Hey, Krylon huffers, you’ve got until Monday to catch the wildly popular Art in the Streets graffiti show down at the Geffen/MOCA. I had heard mostly good things from my compatriots, seen their Instagrams of the show (man, I love an art show that actually lets you take photos), and read all the buzz about it. Little did I know that it was going to piss me off like crazy.
The exhibit covers any kind of scrawling on walls willy-nilly, in a pretty unrelated fashion. The Crips have little to do with Keith Haring and Keith Haring probably never knew a graffiti-lovin’ East LA cholo who wouldn’t know a Z-boy if he tried to jack his ride, but here they all are, sharing the same exhibit space. It’s a tenuous thread running through the whole show that seems to be melted down to super cool people do graffiti, didya know? MOCA was full of families, khaki-pants-wearin’ grandpas and their opinionated wives, baby hipsters (seen below), and a fair share of aging hipsters. It’s nice to see any museum have this much traffic…
But then I saw the “fake inner city” that takes up a decent portion of the show. A fake alleyway, littered with trash, but smelling as clean as a contemporary art musuem. A bodega with the calling-card signs in the dirty windows. A few spaces that were meant to look like kids had been squatting in them – everything trying as hard as possible to be poverty-stricken and “interesting” as possible. Take another turn through this false urban jungle and you come across an animatronic display of three graffiti artists, stacked on each other shoulders so the top fellow can spray the tag, his arm moving back and forth forever, like one of the creatures inside Splash Mountain. At that moment, the exhibit took on a very Disneyland feel to me. I looked around and saw well-to-do art patrons exclaiming to each other how amazing everything was. But you know what? There are stores in my neighborhood that look just like this. There are piss-strewn alleys not that far from the museum, covered in wheatpastes and tags – would these people ever drive even farther east to see the REAL Los Angeles where some of these movements were born? Do they even leave their neighborhoods to begin with? Is Little Tokyo the roughest hood they’ve ever seen in L.A.?
Fake bullet holes. Definitely not “inspirational” to me. It felt like slumming. Safe, happy, slumming. “Oh, darling, the inner city is SO interesting, did you know? Ah! My goodness, a dirty urinal! Let me pose next to it!” I feel like New Yorkers and anyone else from a rotty U.S. city who actually traverses these corners of their worlds would roll their eyes at all of this.
I can’t even go into the fact that there were no politically controversial images at all on display. Very little to maybe NO nudity. The artists represented had moved on to successful gallery careers OR their artwork and styles have been absorbed into mainstream advertising. No mention of SMEAR and REVOK fighting charges and being plagued by hefty lawsuits from the city of Los Angeles. Bansky’s subversion utterly subverted by an actually crowded gift shop. Buying ‘Exit to the Gift Shop’ on DVD, IN the bloody gift shop? Irony lost. Game over.
HEY, I’m not discouraging you to go in the very last days of this exhibit. Go and see for yourself. And become a patron of MOCA and skip the lines.
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