Art In The Streets @ The MOCA

July 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

No LA culture collective is complete without a review of the season’s most controversial happening—Art In The Streets at the MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary.  Featuring a range of artists from Blade to Basquiat to Banksy, the show presents itself as the first “major U.S. museum survey of graffiti and street art,” and is certainly America’s largest street art exhibit. The brainchild of Museum Director and chief show curator Jeffery Deitch, the AITS show is jam-packed with artists spanning many graffiti periods from early hobo street art to LA Chicano art.  It also includes contemporary artists like Shepard Fairey, a name most households recognize for his famous Hope Obama print.

            Upon entering the show the viewer is overwhelmed by the massive scale and volume of work within four white museum walls.  It is easy to spend several hours in the exhibition and still miss a good deal of what the show offers. Highlights include the Cosmic Fun Zone, a hallway with blasting disco music, black lights, and floor-to-ceiling neon trinkets.  Neckface recreated a dark inner-city alleyway complete with a live hobo (actor) who jumps out of the shadows and scares visitors.  And of course no graffiti show is complete without Banksy, whose work includes an actual steamroller, surveillance cameras that mimic chirping birds, and a graffiti stained-glass window created in collaboration with a Los Angeles elementary school. 

            Other highlights include the AITS’s impressive list of partners. Nike, one of the largest sponsors, created a special-edition shoe for exhibition and currently funds live skaters to skate bi-weekly on ramps near the front of the exhibition.  Levis also made a grand appearance at AITS with a free film workshop open to the public whenever museum doors are open, offering classes by famous videographers.  Additionally, Juxtapoz devoted an entire issue to the exhibition as a mini exhibition catalogue.

            Despite its attempt to be a comprehensive survey of graffiti, the show has received major criticism from the Los Angeles art community. While the show is visually stunning, critics find the show to lack a comprehensive presentation of contemporary graffiti movements.  Additionally, though the museum is a show of “the people’s art”, all graffiti that appears in the museum without museum permission is promptly removed at closing.  The greatest source of controversy may stem from an event that occurred four months prior to the show’s opening—Italian artist Blu was invited to paint a mural on the exterior of the building but when his work proved too controversial, the museum whitewashed it and requested a different mural.  Blu refused and withdrew from the exhibition.

            Regardless of criticism, the show is a landmark exhibition for Los Angeles and will be one of the most discussed shows this decade.  It is a must-see for anyone devoted to Los Angeles culture and contemporary art.


Art In The Streets runs April 15 to August 8 with free museum admission every Monday.

Written by Amanda Evans


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