A note from RJ: After writing this, I read Rub Kandy‘s interview in the most recent issue of IdN, where he speaks about street art that is created for and best experienced on the web.
What do Kidult, Blu, Maismenos and Katsu have in common? They are all examples, although not the only examples, of artists using the internet in a similar way to how graffiti writers and street artists have traditionally used the streets. These artists are each trying to spread a message at all costs. That’s standard street art/graffiti. But with these artists, a traditionally static artform is turned into a performance, what they do might be fake or impossible to see in person and, most importantly, they see the spread of their work online as at least as important as the physical pieces.
Check out these videos from Kidult (the first one is hilarious), Blu, Maismenos and Katsu…
With all of those videos, the resulting films are more important than the actual physical artworks. And yet, they were all done by street artists and graffiti writers and include (or pretend to include) art that is generally considered street art/graffiti. Who cares if anyone ever sees any of those artworks in person, or if they are even real? Even in the case of the real works that are depicted in those videos, most of those were seen by far fewer people, or at least art/graffiti fans, than these videos. In the case of Katsu’s tag on MOCA, that was buffed in less than 24 hours and it was a while before the existence of the tag and the story of it being buffed was even confirmed. The important thing for these artists is that the videos get seen. These videos and photos are more impressive than the actual work they capture. The intended audience for these street pieces is not the public on the street. These, and many other, pieces of street art and graffiti were created with an online audience in mind rather than a physical one.
So what does this mean for street art if the streets and a medium for viewing street art are being used in this way? Is street art just as legitimate when specifically designed, executed and documented for an online audience? What about graffiti? Does it even matter if a piece is real, so long as people see it? I would say that, at least when it comes to graffiti, it does not really matter if a piece is real or not. So long as it creates fame. Of course, fake videos won’t work at creating fame forever, but they are a temporary technique that can accomplish one of the goals of graffiti. It seems the case is more murky with street art. Certainly the street art in these is still art and probably still street art, just maybe not “street art” as the term is generally understood today. I consider the work in The Underbelly Project to be street art and graffiti, but others do not because it had to be viewed through photographs. Street art that is specifically designed to be viewed through the filter of documentation is still street art, but it’s an evolution too. As I’ve said before, I think hacking is 21st century graffiti, so maybe the internet is the new “street.” It’s quickly becoming a better avenue for artists to show their work to the public than real life.
My friend sent me over this video for some bank advertisement. Looks like some young hot shot animator liked Blu, because they took the stop animation look a bit too far in his likeness. Well, except that a- this isn’t real and b- no one really compares to blu and his more than 1 million views on videos attest to that.
Last week, The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art opened an exhibit of street art and graffiti that promised to go down in history, Art in the Streets. It’s a massive exhibit of over 100 street artists and graffiti writers. I visited AITS three times, and still wasn’t satisfied that I’d appreciated the show fully. I think MOCA has delivered something special, but maybe did not quite fulfill that original promise.
I want to spend a good amount of time addressing criticisms of AITS, because that should not be ignored, even if they are far outweighed by the good of the show.
This isn’t the show that I would have put on. This isn’t the show you would have put on. AITS is the show that only Jeffrey Deitch, Roger Gastman and Aaron Rose would have put on. Artists that I would have included without a moment’s hesitation (Judith Supine, Faile, Brad Downey, Jenny Holzer…) were oddly absent, and some artists in the show were out of place or allotted too much space (Geoff McFetridge, Terry Richardson, Mr. Cartoon…). For a show attempting to paint the picture of a history, the historical timeline was given a strange second billing to a hodgepodge of individual artist installations.
The selection process for a lot of the show seems like it was a political battle rather than an ideal model of art curating. When the curators’ names were announced, a good chunk of the show’s line up could already be predicted based on their personal relationships. Luckily, the curators are connected to many of the same people that anyone would have put in a similar show to AITS. What would this sort of show be without a contribution from some Beautiful Losers and artists who had shown at Deitch Projects? The unfortunate thing is that there definitely could have been less of a focus on those well-connected artists, and the many talented artists who aren’t connected to the curators probably had a harder time getting invited to be part of the show (or weren’t invited at all).
