That was a long week. But at least it was a fun one too. For one thing, Jill Cohen was in town for a show at my university. Definitely have a look at her drawings. That’s some crazy skill. Here’s the art news I’ve been reading:
Shepard Fairey’s latest print is called Eat The Rich. I hate to be the one to call him out on this one since many will understandably perceive it as hypocritical of me, but can a millionaire artist really legitimately make that statement? I know he is a hard-working guy who has been at this for decades, but then the proper time for that rhetoric was 20 years ago. Not when his art sells for hundreds of thousands to millionaires and his overpriced t-shirts are found in the fanciest clothing stores. Plus, the man is a committed and unashamed capitalist. Thoughts? Maybe he is just using the phrase as an example of a culture he is interested in, rather than as part of an intended propaganda poster?
Tomorrow, the authors of The History of American Graffiti (Caleb Neelon and Roger Gastman) will be joining Taki183 at The Hole in NYC for a book signing. I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, but from what I hear it is one of, if not the, best graffiti histories told so far. The book signing will take place from 7-10pm on Thursday at The Hole’s new location (312 Bowery). SNAKE 1, SJK 171, MIKE 171 and ROCKY 184 will also be there.
Blurring the Lines, the current show at Corey Helford Gallery in LA curated by Roger Gastman, features graffiti legends Freedom, Risk and Crash. Nothing against Risk and Crash, but Freedom, maybe best known for his work in NYC’s Freedom Tunnel, is by far my favorite of those three. Here’s some of Freedom’s contributions to the show. Thanks for Hi-Fructose for the images. Check out more of the show on their blog.
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.
Since we haven’t posted about Art in the Streets in a few days, we thought now would be the best time to release some photos of the accompanying exhibit book for the show. Put together by the curators of the show, Roger Gastman, Aaron Rose and of course, Jeffrey Deitch, the book acts as an international retrospective of art, or as much as can be packed into the pages.
Also, here are some more names featured in the show (and book) as well. These could have been guessed, but now they are confirmed: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Stelios Faitakis, Futura, Phil Frost, Os Gemeos, Keith Haring, Todd James, Margaret Kilgallen, Lady Pink, Barry McGee, Steve “ESPO” Powers, Lee Quinones, Retna, Kenny Scharf, Swoon, Ed Templeton
Again, some were known, but now we are starting to get more of an idea what the show is shaping up to be. I’m still surprised what a well-kept secret it is thus far.
Before people start rolling their eyes about yet another graffti book, I have to say that this one looks pretty good. Not only did the infamous Roger Gastman (who is a Washington DC legend in my book; I have to rep that), but it really does attempt to trace the distinctiveness of the evolution of American graff in the past 40 years.
The book contains interviews with over 500 artists, and over 1000 photographs (seriously, this thing could break an Ikea shelf I bet) and of course, the one and only TAKI 183 writes the book’s foreword.
The book will be released in the beginning of April, but can be pre-ordered on Amazon
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.