This year Wywood Walls turned five and to mark the special occasion curator Jeffrey Deitch called on on the finest ladies in the field for Women on the Walls. International artists Aiko, Miss Van, Fafi, Maya Hayuk, Lady Pink, Faith47, Lakwena, Kashink, Sheryo, Olek, Toofly, Claw Money, Jessie & Katey, Myla, and Shamsia Hassani all created murals or showed in the adjacent exhibition space. The participating artists have come from cities such as Cape Town, Paris, New York, and London. Part gallery part mural exhibition, the project acts as a history guide to the great presence of women muralists.
Women on the Walls is a dream come true and also a proverbial screw you to people who say that the reason women artists are often overshadowed in the media is due to a dearth in street art. That, to be blunt, is bullshit. Older artists and the younger generation they inspired came together in the Wynwood district of Miami this Art Basel to prove their stronghold in the public art community. The scope of media alone proves their mastery of the craft as spray paint, yarn, text, stencils, and free handed characters all co-mingle to form a variety that has something to please most tastes.
Not only is the perfect storm of artists curated in this year’s Wynwood Walls enough to be in awe of, additionally Martha Cooper has shared some breathtaking progress photos. As artfully as the walls are decorated, each image thoughtfully reveals the personas behind the iconography. Each picture displays the strength of these women, whether unveiling the sheer amount of effort behind a production to those who stand boldly in front of completed pieces. Cooper shows that these women are heroes, or warriors as Toofly depicts, taking on whatever challenges lay in their wake and simply killing it.
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.
It’ll be interesting to see if Mr. Brainwash reacts to this. By the way, I met him last week and he signed my black book. As terrible as I think he is, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Maybe one day I’ll put the page on eBay and retire on the proceeds. Hopefully not. To be fair though, he was a super nice guy even though I think he knew that I hate his artwork, so that’s big of him.
As I mentioned yesterday, the LAPD and LA residents are getting their feathers all ruffled because street artists and graffiti writers have been getting up in LA a lot over the last week or so, particularly in the Little Tokyo neighborhood where MOCA’s Art in the Streets show is located. When asked about this activity, museum director Jeffrey Deitch told Culture Monster that it could be attributed to, “some of the young taggers who are anarchic…. It’s a language of youth culture, and we can’t stop it. It goes with the territory.” Well, as I also pointed out yesterday, those young taggers include some of the most established artists in Art in the Streets (including Barry McGee and Shepard Fairey). Well now it looks like two artists (most likely Invader and an assistant) have been arrested(correction: detained but not arrested) for putting up some work in Little Tokyo. The two suspected vandals have French passports, and they “were each carrying plastic buckets and inside there was glue or grout, plastering equipment and tiles.” That sounds like Invader to me, whose art is part of Art in the Streets (see photo above), but nobody has confirmed that it was Invader so this is just speculation on my part. If Invader and a friend do get arrested, I wonder if MOCA will bail them out…
Sure, Deitch is trying to be diplomatic by calling street artists anarchic taggers, but I find it a bit insulting. Yes, a museum exhibit of street art and graffiti is going to lead to an increase in street art and graffiti near the museum, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I just wish Deitch could try to put a positive spin on the new street art in Little Tokyo. As it is, he sounds a bit absurd celebrating street artist who have moved their art indoors and dissing street art when it appears outdoors, its rightful location.
Anyway, good luck to Invader, or whichever Frenchmen were arrested(correction: detained) for suspected vandalism.
Why haven’t hotels figured out that they should have strong free wifi in all rooms? And, if they make you pay for wifi, the signal and speed had better be amazing? Starbucks has it figured out, and I don’t have to pay a boatload of money to hang out in a Starbucks for a couple of hours (unless I’m drinking their coffee while I’m there). And yet, hotels haven’t seemed to get the message. So that problem, and the general busyness of the last few days in LA, is why I am woefully late covering the opening of Art in the Streets at MOCA in LA, probably the biggest indoor event this year relating to street art or graffiti. And I’m still going to be woefully late with coverage today. Expect a full review in a couple of days, but in the mean time, here’s some of the best reviews and coverage from around the web:
The LA Times reports on an increase in graffiti throughout LA because of the show. A. Umm… duh. B. MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch attributed this increase to “some of the young taggers who are anarchic,” but neglected to mention that some artists in Art in the Streets are involved too. Barry McGee, Amaze, ESPO and friends painted somegraffiti. I saw some McGee stickers around the museum. And Shepard Fairey’s crew has been hitting up electric boxes right out in front of MOCA without permission.
LA Anonymous put up this poster in LA as a commentary on MOCA’s upcoming Art in the Streets show. It depicts museum director Jeffrey Deitch and major MOCA contributor Eli Broad. Hyperallergic has a bit more to say about the piece. We’ll see next week if the show is truly safe. I’m not sure if it will be or not, but I am expecting a circus (in a good way)…
If you’re the Jeffrey Deitch or museum-hating type, the next few weeks are not going to be your favorite weeks, at least not when it comes to Vandalog posts. I’m gonna be talking a lot about this topic. I could hardly be more excited for MOCA‘s upcoming Art In The Streets show, and some substantive information about the show is finally starting to come out:
First of all, what lots of people have been asking for: a solid and confirmed opening date. Art In The Streets opens on April 17th.