Briefly, it’s worth mentioning the lack of strong political artwork in the show. Any political statements made were “safe” ones, and the most controversial (Blu’s message of “war sucks and people make money off of it”) was removed. But just as all illegal street art and graffiti is inherently political, putting work by street artists and graffiti writers in a museum is a political act, even if the content of the work is not explicitly political.
The outdoor murals and the way MOCA has generally dealt with truly accepting the “street” side of street art and graffiti has also been a bit of a mess, but I think that would be true of almost any institution of MOCA’s size. The buffing of Blu’s mural and then the buffing of Katsu’s tag both tainted AITS, regardless of MOCA’s right to do what they want their walls, and the murals that replaced those two are not fantastic (although Push and Futura’s contributions to Lee’s mural work pretty well). And just this past week, Deitch’s inability to publicly defend and embrace illegal street art being committed near the museum has been laughable and depressing. Critics of the show are right to point out the hypocrisy of his position on the legitimacy of street art being produced today versus that of a few years ago. But just like it is the critics’ job to point out that hypocrisy, it is Deitch’s job to say politically wise things to reporters. Simply put, MOCA haven’t been very ballsy when it comes to the “in the streets” part of “Art in the Streets.” This minor fail is maybe what best points out what AITS is and what it isn’t.
In essence, the show has the wrong name. It is not “art in the streets.” It is “documentation of art in the streets or art by artists who began their careers by making art in the street but probably don’t do that too much now, or maybe they do but this is a different side of their artwork.” Yes, a lot of these artists still get up outdoors, but, for many but not all of the AITS artists, it’s a different sort of thing these days: OBEY posters are advertising, Banksy stencils are tourist attractions that last a few days before ending up on eBay and Steve Powers paints amazing murals for an organization founded with the expressed purpose of covering graffiti like his. I’m not saying that artists can’t or shouldn’t evolve, but many of the street artists and graffiti writers that AITS focuses on make “museum friendly” art. And that’s great for them. But AITS is not a show of art in the streets but art by artists who have, as I’ve heard a few people put it, “graduated” from the streets, even if they still get up a bit. As Unurth points out, there is a general lack of names from the last 10 years. So let’s reframe this for what the show is, and look at it that way. Putting aside the politics and minor flaws that only a street art or graffiti fanatic will pay much attention to, AITS is a huge hit.
AITS has two main components: it has a brief history of street art and graffiti, and it has mini-shows of fine art from some of the most acclaimed street artists, street culture documenters and graffiti writers over the last few decades.
The timeline is the most “museum-y” part of the show, and it should provide newcomers a history of what graffiti, street culture and street art are about, as well as give long-time fans some new insights. While visitors should also take a trip to see the show currently on at Subliminal Projects to get a better idea about 1980’s street art in NYC, the timeline definitely does its job as a brief overview of the history informing the rest of AITS.
Most of the highlights of the show can be found in the installations.
Three of the best installations make a point of acknowledging that their work is in a museum, even though AITS is meant to be about illegal outdoor art. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Street art and graffiti is about good placement and understanding context. Neckface, Os Gêmeos and the trio of Barry McGee, Todd James and Steve Powers all understand this very well, and it came across in their installations.
Neckface’s section was billed as one of his “haunted house” installations, but ended up being a recreation of a dark inner-city alleyway (complete with a drunk, drugged up or just plain crazy homeless man) with some Neckface tags on the walls. Of course, suits and bloggers like me were lined up to check it out, but few of us would be smiling so much if we actually found ourselves alone in that sort of an alleyway at 3 in the morning. That’s the street, the thing MOCA is supposed to be celebrating. It is like a voyeuristic natural history exhibit for historically middle and upper class museum visitors, pointing out the impossibility and absurdity of bringing the streets indoors in the fashion that the title of the show suggests.
Os Gêmeos reinstalled a show that they had last year at a museum in Portugal. It was definitely a highlight of the show, with a little bit of everything from the twins. Hidden in a bit in their cluster of work was one piece of wood where it was written: “This is not graff the graffiti is outside!!” Simple. That installation is their fine art and it is awe inspiring and thought provoking and should be seen. The graffiti is outside. And so is the street art.
And then there is Street. Barry McGee aka Twist, Steve Powers aka ESPO and Todd James aka Reas reunited to make a new version of their historic Street Market installation, versions of which had previously been put on at Deitch Projects and the Venice Biennale. First of all, this might be the best installation in the show. Particularly when the area isn’t too crowded with other museum-goers, it’s like being transported into another, more Technicolor and mad, world. It’s a graffiti writer’s urban dreamworld where taggers can hide invisible bushes and bodegas sell cans of street cred. The space is an art-crowd friendly dreamworld of a street, where Style Wars isn’t a documentary but a musical without any real-world consequences. Again though, the installation touches on the impossibility of bringing a true street inside, going for the asurd illusion instead. Street is what would happen if graffiti writers could have a ride at Disneyland, and I mean that in the best way, but it’s still a ride at Disneyland rather than an actual street and the artists know it.
The show is just too massive to write about everything. This review is already far too long. Sections by Margaret Kilgallen, Roa (who again, understands that he is in a museum), Invader (who plays with the fact that he is in a museum), Shepard Fairey, Banksy, The Fun Gallery, Rammellzee, Retna, Chaz Bojorquez, Swoon, Kaws, Ed Templeton and many others add together to be the most substantial gathering of art by this group of artists that has ever been assembled. I rediscovered artists I’d overlooked, found new favorites and enjoyed revisiting the work of my old favorites. The show is so massive that a pessimist will undoubtedly find something that they do not like and many visitors will be overwhelmed, but it would be difficult to go through the entire show and not find a few gems, no matter your taste in art.
For a moment, forget about the BS and the politics and the buffing and Deitch-hating and Alleged Gallery controversies from a decade ago and the lack of this person and that person and why this person got an installation and that person painted a mural and blah freaking blah. Outside of our art-world BS political pissing contest context where AITS can and will be criticized on many levels, people are going to visit AITS and they’re going to see some amazing art by artists who were and are pillars of street art and graffiti history. I expect that the vast majority of visitors will like what they see and they will learn something. And that’s important. This is street art. It’s supposed to be for “the people,” and “the people” will still enjoy this show even if my or your 4th favorite artist was snubbed or whatever other minor flaw you can find. And if you go and visit the show and you can put aside your minor internal art world squabbles for a couple of hours, AITS should be a magical experience for you, just as it was for me. I highly recommend setting aside a day to visit AITS.
Later this month will see the release of Blu‘s latest print release for Studiocromie. The piece is based off the artist’s mural in Rennes, France last year. According to Nuart, all of the kinks haven’t been figure out with prices and edition numbers, but the physical size of the print will be a staggering 70 x 90 cm. At least the detail is trying to be preserved. The smaller the size, the crappier it will be.
JR seems to be going non-stop with putting put murals in LA right now. The LA Weekly are covering that pretty well, but the above wall deserves a special mention. It’s part of the Geffen Contemporary at the MOCA, the same building where Blu‘s mural wasbuffedlastyear. This isn’t the same wall, but it’s the same building and JR did this mural for the same even, MOCA’s upcoming street art show. This is interesting because of the outcry over the buffing of Blu’s mural. There was definitely speculation that artists would pull out of the show over issues of censorship and to stand in solidarity with Blu. JR is the first artist since Blu to put up a wall as part of the MOCA show, which opens in April. Not to gloss over the events with Blu, hopefully this is a sign that the show will continue on without any more glitches and be a success. I suppose the other side of this is that someone could say that JR is turning his back on his principles or something, but I think that the TED folk generally are pretty smart about who they give large grants to.
