Will "Red Bull Street Art View" Give Street Art Wings?

Will "Red Bull Street Art View" Give Street Art Wings?
Earlier this month, the Google Art Project set the art world buzzing — and found New York Times art critic Roberta Smith floundering to figure out her computer — with its online offering of digitized collections of some of the world's top museums. The Art Project received a great deal of praise, but also a fair amount of criticism — some of it focusing on the lack of non-Western and contemporary artists and institutions. Well, now Red Bull Street Art View will use Google's "Street View" feature to showcase crowd-sourced images of graffiti from all over the globe. As the name suggests, this project is the brainchild not of Google, but of the energy-drink brewers Red Bull and Brazilian ad agency Loducca, looking to cash in on the street art/tech art hype nexus.

The Web site of Red Bull Street Art View describes itself as a "collaborative collection of Google's Street View locations showcasing Street Art from all over the world." Visitors can peruse a map, with markers picking out locales where users have found images of graffitied murals in Google's woozy street scenes. And of course, visitors can contribute to the tagging themselves — tagging images, not walls, that is — if they want to contribute to the exercise, which aims to become "the biggest art collection in the world." 


Given the fact that the project was launched by a Brazilian ad firm — and also given the Latin-American country's legendarily fertile street art scene — by far the largest number of works are tagged in Brazil: a whopping 245, compared to scant 24 in Los Angeles or 7 in the New York area. Nevertheless, it is neat to be able to find in situ images of works by Banksy, Os Gemeos, Keith Haring, Blu, and Space Invader, all at the click of a mouse, even if the quality of the imagery is a far cry from the 17 crystal-clear, razor-sharp gigapixel works the Google Art Project boasts from its participating museums. Well, street art should be a little rougher around the edges than museum art anyway, shouldn't it?


The initiative is likely to raise concerns about the particularly brazen way that Red Bull is appropriating the countercultural cachet of graffiti — often viewed as an anti-commercial gesture — to flog caffeinated syrup. In fact, the company is already famous (or infamous?) for its efforts to tap into art's various subcultures for cost-effective marketing. Recall, for instance, "Red Bull Art of Can" — which, like "Red Bull Street Art View," is a terribly unlovely name — an initiative involving a contest that had would-be artists competed to fashion art out of Red Bull containers. Last year's winner got an all-expenses-paid trip to Art Basel for creating "Robot Red Bull Dog," a tin pooch staring at a fire hydrant. The fire hydrant was also made of a can.