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This excellent if flawed short film of Montreal, Canada’s “2014 Mural Festival” is a crash course in a genre of art that I know very little about. Its star is a New York City street artist who goes by the name of “Hanksy” and who appears on camera with a wheatpaste-style head of actor Tom Hanks digitally superimposed on his face at all times. Totally crazy, right? Kids.
The film is essentially a series of interviews with many of the artists participating in Montreal’s celebration of urban muralists—and a few who were not invited to take part—along with Hanksy’s ruminations on what it means to be a part of this kind of event.
I find street murals and graffiti occasionally beguiling, but ultimately they’ve rarely captivated me. Aesthetically the form can be interesting, but I’ve never been particularly impressed by its illicit nature or by graffiti artists’ apparent belief that defacing property is somehow a way of taking back the urban landscape away from corporate billboards and government overlords.
However, what I find even less convincing, and maybe even shallow, are the objections raised in this short film to municipally sanctioned and corporate sponsored events like Montreal’s Mural Festival. Hanksy wonders aloud (and frequently) whether the event represents a corruption of the form’s authenticity. To me though, street art has always been a kind of a test lab for commercial trends—its whole purpose, whether conscious or not, is to create a visual language for selling overpriced tee-shirts, baseball caps and other branded lifestyle products to kids with disposable income. As proof, note that this video was apparently paid for and presented by the street wear brand The Hundreds.+