big Fish and Begonia(2018)

Ukrainian artist Sasha Kurmaz challenges how art can be expressed. By turning to the street canvas, he was able to bring art to a place where everyone could experience it. While Sasha, also known as Homer by most Ukrainians, has painted over some of his pieces due to his Avante-garde nature, he still has some of the pieces on showcase for all of the public to see. The act of creating these masterpieces and then deleting them is very avant-garde. It questions what art is and how/ where it can be interpreted.

Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke

With the rise of street art in the mid-1980s, Street Art entered the “high art” world through social activism and the need to move art into a more prestigious space. While people are still finding ways to express themselves using street space internationally, the United States found a way to legitimize certain street art as ‘art’ and turn this craft into contemporary works respected by the ‘high art’ circle.    

While Basquiat was introduced into the “high art” sphere by his relationship with artists like Andy Warhol, his work garnered so much attention that it should have been instantly recognized. From October 18, 2020 – July 25, 2021, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston held their Writing the Future; Basquiat and The Hip Hop Generation exhibition. This exhibition comments on the increased popularity of street art and its transformation into the art world. Contemporary street artists like Keith Haring, Fab 5 Freddy, and others were included in this exhibition( Through the relation with Basquiat’s art, the exhibition can show how street art has evolved over the years from its original format on the streets.

When people see street art, they are initially reminded of the rising ‘black culture’ and its impact on art and society. I am reminded of Graffiti Crews, MCs, and Grandmaster Flash, who thought it was necessary to express themselves in very clever ways, which society did not accept at the time. For people who find it hard to relate to the ‘high art’ circle, it can be culturally advantageous to have public artworks which everyone can appreciate. 

Jean Michel- Basquiat

While I don’t necessarily like the way contemporary Street Art is being marketed as a part of the ‘Hip Hop Generation’, I am fond of the artist that was being recognized and the artwork that was being displayed.

Basquiat and Fab 5 Freddy connected art to hip hop. Not many people have wanted to go to museums because of the lack of diversity in art. Having exhibits like these will definitely drive the younger generations to come to museums as these pieces fit the real issues that people want to talk about today in modern-day America.


“Writing the Future.” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 

Schacter, Rafael. The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti. Aurum Press, 2017. 

Ototo, et al. “What Is Contemporary Art? an in-Depth Look at the Modern-Day Movement.” My Modern Met, 18 May 2021, 

Published by execfunctioning

Michael Melvin is a Writer, Musician, and Advocate. While attending Syracuse University he has been an active member on campus even holding positions in Greek Life and Clubs/Activities on campus. He has recently gained notoriety for his performance at the Wescott Theater, where he played music in a simulacrum which commented on the lack of discourse during the pandemic. Through a global pandemic, Melvin has come out as a resilient persona who questions modern conventions and looks for oppurtunites to adapt to newfound successes.

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