26 Apr
MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch attempts to redeem himself

Art In the Streets is kind of a funny name for an exhibit that all happens inside the pricey, heavily guarded, air-conditioned walls of a museum. Obviously this art isn’t in the streets at all. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. It’s in the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, in downtown Los Angeles, with uniformed, bored-as-hell guards making sure no one touches the corner of a canvas with their tainted fingers. My first encounter with one of these bored but oh-so-dutiful guards happened about three minutes after I stepped through the glass doors into the vast warehouse space. There was an actual car, just sitting there, right behind the skate ramp they’d built – I guess to add that extra bit ‘o street cred to the exhibit. They even had dudes skating the ramp. See how gangsta Jeffrey Deitch is, letting real live people skate inside MOCA? Now that‘s street.

The car was painted all crazy and I poked the driver’s side window with my MOCA brochure, in a Zen type state, saying who knows what about this graffiti painted car. Immediately a guard came up and politely reminded me not to touch the “art.” It was like your kindergarten teacher strolling up as you haphazardly colored with markers, telling you to “stay inside the lines.” Total buzz kill. I bummily sauntered over to the wall plaque to see who made this painted car, since the guard zapped me out of my whimsical state and into a “let’s read the plaque on the wall” state. The plaque told me Keith Haring painted the squiggly lines on that car. That was cool intel. Call it shallow, but for me finding out that his hands swooshed the paint across the car added an extra special something to what I was seeing. Even if I wasn’t allowed to poke it with my brochure.

Let’s back up a bit. I had mixed feelings going to see Art In the Streets after what MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch pulled a few months ago, censoring a mural MOCA had commissioned by the highly coveted Italian street artist Blu [if you have yet to see his brilliant Big Bang Big Boom piece, do yourself a favor and check it out stat. – Ed]. If you didn’t read about it, MOCA asked Blu to paint a mural to promote the upcoming exhibit, but when his piece turned out to be a bunch of coffins with money wrapped around them, Deitch and company freaked out and whitewashed the wall. Madman Mundt felt pretty strongly about this at the time, and I have to agree — it’s bad enough when the powers that be get rid of non-commissioned yet awesome art in the streets, but for a supposed street art lover to censor a mural he actually commissioned? Not cool. Regardless of any promotional stumbles, however, I knew this would be an important exhibition and I wanted to see it anyways, skeptic that I was. I wanted to see what Deitch had to say for himself, in a sense, via his curating choices.

Hit the Jump to read more about Jeffrey Deitch’s somewhat fumbled attempt at redemption…

“Art In the Streets just may have officially organized and sanitized street art for your protection…”

Photos by Brian Forrest

Yes, it’s odd that graffiti made the transition from subways in the Bronx to framed canvases in well-heeled Manhattan galleries to the pristine walls of a Los Angeles museum. Yes, it’s strange seeing a lot of this work indoors. It kind of sterilizes the spirit of street art a little and makes it feel like the exhibit represents the end of a movement. And yes, the guards tell you not to touch the “art” when that exact same art used to be thought of as a civic annoyance. A defiant, criminal act. Now it’s worth something. Literally, it’s worth millions. Even so, it doesn’t take long for the skepticism to fall away as you stroll through the impressive expanse of space. Over fifty artists are involved, including legends and heavyweight contemporaries like Rammellzee, Keith Haring, Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, Hugh Holland, Larry Clark, Fab 5 Freddy, Os Gemeos, Lee Quiñones, Shepard Fairey, Swoon, Terry Richardson and of course good old invisible Banksy.

The exhibit, to its strength and weakness, is massive. Clearly Deitch did not want to leave any seminal artist out of the show, which results in a very comprehensive holistic view of street art. It also, however, results in some redundancy — in the quest to not miss anyone out, many artists with very similar styles overlap. But in the end, if you don’t care for an individual artist’s area then just move ahead — there’s plenty more to dig your retinas into just around the corner. Of particular spectacle is the whimsical dreamworld created by Brazilian twins Os Gemeos. Their room is covered with their signature fanciful figures, houses coming out of the walls, and instruments covered with their illustrations awaiting for viewers to pick them up and start jamming with. And people actually did, which rendered Art In the Streets the type of interactivity that is integral and crucial to actual street art (just don’t poke a car with a brochure, mind you). Banksy also represents masterfully, with a number of pieces bursting with the Brit’s famed tongue-in-cheek satire. A stuffed dog’s urine stream is framed, with a “Best In Show” ribbon attached. Rodney King’s body in a police-video quality image is replaced by a brightly colored pinata in another piece. An infant African child sits atop a vast pile of rubbish, temporarily pausing his landfill digging to show off a “I Hate Mondays” tshirt.

Banksy’s “Best In Show” piece underscoring the always accurate evaluation of street art…

Despite the Deitch controversy and the air-conditioned space, Art In the Streets is well worth the trip downtown. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say if you can’t make it to downtown Los Angeles by August 8 when the show ends, you’re missing out. Because if nothing else, this exhibit is fun. It makes you feel like a kid. The spirit that all these pieces were made in — defiance, joy, whimsy, anger, rebellion — is pretty contagious. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — I’m no art critic. I know a little bit. Deitch might not have redeemed himself with this indoor exhibit full of rules and regulations and stone-faced guards, but he’s helped create a pretty cool playground to roam around in for a few hours. Supposedly actually graffiti around MOCA is up “a thousand percent” since Art In the Streets opened. So if the MOCA show starts to feel too corporate, just wander around the actual streets of downtown and see if that “thousand percent” is a fact. Art In the Streets may have officially organized and sanitized street art for your protection, but French artist Space Invader, who has some work in MOCA, just got arrested in L.A. for “vandalism.” So maybe Deitch’s exhibit — fun as it is — isn’t the nail in the coffin…

…and maybe you should check out the exhibit and poke the Keith Haring car with your fancy brochure, just to make sure…

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One Response to “Art In the Streets… Sort Of”

  1. […] Air & Space museum outside of Tucson, AZ. We showed some of Scharf’s work in the landmark Art In the Streets exhibit as well its accompanying OUTSIDE IN documentary, and his hyper cartoony/Jetsons style is hard to […]

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