A few weeks ago Denver had their annual Denver Chalk Art Festival which featured 150 professional and amateur artists on Larimer Square. Unfortunately I was cooped up at work all weekend and didn’t get the chance to make it downtown to see for myself. But it got me thinking about temporary art. Reading about the Chalk Art Festival, I learned the tradition of using chalk to draw on the asphalt dates back to the 16th century Renaissance Italy. These “madonnari” got their name from their chalk painting recreations of the Madonna. As you can imagine, the tradition of street painting wavered and it wasn’t until the 1970s when a town in Italy started the first International Street Painting Competition. What drives artists to create temporary art? Temporary art calls for the same amount of work, but with the added knowledge that in a few days or weeks time the art will cease to exist and only a memory will be left. We saw (well I didn’t, as I was not yet born) Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground experiment with multimedia performance art with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. They gave their audience a once in a lifetime experience in the moment that they saw the performance. Is it this unique experience that drives artists to create temporary art? Or is it an attempt to draw our attention to the brevity of life? Or perhaps the appeal is in the act of creating something beautiful only to destroy it later. I think that the reasons must vary between artists and mediums. For example, an ice sculpture, a perfect example of temporary art, is usually created for a special event and is allowed to melt when its purpose has been served. Sidewalk chalk, however, gets destroyed naturally, by the elements.
I have noticed a lot more artists employing the use of large scale projectors in their art installations. These intentionally temporary art installations typically project an image against a public building. A great example of this is Tammam Azzam, who I’ve mentioned in a previous post. The Syrian artist projected classic “masterpieces” against bullet ridden buildings. This form of temporary art allows the artist to make a bold statement and catch the attention of thousands of people. In this respect, temporary art has become a sort of guerrilla art form. Just take a look at graffiti, while some of it is gang tags and offensive, a lot of it is quite beautiful with powerful, positive messages (look out for a future post on graffiti). At the very least I can appreciate the dedication to beauty, no matter how temporary.