There was an explosion of writing about graffiti writing in newspapers and blogs when L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art opened its blockbuster "Art in the Streets" exhibition on April 17, 2011.
(See also art in the streets, graffiti art, graffiti street art and graffiti as art.)
One story in particular captured local and national news. The artist Revok, whose works are in the MOCA show, was arrested as he attempted to board a plane from LAX. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail and is being held on $320,000 bail. Revok (Jason Williams) was the subject of several run-ins with the law due to graffiti vandalism in 2009.
Just for the record, all people who engage in graffiti writing have this in common. If they are writing, painting, spray-painting, etc. without the express permission of the city or landowner whose property they are working on, they are doing illegal activities or vandalism. Graffiti as vandalism includes damaging property that does not belong to you.
Cities around the country, Los Angeles in particular, are fed up with the repair costs associated with graffiti writing and vandalism. "The (MOCA) exhibit kind of glorifies graffiti," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Augie Pando, who works with the department's anti-tagging campaign.
Graffiti Exhibition Cancelled
The New York Daily News on April 24, 2011 wrote a scathing article about "Art in the Streets," as that same show was scheduled to open at the City's Brooklyn Museum in March 2012- but was canceled before that opening.
The article explained that the city spends $2.4 million a year to battle vandalism, the transit authority spends more than that, while taxpayers subsidize the Brooklyn Museum with $9 million a year. As Brooklyn has been the site of major amounts of graffiti writing over the decades, and if the vandalism surrounding the MOCA opening was any indication, this New York City borough expected to again be visited by graffiti vandalism.
The New York Times reported on April 22, 2011, "In many ways, the battle in Los Angeles reflects what has been a recurring argument in cities around the world: Is graffiti a legitimate form of art? Should society be trying to quash it or validate it with exhibits like this? Indeed, the conflicting sentiments could be found right inside the museum the other day, where graffiti over sinks in the men's room had been painted over."
Walls, Trains, Busses as Canvasses
Yet many graffitists persist with the apparent attitude that a city's walls, trains and buses are their personal canvasses, that the graffiti writing they are engaged in is in fact "art."
The graffiti "artist" known as "Man One" reportedly said, "The way I always look at it: Is it done with permission or without permission? That's what it comes down to for me. But either way it can be art. Not all of it is art, but sometimes there are some beautiful things that go up without permission."