Does the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art's current "Art in the Streets" show mark an exciting new birth for the medium, or its death? As many graffiti fans have noted, there's an inherent contradiction in the show: it gives an institutional setting to an art form that is inherently anti-institutional. (As artist and writer Nick Lampert of the Justseeds collective noted in an ARTINFO Op-Ed a few months back, the show should really be called "Street Art in the Museum.") The debut of the much-hyped retrospective this week seems only to be amping up such tensions, now thanks to a spike in unauthorized tagging around L.A. MOCA coinciding with the advent of the show. The museum has pledged to help with graffiti clean-up, in effect annihilating actual "art in the streets."
With the show first being previewed earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times reports that there have been "dozens" of tags on commercial buildings, dumpsters, and light poles near to the museum. The LAPD is responding by talking tough. "In the last two weeks, we've seen an enormous amount of vandalism in the Little Tokyo area, near the MOCA entrance," LAPD officer Jack Richter told the paper. "We respect the rights to have an art exhibition, but we demand the security of other people's property." Richter made ever sterner noises to L.A. Weekly: "If anyone is caught doing it they are not getting a ticket they are going to jail."
MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch told Culture Monster that the people behind the unauthorized art were "some of the young taggers who are anarchic.... It's a language of youth culture, and we can't stop it. It goes with the territory." At the same time, he has, in fact, pledged to help "stop it" in an effort to mollify area business owners, saying that museum security guards had been instructed to keep watch over the surrounding area for unauthorized art. He told L.A. Weekly that the museum was helping with "tagging clean up" in the area.
The "anarchic" street artists may be as inspired by what is not in the "Art in the Streets" show as what is: Deitch's controversial decision to remove Blu's mural from the L.A. MOCA facade last December has brought out the anti-authoritarian streak in the local street art community, and has naturally provoked a backlash that has been expressed through unauthorized interventions. Just a few days ago, the the Web site 12ozprohet reported that street artist Katsu tagged L.A. MOCA's Geffen Contemporary facade. A proliferation of anti-Deitch street art has appeared in the last months, including a poster featuring museum patron Eli Broad as a ringmaster and Deitch as an obeisant clown, with the slogan "Broadum and Deitchey: Safest Show on Earth."
Deitch told Culture Monster that he hoped "Art in the Streets" would encourage the illegal artists to set their sights higher. "We want to put out an inspirational message: 'If you harness your talent you can be in a museum some day, make a contribution and a living from it.'" This is particularly ironic, since, in the lead up to "Art in the Streets," the city of L.A. has gone on a legal campaign against artist Smear, specifically attempting to prevent him from selling works with his tag on it in gallery, arguing that his street art amounted to illegal advertising for his commercial art.
To see a video of Katsu tagging L.A. MOCA, click below: