Weekend link-o-rama

Work in Guatemala by STRANGER

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.
  • José Parlá has a new book coming out and a solo show in New York next month. Arrested Motion has more info on both those things and the book is currently available online.
  • Dimitris Taxis does some great wheatpastes.
  • King Adz has put together a show opening this weekend in Ireland with Blek le Rat, Asbestos, Laser 3.14 and others.
  • 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.
  • Some graffiti writers are tagging up ancient rock art sites in Nevada.
  • Mat Gleason named Banksy and Shepard Fairey among the top overrated artists of the decade. Check out this video for why Gleason thinks that Shepard isn’t an artist!
  • 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!
  • NBC has done a really disturbing promotion in NYC’s parks for their new superhero show. Publicadcampaign explains.

Photo by Not Another Street Artist

Holiday link-o-rama

WK Interact in Paris

Here’s what went on while I’ve been spending time with family, which I hope is what lots of you have been doing this week as well:

Photo by WK Interact

One last thing…

After today, I’m going to try to avoid posting or commenting about this whole Blu/Deitch/MOCA series of blunders 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:

Deitch did the right thing in a crappy situation

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.

Photo by vmiramontes

Answers to why Blu’s mural was removed in LA

The street art community has been in a bit of a hubbub over a mural by Blu being painted over less than 24 hours after it was completed. Until now, MOCA, the museum that commissioned Blu to paint the mural on one of their walls, had stayed silent on why the mural was removed. In my post I tried not to jump to conclusions, but given what’s going on at the Smithsonian and the silence from MOCA, it was hard not to speculate and assume the worst: pointless censorship. Some people also speculated that the whole thing was a preplanned stunt. Luckily, it sounds like all this was just a series of unfortunate events, but with a reasonable explanation.

I’ve just received word from MOCA as to what happened:

MOCA commissioned Blu, one of the world’s most outstanding street artists to create a work for the north wall of The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA.

The Geffen Contemporary building is located on a special, historic site. Directly in front the north wall is the Go For Broke monument, which commemorates the heroic roles of Japanese American soldiers, who served in Europe and the Pacific during World War II, and opposite the wall is the LA Veterans’ Affairs Hospital. The museum’s director explained to Blu that in this context, where MOCA is a guest among this historic Japanese American community, the work was inappropriate. MOCA has invited Blu to return to Los Angeles to paint another mural.

Certainly not the way you want mural projects to go, but if Blu understands and respects MOCA’s decision enough to paint another mural there, then I do too. This was not the pointless censorship that it has been painted to be by the internet, it is being respectful to the community that would be living with this art every day.

Photo by Unurth

MOCA asks Blu to paint mural, buffs mural after 24 hours

I heard the most wonderful news recently: Blu was about to paint a huge mural in LA. This week, that’s exactly what he did. Blu was invited to paint the wall by MOCA, the museum where Jeffrey Deitch is about to put on a major street art exhibition. In fact, the mural was painted on one of the walls of MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary. A mural by Blu would probably be, for me, a highlight of that exhibition. Unfortunately, less than a day after the mural was finished (and yes, it had been finished), it has been completely painted over by MOCA workers. What’s going on here? So far, nobody really knows. MOCA has declined to comment.

Unurth has more images, GOOD offers some speculation and LA Downtown News has a bit to add to the story. Most interesting given the content of Blu’s mural, LA Downtown News notes that the mural faced a Veterans Administration building and was also within sight of a war memorial. No evidence to say whether either of those things factored in to why the mural was removed though.

The buffing of this mural is especially worrying to me given the current controversy at the National Portrait Gallery about the removal of controversial art. Hopefully there will be more answers about what is going on in here in the next few days.

Photo by Unurth

MOCA street art show book (and a small rant about the show)

Art In the Streets is an upcoming book by Jeffrey Deitch, Roger Gastman and Aaron Rose. The book, available April 12th, coincides with Deitch’s street art exhibition coming to MOCA next spring (Rose and Gastman are involved in putting the show together). While this will probably be just another nice exhibition catalog once it’s published, the official does provide further insight into what the MOCA show will be about (emphasis added):

The first large-scale American museum exhibition to survey the colorful history of graffiti and street art movements internationally. Graffiti has been a form of public communication and identification since ancient times. In its contemporary manifestation, it has redefined the urban landscape and influenced generations of artists. This landmark exhibition traces the birth and dissemination of styles through “writers” and street artists around the world—including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Blu, Martha Cooper, Shepard Fairey, Stelios Faitakis, Futura, Phil Frost, Os Gêmeos, Keith Haring, Todd James (REAS), Margaret Kilgallen, Lady Pink, Barry McGee (Twist), Steve Powers (ESPO), Lee Quinones, Retna, Kenny Scharf, Swoon, and Ed Templeton, among many others—focusing on New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, as well as international locations. Highlighting the connection between graffiti and street art and other vibrant subcultures, such as those that developed around Hip Hop in the Bronx and skateboarding in Southern California, Art in the Streets explores parallel movements in dance and music. A selection of new works created for the show is presented alongside the historical survey of approximately 30 of the most important artists seminal to the genre. The exhibition is curated by MoCA Director Jeffrey Deitch, working with a curatorial advisory committee that includes Charlie Ahearn, Roger Gastman, Carlo McCormick, and Aaron Rose.

