|My favorite piece|
Most of the popular street art around town seems to fall into the wholesome category suitable for using as a backdrop for the holiday card family photo. The HOPE Outdoor Gallery, a.k.a. Graffiti Park, has a edgier feel to it. It first came to my attention when a friend posted photos of her daughter's hip hop dance crew taken at HOPE. "What?!," I thought to myself. "Something this cool exists in Austin?" I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised what with the "Keep Austin Weird" motto of this Portland-of-the-South.
HOPE Outdoor Gallery launched five years ago as part of SXSW. Spread across three tiers of concrete walls that are supposedly what remains of an abandoned condo construction project from the 1980's, it's said to the be the largest outdoor mural project in the city. The original info I found for it asks artists to submit applications to be considered for displaying their creations here. In magazine and travel blogs, it shows up as a place that everyone, both Austin residents and tourists alike, must visit.
A few weeks ago, I was finally in that part of town and decided to pay HOPE a visit. On this quiet weekday afternoon, parking was already scarce. I imagine it must be rather difficult on a fine weekend. With the tiers rising up before me as I approached the outdoor gallery, it was a little hard to take in. There was so much going on visually.
There's now a trailer near the street entrance that supposedly sells cans of spray paint if you want to get in on the action. It was closed when I visited, so I didn't get a chance to leave my mark. I was glad that I'd worn sturdy shoes as the hike uphill alongside the concrete walls was a little steep and uneven. No stairs were in sight anywhere. I wanted to get closer to the art on the upper tiers but didn't feel like I was quite agile enough to hop over walls and drop-offs.
Heading through a gate at the top of the hill, I was surprised to find myself in front of an office building disguised as a castle. This city landmark belongs to Castle Hill Partners, owners of the property where HOPE is located and sponsors of the original art installation launch. Hmmm... it also seems like the parking here (West 11th Street off Blanco Street) was a much better option as long as the gate to the gallery is open. I've always wanted to get close to Austin's famous Castle, so stumbling upon it during this outing was a bonus.
As I walked around HOPE, I didn't quite know what to think. I really had, pardon me, high hopes for this place. It is so hyped up as a essential part of the Austin experience. But compared to what I've seen elsewhere, I was disappointed. It may have started out great and semi-curated, but the current practice of letting any person let loose with a can of spray paint has diminished the quality in my apparently not-so-humble opinion.
My favorite piece, the woman's face in the first photo of this post, has probably survived unscathed because it is up high and out of reach to anyone without a ladder. Every other surface was covered with layers and layers of random scrawlings, like the kind you see at restaurants where you can grab a marker to write on the wall. Empty spray cans littered the ground. Broken beer bottles were scattered around, too. I must be a hypocrite because I found this urban art experience that I sought out a little too urban for me. How I long for Singapore sometimes.
As an observer, I give this place 3 or even 2 out of 5 stars. I think the magic must be in getting to be a participant. To be the one wielding the spray paint and leaving your mark without fear of repercussion.
Do you consider this art?
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