Monday, February 28, 2011

The Dumpster Biennale

20th February 2011
Magazine Gallery, Adelaide

It’s fun to satirise contemporary art. There’s something about the self obsessed way in which it constantly questions its own value that makes you wish it would just cheer up and salvage a little dignity? So what better force to kick contemporary art in the pants than the affable enigma that is street art?

Based around the unique concept of mailing out replica-wooded dumpsters for street artists to customise, the Dumpster Biennale has quickly gained a reputation beyond our shores. This year the exhibition features dumpsters from 30 international, national and local artists.

“We needed an object that was internationally recognisable,” says their designer Timothy Grisbrook about shoebox-sized creations. “The dumpster seemed a perfect choice because it confronts our notion of what makes an object valuable. Even worthless objects can become valuable through the skills and imagination of an artist.”

The exhibition is the main event of this year’s Street Dreams festival, which is dedicated to celebrating all things ‘street art.’ Run by local volunteers during the Fringe, the festival includes street art tours, exhibitions, mural painting and technical workshops. It’s part of a long-term vision to develop the local appreciation of street art and build connections between artists nationally and internationally.

I asked Adelaide based street artist Ankles what he thought of moving street art into the gallery. “We’ve turned dumpsters into objects that are of value. Whether or not it’s labelled ‘art’ is kind of boring - that word doesn’t hold much value to me,” he replied. “Street art doesn’t need art galleries, it’s the other way around.”

Maybe he’s got a point. While blockbuster exhibitions of European masters will always attract the grey tide they also come at a steep cost. Street art exhibitions, like The Nation Gallery’s show titled ‘Space Invaders’, are comparatively cheap to put on. For the big galleries It’s a smart way of securing the loyalty of a younger audience who’s patronage will extend far into the 21st Century. It’s also a way of favouring home grown culture instead of pandering to archaic notions of euro centric cultural dominance.

But the real appeal of street art is something much simpler - it’s the allure of authenticity. There’s something in that image of the street artist as outlaw-rebel that offers some welcomed relief from the tired pretences of the contemporary art establishment. After all, leading contemporary artists need buckets of diamonds, dozens of skilled technicians and intimidating galleries to make their creations seem valuable. The humble street artist can perform the same feat using their own skills, the cheapest of materials and an ordinary wall or even a dumpster. Refreshing, isn’t it.

First published in The Adelaide Review, Feb 2011


  1. You spelt Tim Grisbrook's name wrong..

    And the designer of the dumpsters was actually Tomek Pyrzakowski (Mr.Tomek).


  2. hey.. I live in adelaide and.. I saw an article in the Easten courier of you.. at least I think it was the easten courier well anyways.. I was wondering if you could please tell me where/how to get to the magazine gallery because I tried to go to something once and couldnt find it.. yeah im a bit vacant.. thanks :)

  3. ha ha did you do Audrey too? I have been a big fan of your 'Bicycle' and 'Einstein'and your pixelated 'like' button in the mural I didn't know it was you (one skinny latte please giggle giggle).