Track 4: This New World: Preservation technology and emerging issues within our historic buildings and built landscapes
3 - Art or Awful: The Preservation and Conservation of Graffiti
Wednesday, September 26
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Twenty-one graffiti artists were recently awarded $6.7-million in damages after the owner of the building known as 5Pointz white-washed over hundreds of murals before the site could be designated as a landmark. Graffiti is done for many reasons, including self-expression, boredom, or disrespect. But when does graffiti go from an act of vandalism to be immediately removed, to an artful expression which should be saved and shared? Graffiti has a long and proud history dating back to Ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire. The oldest graffiti at Pompeii is a simple “Gaius was here,” or, more precisely, “Gaius Pumidis Dilphilus was here,” dated October 3, 78 B.C. It is a classic that stands the test of time, as anyone familiar with Kilroy knows.
Graffiti comes in many different forms: from carving in stone, spray paint on a brick wall, marker on a marble statue, pencil on walls, etching on glass, to stickers on everything. Although graffiti has become an accepted art form, there is still a wide chasm between work exhibited in a museum and work done without the permission of the property owner. The National Park Service has two documents related to the removal of graffiti: Keeping it Clean and “Preservation Brief 38: Removing Graffiti from Masonry,” both dating to 1995. But information and guidelines on the preservation of graffiti is scarce. Papers have been presented on the conservation of murals and graffiti-style street art, but what about graffiti that was created just as an act of defacement?
What makes some graffiti worth saving while other requires swift removal? It is easy to be fascinated by graffiti left by a Rear Admiral of the British Navy on the Temple of Dendur in 1817, and less so by the spray-painted tag found on your garage. Although many factors go into the decision to remove or preserve graffiti, some of the most important are age, context, and the familiarity of the artist.
Graffiti exists in our public spaces, our communities, and our streets. It can be thoughtful, crude, political, humorous, simple, artistic, territorial, offensive, creative, or a combination of these. Can conservators work together to create guidelines and standards for the preservation and conservation of graffiti? Or is it like many issues of conservation where the answer is “It depends?”
Jablonski Building Conservation, Inc. has worked on several graffiti-related projects including the preservation of pencil graffiti on wallpaper in a museum, protection and conservation treatments to a spray-painted graffiti mural in a previously industrial neighborhood, and the removal of offensive graffiti from the side of a church. This presentation will discuss how each of these projects required us to stop and think about the consequences of removal versus preservation.
- Upon completion, participant will be able to discuss the history of graffiti.
- Upon completion, participant will have a greater understanding of the social impact of graffiti.
- Upon completion, participants will be able to discuss the philosophical ramifications behind the decision to conserve or remove graffiti.
- Upon completion, participants will have an increased knowledge of the means and methods for both the conservation and removal of graffiti.