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Vandalizing the MOCA
Art in the streets, the first major U.S. museum exhibition on graffiti in a contemporary art context, of has brought into the light a dispute between the street community and those that are discovering the beauty in this form of expression...

Some thought it could to solve the eternal debate between graffiti as fine art or vandalism, while in fact is raising new questions and problems. Graffiti seems to be a form of creativity which contradicts itself time and time again; sometimes the most free expression and the next moment the most repressed of all. Art in the streets, produced by the Museum of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles, is the first major U.S. exhibition to display this kind of history of graffiti and street art and it focuses around the idea in which artists' that work on cities' walls have to be considered as part of the development of contemporary art.

ďArt in the Streets will be the first exhibition to hang work of the most influential artists who have emerged from street culture under the context of contemporary art history,Ē said MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch who organized the show with associate curators Roger Gastman and Aaron Rose. The exhibition will be on display at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA until August 8th, 2011, then it will move to the Brooklyn Museum, where it will be on view from March 30th to July 8th, 2012.


Art in the Streets showcases installations by 50 of the most dynamic artists from the graffiti and street art community, including Banksy (London), who became an international celebrity thanks to his movie Exit through the gift shop, Fab 5 Freddy (New York), Lee Quiones (New York), Futura (New York), Margaret Kilgallen (San Francisco), Swoon (New York), Shepard Fairey (Los Angeles), Os Gemeos (Sao Paulo) and JR (Paris).  MOCAís exhibition will also emphasize Los Angelesís role in the evolution of graffiti and street art, with special sections dedicated to cholo graffiti and Dogtown skateboard culture.

A main featured of the show is a special section dedicated to the Fun Gallery, which connected New York graffiti artists with the downtown art community in the early 1980s. Co-curated by gallery founder Patti Astor, the Fun Gallery installation will feature the works of Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the graffiti artists who shaped the galleryís history.

Although the exhibition is experiencing great success, the larger problems are outside the museumís walls, where a real battle over a surge of graffiti is shacking the community. Since the start of the show, the neighborhood began to complain of graffiti appearing, in excess, on their walls. Police suspect some of the artists represented in the museumís show are responsible for this increase. In truth, many artists were highly critical of Deitch's artist choices and those not represented took the initiative to appear in the show in their own way.

Even more pressing is the contention that set the street art community against the director of the museum: the Blu case. Deitch commissioned the prominent Italian street artist Blu to paint a huge mural on the side of the Geffen before the opening of the show. The director was not in Los Angeles while the artist was working yet when he finally saw the unfinished work he ordered it to be whitewashed. The reason was that the mural showed coffins draped in dollar bills, an anthem to anti-war sentiments, and the director thought it might be offensive to people visiting a nearby memorial honoring Japanese-Americans who fought in World War II. Blu was invited to paint a new work but he refused saying that he had spoken with veterans that understood and approved his first mural.

This was not the only weird case surrounding the opening of the exhibition: the famous French artist, Space Invader, was stopped by police while he was placing some of his ceramic tile works on the walls near the museum with his assistant. The artist is one of the 50 featured in the show and has become a world celebrity with his 'invasions' of major cities: many of his works can be seen in Rome from last yearís exhibition in Italy.


Art in the streets is demonstrating that even if one can enclose street art in a museum and place it under contexts of contemporary art, it will always be free to go against the rules of the art system. The question of graffiti as art or vandalism is non-sense because the common answer will always be: it depends. As it should be for every form of cultural expression it will always be up to the public to decide its value and now, after this exhibition, it will surely gain new fans.

curated by francesco amorosino

From April 17 to August 8 2011
Art in the streets
The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Geffen Contemporary at Moca, 152 North Central Avenue, Los Angeles, California
Opening hours: Monday-Friday, 11-17; Thursday, 11-20, Saturday-Sunday, 11-28. Closed on Tuesday and Wendsday
Entrance fee: 10 dollars, 5 dollars, free on Thursday from 17 to 20.


Reserved Reproduction