Art in the Streets; Exposing the Underground Art Genre
"Art in the Streets" at MOCA is a controversial exhibition infused with the good, the bad and the ugly of graffiti and street art. This blockbuster show with works by more than 100 "artists" rips the lid off this underground art genre, propelling it into a much bigger movement.
At the "Art in the Streets" press preview on April 14, 2011, MOCA's director Jeffrey Deitch with co-curators Roger Gastman and Aaron Rose, compared the works here to cubism, constructivism, Dadaism and surrealism, in its potential impact on the art world.
Yes, a bold, hubristic declaration! Yet the statement is in sync with the bold brashness of the exhibition, an enormous amalgam of graffiti, street art, murals, assemblage pieces, installations of decrepit graffiti filled streets, hip re-created bedrooms and galleries from the 1970's and 80's, displays of aerosol spray cans, numerous photographs of graffitied buildings, subway cars, bridges, photos of people who did the "artwork" and much more.
If you go to MOCA's Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo, you might wonder, what is art created on the streets, meant to be viewed on those streets, doing in a museum? And once it is inside the museum walls, is it still street art, or just a shell of its former self?
Putting this conundrum aside, "Art in the Streets" is filled with small to large graffiti pieces and massive installations - fascinating works that bring the viewer to places she/he might otherwise avoid. The art is displayed museum and salon style, in cogent, logical ways and with adequate signage, giving viewers a comprehensive understanding of graffiti and street art. Running throughout is a timeline of the evolution of the genre. There is also a display about a graffiti forerunner, railroad writings, going back to late 19th century.
The exhibition demonstrates that several graffitists - Shepard Fairey, Bansky, Barry McGee, Mr. Cartoon, to name a few - have turned into bone fide artists - producing works with form, color, harmony and aesthetic beauty. Further, "Art in the Streets" is infused with dynamic youthful energy, with large swirling swaths of color and occasional in-your-face comments on the state of the world.
My favorite piece in the exhibition is OsGemeos' People Say What They Want, a mixed media installation, about three stories high, of pieces of torn-down buildings, including doors, siding, wallpaper and mirrors. Including also a drum set and guitar, banked by an artistic array of colorful speakers, the installation evokes an aging community holding onto its past.
Margaret Kilgallen's Main Drag, a large, primitive wall painting combining folk art, hobo graffiti, muralistic work and Bay Area street scenes with contemplative people, is breathtakingly beautiful in its simplicity. For music lovers, it evokes childhood memories similar to those remembered in Ravel's Mother Goose Suite.
Banksy’s large Stained Glass Window lays to rest the question of whether the Brit is an "artist" or a "con artist." His magnificent replication of a stained glass window with graffiti scrawls by local school children is a brilliant evolution of graffiti into fine art.
The most aesthetically beautiful work is Swoon's The Ice Queen, a black and white 10-foot-tall paper cutout of a mythical, ethereal woman, with light creating dramatic shadows through the cutouts.
The Bad and The Ugly
Street Market and Street are powerful pieces, exposing humanity's dark side, transporting us to locales seldom seen, known perhaps through nightmares, and hardly ever shown in museums. Yet the horror of these installations opened my eyes to the world that some graffiti writers have come from and eventually transcended. After several days, I can't get these works out of my mind. If art is meant to open our eyes, these installations succeed magnificently.
Street Market, by Barry McGee, Todd James, Stephen Powers, Devin Flynn, Josh Lazcano, Dan Murphy and Alexis Ross, is a walk-through fun-house-like installation featuring gruesome, graffiti covered dilapidated little stores, a tiny, messy bedroom and a public men’s room with blood-splattered sink.
Neckface’s Street is a dark alley installation of a slum with a passed out drunk on the ground. Perhaps "Art in the Streets" is saying that Street Market and Street are typical places that graffiti writers inhabit.
Fun Gallery and More
"Art in the Streets" features a re-creation of the 1980's Lower East Side Fun Gallery, one of the first venues devoted to graffiti art. There is also a room devoted to works by Keith Haring on subway station walls, a second room featuring the colorful, glistening Ice Cream Truck by Mister Cartoon, and a third room devoted to "Wild Style Graffiti" development - wild, elaborate designs based on bubble letters.
There is: a neon 1970's style room - like a child’s fantasy room - called Cosmic Cavern; Lee Quinones' magnificent oil and graffiti painted work on canvas, Benchmark, re-creating a contingent of graffiti artists in a 1970's Bronx subway station; and an entire gallery devoted to current and historic works by Shepard Fairey, including Obama Hope and several incarnations of Andre the Giant stickers and drawings.
There is much more about "Art in the Streets" that I could write about, regarding its artistic, political, sociological, even legal aspects. But this review is already too long. For more information about this show, please check out my other four pages on it: graffiti art, graffiti street art, graffiti as art and graffiti writing.
"Art in the Streets," the first major U.S. museum exhibition on the history of graffiti and street art, through August 8, 2011, at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA: 152 North Central, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Hours: Sun, Mon; 11am–5pm, Tues, Wed; Closed, Thurs; 11am–8pm,Fri; 11am–5pm, Sat: 11am–9pm.Back to top