On Saturday, Art in the Streets will open at the Museum of Contemporary Art here in Los Angeles, a show that's being called the "first comprehensive U.S. museum survey exhibition" of graffiti and street art. From downtown New York graffiti legends like Fab 5 Freddy and Lee Quiñones to contemporary street art darlings like Brazilian twins Os Gemeos and the TED Prize-winning JR, the exuberant, theme park-like collection aspires to both cover the expansive history of the movement and anchor it firmly in Los Angeles. The show also has an interesting legacy as it's organized by MOCA's new museum director Jeffrey Deitch, who as a gallery owner was the first to draw many of these artists inside the art world's white walls.
Los Angeles street art gets its special nod thanks to associate curation by hometown locals Roger Gastman (author of a new graffiti book and producer for Banksy) and Aaron Rose (director of the film and exhibition Beautiful Losers). Cholo graffiti and the rise of skateboard culture in Dogtown are two of the most prominently featured sections, with artists like Dogtown photographer Craig R. Stecyk III, graffiti artist Chaz Bojorquez, tattoo artist Mister Cartoon, plus work from Shepard Fairey and Kenny Scharf, and some names you've likely seen spray-painted around town: RETNA, SABER, REVOK, and RISK.
Also taking a nod from L.A. culture, the exhibition has a special focus on the filmmakers and photographers who documented the movement, featuring walls of photographs by Martha Cooper, Gusmano Cesaretti, and Ed Templeton. The filmmaking aspect will further be explored in a workshop area sponsored by Levi's just adjacent to the space, where rentals of cameras (from Super 8 to digital), editing suites, and other equipment will be free of charge, as will expert direction by participating artists and filmmakers like Werner Herzog and Spike Jonze.
While what's happening inside the museum is extremely exciting (expect to make two or three visits to take it in), perhaps the more interesting activity will be out on the streets themselves. With all these artists in town, and so much attention on its own talent, L.A.'s likely to see some new artwork gracing its walls, much like when the visiting Banksy and JR threw up ad-hoc exhibits all over L.A. And since a show about street art is never without controversy, there's already some street art going up criticizing the show. One group, MOCA-latte, has created a set of free stickers marked "approved" or "disapproved" which encourage art enthusiasts to play curator in the streets and photograph the results.
For those who don't already have a deep appreciation the street art—after all, some would call it vandalism—Art in the Streets will serve as an education of sorts, providing an historical context for those sweeps of neon spray paint and wheatpasted posters flapping in the breeze. After viewing it, we suggest walking the few blocks around MOCA to soak up some of this art in its natural environment: the ever-expanding galleries in the streets.
The show will be up at MOCA through August 8, and after that it will travel to the Brooklyn Museum in the spring of 2012.