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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.
MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch introduces the show before a decommissioned MTA bus customized by Los Angeles graffiti artist RISK.
A timeline that runs the length of the show highlights important moments in the movement, like the emergence of Wild Style in New York in the early 1980s.
Wild Style mural by Zephyr, Revolt, Sharp, 1983; front: Doze, Frosty Freeze, Ken Swift; second row: Patti Astor, Fred Brathwaite, Lady Pink; back: Lil Crazy Legs, Revolt and Sharp, directed by Charlie Ahearn, photo by Martha Cooper
The graffiti of New York-based icon Lee Quiñones.
LEE, Lion’s Den, Lower East Side, New York City, 1980, photo by Martha Cooper
The show features a re-creation of the legendary Fun Gallery, complete with faux-storefront.
Patti Astor at Keith Haring’s Fun Gallery Show, 1983, photo by Eric Kroll
The rise of Cholo graffiti began in L.A. with artists like Chaz Bojorquez.
Chaz Bojorquez, Señor Suerte tag with ‘veterano/veterana’ roll calls, Arroyo Seco River, Los Angeles, 1975, photo by Blades Bojorquez
Photographer Gusmano Cesaretti was one of the first photographers to document the movement on the west coast.
Chaz Bojorquez running in a backstreet near Whittier Blvd. in East Los Angeles, 1974, photo by Gusmano Cesaretti
Skateboarding is a theme throughout the show, with skate photographs and films papering the walls and galleries.
Jose Gallan (Skating on the border with ‘veteranos de Sotel’ observing), 1975, photo by Craig R. Stecyk III
A poster wall installed at the show featuring designs by Craig R. Stecyk III, who documented the rise of skateboarding and surfing in the Dogtown neighborhood of Santa Monica.
At the show's entrance, a working skate park designed by skater Lance Mountain and L.A. artist Geoff McFetridge featured skaters from the Nike SB team.
The Cosmic Cavern installed by artist Kenny Scharf includes hundreds of found objects, toys, and pieces of trash painted in neon, black-lit colors.
One of the few female artists included in the show, the late Margaret Killgallen's work is featured as a re-installation. The San Francisco-based artist died in 2001 at age 33.
An entire subversive room decorated by the elusive street artist Banksy.
Neckface's gallery is a scummy, picture-perfect New York back alley.
The ethereal laser-cut paper sculpture by Brooklyn-based Swoon is tucked into a tent.
One of the most visually-overwhelming spaces is Street Market, a re-creation of a show at Deitch Projects in 2000. Steve Powers, Todd James, Barry McGee, and Alexis Ross constructed three square blocks of storefronts and signage with dizzying detail.
Complete with graffiti-obsessed animatronic kids.
The show also includes many international artists like the Brazilian twins Os Gemeos, known for their large-scale, cartoon-like figures.
Os Gemeos, Untitled, São Paulo, Brazil, 2009, photo by Ignacio Aronovich / LOST ART
The tattoo artist Mister Cartoon transformed a beat-up ice cream truck which sits in a room ringed by photos of Cholo street art.
Mister Cartoon, 1963 International Ice Cream Truck, 2010, Urethane enamel candy painted freehand on truck by Mister Ctoons, photo by Estevan Oriol