On tags and conceptual street art


  • Elisa Caldarola




street art, tags, conceptual art


The starting point of this paper is two views. On the one hand, two general claims about street art: first, that all works of street art are subversive (see, e.g., Bacharach 2015; 2018; Chackal 2016; Baldini 2015; 2016; 2017; 2018; Willard 2016), second, that works of street art are the result of acts of self-expression (Riggle 2016). On the other hand, a much more specific view about certain contemporary tags produced, roughly, over the past twenty years: those tags are artworks, even though they are not presented, mainly, for appreciation of aesthetic properties grounded in their perceptual properties, because they are works of conceptual street art (see Lewisohn 2010; JAK 2012). The key question of the paper concerns “very early tags” (VETs) – the extremely simple, unadorned tags that first appeared in the late 1960s and that some scholars consider as the historical predecessors of the various practices that today we group under the category “street art” (see, e.g., Young 2014; Gastman et al. 2015): should we regard VETs as artworks? On the one hand, VETs writers tend to answer this question in the negative. On the other hand, already in the early 1970s, artists and intellectuals such as Norman Mailer and Gordon Matta-Clark seemed to believe that it was appropriate to regard both VETs and later tags as art, although they didn’t defend this claim with argument. The view that some contemporary tags that are not presented, mainly, for appreciation of their aesthetic properties might be candidates for appreciation as works of conceptual art suggests a strategy for assessing the issue of whether VETs are candidates for art appreciation: can we defend the claim that the extremely simple, unadorned VETs were presented for appreciation as works of conceptual street art? I argue that we have good reasons to hold this view.