Giant letters shout the word WOW as you enter the Geffin at Moca for the Art in the Streets exhibit, and I can’t argue with this proclamation.
I went to the show on two different occasions and both times I was amazed, enchanted, surprised, and entertained. Normally, you don’t think of art in a museum as entertaining, but this exhibit is someting new and unique to a major museum. Many of the works here are meant to make you smile, rather than think, or make political statements, as in most graffiti. We have to keep in mind that graf did start as an illegal form of marking territory and making social and political statements.
I have to wonder, is graffiti, or the more gentrified label street art, really street art when it’s in a museum setting? If street art is going indoors, the huge warehouse atmosphere of the Geffin is certainly appropriate for the show. However, I have to question the presence of uniformed guards and the “don’t touch”, “no flash photography” aspect. Are these Monet’s or are they graffiti? Isn’t the temporary fragile nature of graffiti, open to the elements, subject to the possibility of vandalism, touching, or flash photography part of what makes it street art?
However, I have to say that this massive show is a veritable feast for the eye. So so visually overwhelming I felt I needed a second viewing. The appeal of this exhibit is universal. Children, seniors, hip twenty somethings, arty art school types, matrons, Westsider’s, Eastsider’s, the mix of social and ethnic groups enjoying the show is as interesting as the art.
The first time I went was on a Friday afternoon, with people who paid $10.00 for entry. As expected this crowd was mainly upscale art afectionatos, who knew the artists, had their favorites, and bought expensive books from the museum store. These are the folks who have box seats at sporting events, and the Hollywood Bowl. This group spent a lot of time viewing the timeline and the historical documentation aspect of the exhibit
.The second time, I went on Thursday evening when the gallery is free. This was the eclectic group, the people who buy nosebleed seats. Free Thursday evenings are a lot more crowded, but I enjoyed mixing with the “real people”. The atmosphere was more electric, and seemed to match the art. This group clearly was more enthusiastic about the spectacular large works, the cars, Banksy’s version of the rose windows found in Gothic churches, and the “Street Market” installation by Todd James, Barry McGee and Steve Powers.
For this exhibit, the “beautiful losers” crew assembled a collection of small “streets” in sort of a Disneyland recreation of narrow urban alleyways, housing miniature studios, shops and living spaces, with gritty windows that you can peer into to view the equally gritty interiors. The “streets” are lined with gaudy signage, that perhaps is meant to make a statement on urban blight, but somehow it comes off more cartoonish then nasty. After all this is Disneyland, where gaudy is cute, and decay is sanitized.
On the opposite end of the scale, “The Ice Queen” by Swoon is stunning beautiful. Step inside a white curtained space, and experience an other worldly tee-pee like creation of cloth and paper. Glowing, lit from within using the idea of positive and negative space, the delicate paper cut outs create astounding shadows on the inside of the white curtains. Standing 15 feet tall, this mixed media installation is breathtaking.
There are far to many gems in to go into detail and at first glance it can be visually overwhelming, but all I can say is don’t miss this show, there is something for everyone. Set aside at least two or three hours to just “hang out” and absorb the works. Part of the appeal of street art is it’s immediacy, it’s element of surprise as we turn a corner find somthing unexpected, and this exhibit with huge works, video shows, photographs, doesn’t disappoint.