It’s interesting to see the direction this exhibition is taking with the choice of artists, but a bit predictable as well:

  • Aaron Rose is best-known for Alleged Gallery and Beautiful Losers, the film about that gallery, and Deitch Projects picked up a number of artists who had been showing at Alleged Gallery (Steve Powers, Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen), and a number of the “Beautiful Losers” are included in Art In The Streets.
  • A number of the artists (Martha Cooper, Futura, Barry McGee, Shepard Fairey, Stelios Faitakis, Os Gêmeos, Kenny Scharf and Swoon if memory serves) were all involved in last year’s Deitch-curated Wynwood Walls mural project.
  • Blu painted a mural sponsored by Deitch Projects.
  • Deitch Projects also work with Basquiat, Fairey, Os Gêmeos, Haring, Todd James, Scharf and Swoon (or their estates).

People are going to give MOCA shit for this, but you know what… It’s probably gonna be a good exhibition. Obviously it’s not exactly the show that myself or anyone else would have put together, but Deitch and his curatorial committee have good taste. Of course there’s going to have been some financial ties to the artists they select. If that weren’t the case, the show would have been woefully incomplete. Deitch Projects and Alleged Gallery both worked with some of the best artists associated with street art and graffiti. I can hardly imagine a stronger team putting together Art In The Streets, and I hope that, when this opens, people can look past potential conflicts of interests and just appreciate the show on its own merits.

Photo courtesy of Rizzoli

Jeffrey Deitch’s street art show at MOCA LA

One of Jenny Holzer's Inflammatory Essays. She had better be in this show if it's to be any good

A few months ago, this was mentioned briefly in an NYTimes article, but now the first real information is starting to come out about Jeffrey Deitch’s upcoming street art show at MOCA in LA. Culture Monster has a post all about the show, Art in the Streets. I’ve been hearing a lot of great things about this event for a while, but it’s all been rumors, so it’s nice to finally get some facts to write about.

Deitch says that Art in the Streets aims to be a broad look at street art, but will also dig deep into the history of outdoor art. That sounds like music to my ears, but it also sounds like a nearly insurmountable challenge. For example, the show will certainly involve graffiti, but so much graffiti had localized differences that now influence modern street artists and writers. So where do you draw the line at what to include? And what about the Philadelphia Mural Arts program, created to eradicate graffiti? It’s not street art, but it might deserve a place in a show titled Art in the Streets… Anyway, I’m sure we’ll know more in a few weeks when a formalized press release is sent out.

In the mean time, here’s what else is known…

  • Art in the Streets opens April 2011 at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary
  • The show will include work from the last few years as well as art from as long ago as the 1970’s, which seems about right.
  • There will be around 25 artists doing installations/murals.
  • Banksy will be involved, so yeah. That’s interesting I guess… I’m not his biggest fan lately, so it’s hard for me to get excited about that.
  • Over 100 artists will be represented in the show.
  • Aaron Rose (from Alleged Gallery/the Beautiful Losers film) and all-around graffiti and street art expert Roger Gastman are helping to curate the show.

This show could be the best thing to happen to street art since… ever. But even if it’s not perfect, it’s still going to be pretty damn good. Deitch isn’t going to screw this up. He, Rose and Gastman all know their shit.

Photo by Lord Jim

The Rumor Mill: Deitch planning street art show at MOCA LA?

Jeffrey Deitch and Aiko Nakagawa

This is about a week old now, but I’ve just seen that the NYTimes has done an article on Jeffrey Deitch and his transition from running his Deitch Projects gallery to now being the director of LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Of course, the article is mostly about how Deitch is handling that transition and why his move from running a gallery to running a museum is so unique. Okay. Nothing new here. People have been talking about that transition for months.

There was one particularly interesting sentence though: “And he is working to put together a major exhibition about the influence of street art, a movement that was central to the identity of Deitch Projects in recent years.”

Of course, I’d heard plenty of speculation that something like that would happen, but this is the first time I’ve actually seen it confirmed and stated as fact. Awesome. There probably isn’t anyone in the world better positioned than Jeffrey Deitch to put on a major street art exhibition in a major museum. Sounds like this is still the early days of planning, so maybe the show is a long time away and maybe it won’t end up happening, but at least we now know that it might happen and that Deitch would like it to.

Photo by sabeth718