Blu‘s got a DVD out. While the signed edition of 100 is already sold out, you can still get the unsigned version, which is probably a better deal anyway at about half the price…
I haven’t seen the DVD myself, so I can’t say too much about what’s on it, but it’s described as “a collection of the videos made during the last 10 years including: wall painted animations, time-lapse documentation of many murals, other hand drawn animations and over 40 minutes of extra contents technical details.” Sounds like no interview with Blu, which is unfortunate, but plenty of other interesting content. It’s available online for 16 euros.
Here’s a trailer, which shows at least a couple bits that I don’t think I’ve seen before:
Well I’ve been back in London for about a week now, and I am beginning to understand why people think it’s so grey. When you live here, you get used to it, but wow I’ve only been away for a few months and already I think the constant greyness is annoying. Still, it’s good to be home. Here’s what the world has been up to while I’ve been watching it rain.
A group of artists protested the removal of Blu’s mural outside of MOCA this week by projecting images onto the buffed wall. Here’s a news story and a video.
Kyle Chayka went on a bit of a rant about Banksy’s possible Oscar nomination, but he makes some good points.
Also on the topic of Exit Through The Gift Shop, the NYTimes is reporting that a man who has come forward as an original editor of Mr. Brainwash’s film Life Remote Control wants some credit for making the film that eventually sort of morphed into Exit.
Carolina A. Miranda wrote the latest cover article for the magazine ARTnews about the future of street art and it moving away from figurative work. You can read the entire article online. On the one hand, a move away from pop-art and figurative art seems to be counter-productive to the “art for the people” ethos at the core of so much street art, but it’s also certainly easier to turn a pop-art image into a marketing campaign while an abstract painting may do a better job of brightening up a grey wall without the artist and the viewer immediately thinking of dollar signs. I think street artists will just have to be careful to not become so conceptual that the possibility for people to understand or appreciate the art on some level without an artist’s statement is lost.
A mural by Shepard Fairey was partially painted over in LA by some other artists/writers. No big deal right? Happens all the time, right? Wrong, apparently. The mural was painted over by another artist showing at a gallery nearby. According to JetSetGraffiti, the artist has since apologized and will be paying for Shepard to repair the wall with a new mural. Okay, so should that mural still be there untouched? Maybe. Sounds like the local neighborhood liked it. Can it suck when things get dissed or buffed or written over accidentally or whatever else? Yeah. Should the artist have to pay for damages? Hell no! That’s the sort of thing that happens when you get arrested by the police for graffiti or street art, not something that art lovers should impose upon each other. The mural didn’t last forever. That’s the nature of street art. It sucks sometimes and there are ways to deal with it, but don’t make the vandal pay for damages!
Hyperallergic and Don’t Panic have interview with Voina, the group of activists artists in Russia that Banksy supported with his most recent print release.
Toasters have a film coming out next year. I’m not sure I need to see 90 minutes of Toasters, but the trailer looks cool.
This essay on the origins of street art is an interest read.
Like cities around the world, Atlanta is increasing efforts to buff graffiti. At first, their proposal sounds like the city is at least trying to avoid removing “good” street art and “good” graffiti, but a. that’s hypocritical and b. Atlanta residents only have until January 17th to come up with a list of pieces that they don’t want the city to remove. That’s not nearly enough time, and any “good” graffiti painted after January 17th, is also at risk of being buffed. The city seems to be trying to please both sides here, and that’s just not going to work. If you live in Atlanta, help figure out which walls you want saved before it is too late.
