Art In The Streets Review - Artweek.la June 2011

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Will Art In The Streets mean money in the bank for MOCA?

Graffiti was once considered an act of vandalism, a nihilistic, anti-social practice perpetrated by maladjusted dullards who lingered at odd hours to scrawl on public walls - and to a large degree, it still is.

Yet, in tune with art's mainstreaming, and the integration of lowbrow and outsider art into the bigger picture, the last decade (or two) has seen these "delinquents" make good.

Much like America's attitude towards money (it's not how you got it, but whether you've got it) graffiti's pundits hit the mainstream. Like an overpriced collectable high top sneaker, the movement jumped from the ghetto to the gallery with lots of commercial pit stops in between.

Jeffrey Deitsche's night for the kids is a far cry from a series of immediate scrawls spawned from a juvenile hand. Sponsored by Nike and featuring fifty name artists from the graffiti and street art community, including Banksy, Fab 5 Freddy, Lee Quiñones and Shepard Fairey, it's a safe bet big draw for MOCA, ensuring a big public presence through August.

So where to start?  Should we delve into the mire of debate that questions the validity of street art as a microcosm of "lowbrow," generally?  More precisely should the immediacy of a wall scribble be awarded the same status as an intricately crafted oil painting, sculpture, or short film, worthy of a museum show?

Basically, it's a bit late for that.  Today, art viewing is a mainstream component of social repertoire, a populist pursuit catering for everyman, not an indulgent exercise for the social (or socio-economic) elite.  Been to downtown LA galleries, Create Fixate, Venice, Noho or any other "art walk" of late?  It seems gallery visits are up there with basketball games, movies, raves and NASCAR. We're talking people who say things like "I'm really into art now. I like Banksy and I saw Exit Through The Gift Shop… it was rad…"

Is this newfound populism a bad thing ? In this nouveau socialist "art really shouldn't be the domain of the bourgeoisie, should it?" era, "As long as it sells," seems to be the answer (re-read aforementioned money mantra – it's not how you got it, but whether you've got it) nouveau socialist "art really shouldn't be the domain of the bourgeoisie, should it?" era, "As long as it sells," seems to be the answer (re-read aforementioned money mantra – it's not how you got it, but whether you've got it)

Kind of ironic considering the likes of Banksy's work has plummeted in price since its heyday in 2005. Populism does have its price - yet I don't think he has money issues. Rumor has it Mr. Robin Gunningham owns millions in real estate and even a London pub.

Art In The Streets is a spectacular, strongly curated show. There's a faux alleyway complete with darkness and trash, a steamroller, spray cans on shelves (wow?) and some nicely colored graphic work.

I'd be keen to ascertain revenue projections for this show at MOCA; I'm willing to bet it's a record for the museum.  Ultimately the act of graffiti is one generally synonymous with the immediate, a spontaneous social act, and a rhetorical anti-establishment gesture. Hence it being displayed in the hallowed white walls of a museum is contentious, incongruous, and paradoxical.

Still Art In The Streets isn't about kudos for the converted. It's about attendance numbers, like a commercial cinema showing a blockbuster action film. It's a huge draw for MOCA that will hopefully finance more adventurous, intellectual and exotic shows in the future.