The MOCA iteration includes a lot of West Coast stuff like Cholo graffiti and writers like Revok and Saber.
Oh, clarification on the last point: The show movies to The Brooklyn Museum next March. Presumably the show will be refocused a bit NYC graffiti for that iteration.
The show will include some mini-shows within it including a space dedicated to The Fun Gallery, a RAMELLZEE installation and Todd James, Barry McGee, and Steve Powers’ new iteration of their legendary Street Market show.
Because MOCA is looking at skateboarding as art on the streets too, there will be a custom skate ramp in the museum and Nike’s skateboarding team will be skating there throughout the run of the show.
There will be a film festival component to the show.
So yeah. Sounds good. Can’t wait for the opening. If this show succeeds, it could be the American equivalent of Banksy Versus The Bristol Museum in terms of impact.
Well I’m on my way back to Philadelphia this weekend. I can’t wait to get there and back into the swing of things. Random comment about Philly: If anyone knows of any photographers who are actively documenting street art and graffiti there, please let me know. Anyway, here’s what we missed this week:
It looks like Urban Outfitters have blatantly ripped off a street artist’s design about the annoyingness of hipsters and turned it into a shirt to sell to hipsters. Hrag at Hyperallergic has some analysis, and although I don’t agree with a lot of what he says in that post, he’s always interesting.
Shepard Fairey and Mark Mothersbaugh, the frontman for Devo, are having a show together at Subliminal Projects. It opens next week. Shepard might have some interesting work, but from what I’ve seen of Mothersbaugh’s art… Well he’s a really good musician.
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:
I’m about to get my virtual ass kicked with this post. This might get more negative comments than anything I’ve ever written before. I know that. Any yet, here I am.
On Thursday, word hit the internet that Blu had painted a mural on The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in LA but that it had been whitewashed. On Saturday, Vandalog was the first site to publish any official comments from MOCA. And late on Monday, The LA Times has finally published some substantive comments from museum director Jeffrey Deitch about the whole series of events.
Here’s a selection from the article:
Reached by phone while traveling, MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch confirmed that he made the decision because the mural was “insensitive” to the community.
“This is 100% about my effort to be a good, responsible, respectful neighbor in this historic community,” Deitch said. “Out of respect for someone who is suffering from lung cancer, you don’t sit in front of them and start chain smoking.
“Look at my gallery website — I have supported protest art more than just about any other mainstream gallery in the country,” he added. “But as a steward of a public institution, I have to balance a different set of priorities — standing up for artists and also considering the sensitivities of the community.”
He rejects the talk of censorship. “This doesn’t compare to David Wojnarowicz. This shouldn’t be blown up into something larger than it is,” he says, describing a curator’s prerogative to pick and choose what goes into a show. “Every aspect of the show involves a very considered discussion.”
The unfortunate thing, he acknowledges, was the timing, as the artist began the mural while Deitch was out of town earlier this month for the art fair in Miami. “Blu was supposed to fly out the second-to-last week in November, so we could have conversations about it in advance,” Deitch said. “But he said he had to change his flights, so he ended up working in isolation without any input.”
When he returned from Miami and saw the mural, then more than halfway completed, Deitch said he made the decision to remove it very quickly, unprompted by complaints. “There were zero complaints, because I took care of it right away.” He asked Blu to finish the work so it could be documented as part of the exhibition and appear in the accompanying catalog.
I’ve got to stand by Deitch 100% on this. Besides the very legitimate reasons he mentions for removing the mural, his appointment to MOCA was a very controversial one. We don’t live in a perfect world, and this was a pragmatic move which takes into consideration the larger concerns of MOCA and the LA community. Yes, this whole thing was a poorly managed series of unfortunate events resulting in a great artist’s work being destroyed (after, what I assume was extensive documentation which is how the vast majority of street art and probably art in general is viewed these days), but Deitch made the right move for the wider museum. Things shouldn’t have gotten out of hand, and they did, but Deitch has acknowledged that. Look at the situation from Deitch’s perspective when he showed up in LA to a half-finished mural that he knew would not work.
Deitch made a curatorial, respectful (of the LA community) and politically pragmatic decision to remove a work from an exhibition that he had not approved for inclusion in the show. If he had seen a sketch beforehand (as he should have), let the wall get painted and then removed it, this would be a very different discussion. Although some have suggested that this signals disaster ahead for his upcoming street art exhibition in April, I am not so sure. Sebastian at Unurth and I have a friendly bet going based on the average of reviews of MOCA’s street art show in the LA Times, Unurth and Vandalog: If the reviews are positive, he buys drinks next time we see each other and if the reviews are negative, I have to buy the drinks. So we’ll see how that turns out in a couple of months.