1 Jun
MOCA's controversial exhibit gets its own documentary

Madman Mundt
The documentary, OUTSIDE IN is a sort of behind-the-scenes peek into the oh-so controversial Museum of Contemporary Arts (MOCA) exhibit Art In the Streets. We actually covered Art In the Streets fairly in depth when it opened, nevermind dealing with all the Blu controversy leading up to it [if you need a quick primer, get it HERE and HERE]. But let’s deal with that later — right off what’s notable about this film is that it’s timeline is very focused: it basically starts as the artists are setting up inside the museum walls and ends with the exhibit’s opening. In a way this can be a good thing: it keeps the focus on the physically exhaustive effort that it took the artists to make this vast exhibit actually happen, interspersed with interviews from the artists themselves talking about what a watershed moment this exhibit truly is —the largest street art exhibit ever assembled in a museum. But it also would’ve been good to see a bit more of the planning behind the exhibit: watching head MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch discussing with co-curator Aaron Rose who to include in the exhibit, who they didn’t have room for, how to display all the art, how far back to reach, etc. Maybe show Deitch convincing the MOCA board of the very controversial exhibit’s value in the first place. I was eager to see how the whole thing developed, and it seemed to solely focus on one week leading up to the opening.

The Elf
Well, right off the bat I gotta say they probably didn’t show all that juicy stuff with Deitch because ultimately OUTSIDE IN is kind of a Deitch/MOCA propaganda film. I agree it’s fun to see the artists behind the scenes in the days and weeks leading up to the exhibit opening, and the film does a solid job of creating a deep appreciation for the process and the history of the art. The positive energy of the artists themselves (LA’s own Saber, Swoon, Fab Five Freddy, Neckface and Shepard Fairey to name just a few) is contagious and sitting in the Egyptian watching the film gave me the urge to check out the exhibit again. Even so, I sat waiting for director Alex Stapleton to address the Deitch/Blu controversy, and about halfway through the flick I got that sinking feeling she wasn’t gonna go there.

UPDATE: A new video from MOCA came out today highlighting a section of the Art In the Streets exhibit created by Todd James, Barry McGee, Stephen Powers, Devin Flynn, Josh Lazcano, Dan Murphy, and Alexis Ross. We’ve added it under the trailer for OUTSIDE IN below, plus hit the Jump to continue reading our full review of OUTSIDE IN: The Story Of Art In the Streets...

OUTSIDE IN movie trailer from Levi’s Film Workshop on Vimeo.

 

Street, 2011 from MOCA on Vimeo.

Madman Mundt
Yeah, I had that same sinking feeling when they kept peppering the artists interviews with gushing testimonies about how none of this could’ve happened without Deitch, and the general reverence most of the artists feel for him. And they’re right — it could never have happened without Deitch directing MOCA. And he deserves his due praise — look, I don’t wanna crap on Deitch, he’s done a lot for most of these artists and “street art” in general. But you gotta keep in mind that Deitch is an incredibly powerful man in the art community, with or without MOCA, so I’m sure no one wants to piss him off. And of course the documentary itself was produced by the Levi’s Film Workshop who were intimately involved in the exhibit, so it’s going to be a positive view of the event. But I just felt as the director Stapleton should’ve addressed the Blu issue to some degree. Any degree, really. Give Mr. Deitch’s reasoning behind his decision, had him give a quick explanation and then move on with it. It’s not like he had no rational reason to censor the work — people would understand. But you gotta say something — instead there was zero mention of it, zilch. Talking to people in the audience after the film, it was like the Giant Pink Elephant in the room. And that just seems like you’re trying to brush it under the rug, like it never happened,  but it mattered to a lot of people in the art world. I saw a card go up at the end that had the word “Blu” in there, but it was literally up for a quarter second so I have no idea what it said. For the record, I did ask Shepard Fairey after the screening if he’d ever had a polite but critical conversation with Deitch regarding the whitewashing of Blu’s mural, and he said he tried to but at first Deitch didn’t want to discuss it. Then by the time he was open to discussing it it was too late to do anything about it. So I know it mattered to a lot of the featured artists.

Anyway, obviously the point of the film was not Blu, it was about the transition of street art from the streets to the largest museum exhibit in America, so let’s focus on that. I thought OUTSIDE IN did a good job of capturing that transition, which is very hard to do in under one hour. This shift obviously hasn’t happened overnight, and this exhibit most definitely is not the first time street art has hung on museum walls or sold for eight digits. It’s been high art for awhile now. But OUTSIDE IN not only showed the global advancement the movement has made in the holistic sense, but it also gave you a sense of what a massive endeavor this specific Art In the Streets exhibit actually was. You could feel their anxiety growing as they tried to prepare their spaces for this landmark show as it neared opening night.

The Elf
You could feel that anxiety and excitement which is fun to witness. Seeing artists work, preparing, in process is always inspiring and when it’s captured, like it is in this film, it’s a cool peek into moments that usually happen behind the closed doors of a dance studio or an office or — in this case — inside and outside of MOCA. But, yeah — the glaring omission of what happened with Blu kind of taints the film a bit. It’s just a bummer, it’s a cop out, like seeing a great singer chicken out and not aim for that high note because they’re scared to upset anyone if they mess up. Who knows the reasons the director didn’t go there. And that quicksilver flash of that title card that said something about Blu didn’t help matters. It was as if they forgot to actually edit it out, and instead the audience got an unreadable, sort of subliminal reminder that the film, basically, wimped out. I did try and ask the director a few questions the day after the screening — I specifically wanted to ask her about the black hole in her film when it came to Blu — but her manager came back with, “For whatever reason Alex is choosing to decline the interview.” We’ll never know her reason I guess. Maybe she was too tired. Maybe she didn’t want to be asked about Deitch. Maybe she’s fled the country for Bora Bora. So what we’re left with is a cool, insightful film that leaves a lot of questions lingering. Still, it’s well worth checking out Art in the Streets at MOCA before it disappears in August. And despite what a raucous, crazy event the film makes the exhibit look like — with all its footage of opening night with skaters flying all over the place, people dancing in Kenny Scharf’s “Cosmic Room,” and James Franco and Miranda July flitting around — it’s a pretty subdued experience. But a subdued experience worth having.

OUTSIDE IN  features all the heavyweights from the Art In the Streets exhibit, including Martha Cooper, Lee Quiñones, Fab 5 Freddy, Shepard Fairey, Mode2, EINE, Risk, Saber, Revok, Mr. Cartoon, ESPO, Henry Chalfant, Gusmano Cesaretti, Chaz Bojorquez, C.R. Stecyk III, Futura, Retna, Ed Templeton, Swoon, Neckface, Geoff McFetridge, Aaron Rose and of course Jeffrey Deitch.

One Response to ““OUTSIDE IN: The Story Of Art In the Streets” He Said/She Said Film Review”

  1. jirsay says:

    Thank you for this post. The film sounds intriguing.

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