Three names show up consistently in the context of street art: Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Banksy. There are dozens of other street artists who appear in listicles today. Alec Monopoly isn't one of them.
However, he has named Haring and Basquiat as influences.
Is it that Monopoly doesn't want to be recognized by the "art world"? Is it because his background signifies the antithesis of the model street artist? Or is it that edginess and blank parody have become "like, so totally nineties"?
We may never know. Nor is it for us to alter the whims of "Art" writ large. But, meanwhile, Alec Monopoly just keeps doing his thing.
What Is that "Thing" He Does?
Steve Jobs is remembered for his saying, "Good artists copy; great artists steal."
Artist Adam J. Kurtz has clarified this
, explaining that "instead of just borrowing something for a weak imitationwhich just reminds people of the superior originalyou change it with your own compelling ideas."
Pop artist Andy Warhol may get the credit for turning popular culture into art by stealing its images. But others (such as Monopoly) have extended and refined this sort of homage to everyday objects (or cultural nose-thumbing, if you prefer).
Although most of the hype about Monopoly was in the early 2010s, the Alec Monopoly net worth
is said to be $12 million today.
Street Art and the Canon
Could it be that Haring, Basquiat, Banksy, and other early-generation street artists already carved out the street art niche in the art canon? And that art critics now find this art blasé?
But then, wouldn't this mean that street art has, at least partially, achieved its espoused goal of art for the people? The people, that is, who are likely to pass by it every day on the way either to work or to the neighborhoods where they hang out.
These in-your-face murals and sculpture employ "stolen" popular culture images to call attention to those very images and the hegemonic role they play.
But once they become commonplace, they're admired and appreciated, and many still stop for a good look. But they're no longer jarring. And the police, who once treated them as evidence of crime, consider them part of everyday street life.
Monopoly's street art is benign compared to that of other artists. Occasionally, marijuana is a theme in his work (which reminds us to share this terpenes article
with you), but the most harmful crime he portrays is greed.
When asked a few years ago whether he felt bothered by being chased by the police, Monopoly replied:
"It would only bother me if I were chased/arrested for the 'idea' of my work, (rather) than the act. Other than that, I know when I put work up in the streets that Im always subject to being caught...
That vulnerability is part of the process and you just have to apply as much creativity to the process as you do the art."
And so the art canon moves forward.
What Does the Art World Want Today?
One thing street art might have accomplished was opening the door for "diverse" or "multicultural" talent. Yes, artists "of color" are in high demand today at museums, colleges, and other institutions. Another theme today is environmental and sustainable art.
What's true of the literary canon also holds in large part for the art canon. The New York Times pointed out in 2018 that:
"On its face, canon-making is a fairly human impulse: I love this. Everyone else should, too! Over time a single book becomes a library; the library becomes a school of thought; the school of thought becomes a prism through which the world is supposed to see itself...
That enthusiasm hardened, through curriculums, book clubs and great-works lists, into something more authoritarian, so that canon became taste hammered into stone tablets."
As for the art world taking Alec Monopoly seriously, it seems doubtful that he will ever be taken more or less seriously than he already is.
Given that the literary canon now takes the Star Wars franchise seriously, it seems as though some of his more prominent pieces (or at least photos of them since so many are street murals) will be part of the art canon--if such a thing continues.
His work will be discussed in art classes as representative of the early 21st century, just as Haring and Basquiat represent the late 20th century. Nonetheless, it's worth considering whether that's even Monopoly's desire.
So, Where Does This Leave Alec Monopoly?
Where is the space for a white guy, now in this thirties and raised and supported with a trust fund, in the current taste cultures--even if his art does everything possible to promote values that support those cultures?
As he stated in a recent article, "I want people to see how Wall Street and the capitalistic are ingrained in the culture, and how this translates into all of our lives...
Maybe I am just another artist trying to shed light on a broken system in the best way I know how."
Alec Monopoly is laid back, somewhat reclusive (hence the ubiquitous face covering), and seems to prefer the company of celebrities to hanging out among pretentious art circles.
He prefers LA to NYC, supposedly because of the presence of so many billboards, his medium. And he prefers to parody cartoon characters rather than real people. Plus, reproductions of Alec Monopoly paintings are readily available on Amazon.
It seems he will always revel in popular culture.
Monopoly might be weary from the demands of the art world and a rapid climb to prominence that isn't reflected in his art. As he said in the interview cited above:
"Its great that more people are paying attention to what is in the streets, but at the same time (I'm) concerned that people are treating it as another fad and getting involved for the wrong reasons...
Graffiti and street art is nothing new, theres a history behind it all that dates back many decades."
Taking Alec Monopoly Seriously
Concerning the title of this article, yes, the art world should take Alec Monopoly seriously. But what that means is hard to say. His work continues apace, even though his bookings seem to be suspended at the moment.
His most recent exhibition was in November 2018 at LA's Beverly Hills Hotel. And it's clear from a more recent article that while Monopoly may be quiet at the moment, it's because he's so productive.
If you enjoyed this article and love art, keep an eye on our blog. There's lots more to come!