After today, I’m going to try to avoid posting or commenting about this whole Blu/Deitch/MOCA seriesofblunders until at least April because I think I’ve pretty much said I feel needs to be said. After having a number of discussions with some people I respect, some who agree and some who disagree with what I’ve said in the past about all this and who’s insights helped me to better strengthen and develop my own opinions, and with some new statements and facts coming out, it seemed worth writing a bit more about all this. Anyway, the actual post with my thoughts on all of this…
I think that those of us on different sides of this debate disagree less than some people realize. Mostly, we seem to see the responsibilities and rights of a museum differently.
What I’ve seen from all this are the difficulties of bringing street art into a museum context. It is important that art history and museums recognize the street art and graffiti movements, but it isn’t easy to do. A show of only work on canvas or screenprints or other “gallery art” clearly wouldn’t be a street art show, but the Tate Modern missed an opportunity by keeping things outdoors. So it seems that the solution would be a show that mixes outdoor projects with a gallery component, like MOCA is planning to do in April. Except that a museum cannot commission street art. They can commission public art by street artists, and there is a difference. Public art, such as that commissioned by MOCA, comes with certain responsibilities and considerations that do not exist in street art.
That’s why festivals like FAME, Primary Flight and Nuart are so important. Their focus is on bringing street art and graffiti to an area, and they don’t have the same considerations of museums. A lot of what goes up at FAME still goes up illegally and without anyone’s permission. While museum exhibitions are important for securing street art the place that many people believe it deserves in art history, those mural projects are of at least equal importance for actually bring new street art into the public space.
Blu says he was censored. I respect Blu for not bowing to the concerns of working in a museum context and not subjecting himself to “self-censorship,” but public art involves what Blu would term self-censorship. Until Blu’s statement, I had been under the impression, now obviously incorrect, that Blu might be returning to paint another mural for MOCA. That made me feel less upset about his wall getting buffed. Unfortunately, Blu will not be returning. It’s too bad, because as I’ve said before, a mural by him could have been a highlight of MOCA’s street art exhibition, but I respect Blu for sticking to his principles.
That doesn’t mean that Deitch was wrong to remove the mural though. It was a difficult decision well but within his rights as a curator and museum director. It is not the decision that I wish he had made and I highly doubt that Deitch took any joy in his decision either, but it may have been the right move for the exhibition and more importantly I can see why it would be the right move for the museum as a whole.
The (admittedly imperfect) analogy that I’ve come up with for this situation goes something like this: A curator at MoMA is putting on a show and wants to include a new painting by Murakami. Somehow through some crazy miscommunication with Murakami’s studio, a painting arrives that the curator hates or for whatever reason cannot be included in the exhibition. The curator screwed up. He should have communicated his thoughts more clearly to get something closer to what he wanted to include in the show. What does the curator do? He sends the painting back to Murakami and doesn’t include it in the show. That’s part of his job as curator.
Unfortunately at MOCA, that situation played out in public and in the artwork had to be destroyed instead of being sent back. MOCA removed a mural that they had not approved to have painted (they asked Blu to paint a mural, but mistakenly did not approve a specific design beforehand) in the first place. In that sense, I can certainly appreciate the argument that MOCA buffed a piece of street art, and that’s ironic and not desirable.
Probably the person who has expressed his balance of support for Deitch with disappointment in the destruction of the mural best is Shepard Fairey (and I’ve used some of his ideas in this post). Here’s some of what he said to The LA Times:
However, a museum is a different context with different concerns. It would be tragic for the break through of a street art /graffiti show at a respected institution like MOCA to be sabotaged by public outcry over perceived antagonism or insensitivity in Blu’s mural. Graffiti is enough of a contentious issue already. The situation is unfortunate but I understand MOCA’s decision. Sometimes I think it is better to take the high road and forfeit a battle but keep pushing to win the war. Street art or graffiti purists are welcome to pursue their art on the streets as they always have without censorship. I think that though MOCA wants to honor the cultural impact of the graffiti/street art movement, it only exists in its purist form in the streets from which it arose.
No matter how hard they try or how much some people wish this were not true, institutions are not the streets. Once upon a time, Banksy put this very well on the side of the National Theatre in London: