In the coming days, LA Weekly will post extended interviews from its cover story on the MOCA show “Art in the Streets” that ran last week.
Aaron Rose, an “Art In the Streets” co-curator, has a long history with the street art movement and was integral player in the direction of the show. We checked in with Rose before the opening for his inside point of view.
The “Beautiful Losers” touring show was definitely a reference for “Art In the Streets.” How is the MOCA show different in terms of how you had to approach it?
There are certainly similarities between “Beautiful Losers” and “Art In The Streets,” but “Beautiful Losers” was on a much smaller scale. “Beautiful Losers” was an important exhibition at the time, and it marked a very fertile period in those artist's lives, but everything has grown ten-fold since then. Street art was really still pretty underground at that time. It's hard to say that about it now. Plus, the artists have matured quite a bit since then. The other big difference is that “Art In The Streets” is really about work done “on the streets.” “Beautiful Losers” cast a much wider net, focusing on painting, sculpture, photography, graphics, toys…and how all those elements figured into “street culture” in the global sense. It was a very diverse offering. We've decided to keep the “street” element defined pretty literally for MOCA, which makes sense and perhaps creates a more focused exhibition.
With a couple of the artists involved in “Art In the Streets,” corporate sponsorships are a big issue. How did you handle this, as underwriters are often necessary for museum shows?
Personally, I've never had much of an issue with sponsorship. Artists have always been sponsored. Look at the Medici family in the 14th century! Do you think they were any less evil than corporations today? Sometimes I think artists have a slightly skewed and idealistic view of how things should work. The point is that since the dawn of commercialism in the art world, someone has been “sponsoring” artists. Sometimes it's the government, sometimes it's a private party, sometimes it's a company…but there's always someone to answer to. Every major museum in the world has a huge corporate donor wall right when you walk in. In America especially, someone has to pay for culture. With this exhibition we are very lucky because we are working with brands that are already a huge part of this world. In my opinion, it is a very organic fit. They are companies who have invested heavily in street culture for years. They have helped it grow from the beginning, so it seems right to me. There is a common motive in the goals of both the brands and the overall exhibition.
Did you have anyone decline to be a part of the show?
I don't think so. If anyone did I can't remember now.
What are you most looking forward to as part of the show?
Personally, I'm most excited about the fact that there will finally be an exhibition in a major Los Angeles museum that truly appeals to the diverse communities that live in our city. So much of what happens in art in Los Angeles is very insider and completely uninteresting to average people. I can't wait to see families from all nationalities and walks of life walking through the halls of our exhibition. That aspect of this project is possibly even more interesting than the art for me. The modern museum experience needs to be redefined and I'm hoping our exhibition can help to aid in that process.
Explain a little bit about your extracurricular art programs with the schools and what you hope to accomplish with them.
Four years ago, I founded an educational project called Make Something!! It's a workshop-based program where we partner with contemporary artists, designers, musicians, filmmakers to provide alternative art and creative education for teenagers. I believe that creative thinking is under-appreciated in American high schools and Make Something!! is part of my personal quest to try to change that. There are two Make Something!! initiatives happening alongside “Art In The Streets.” The first is a partnership with the art department at Culver City High School. This is part of an ongoing project that MOCA has been doing with Culver High for fifteen years. This year, because the timing happened to coincide with our exhibition, we partnered with MOCA and The Seventh Letter to teach classes with street-culture related themes. Basically the students have started their own “hypothetical” street wear labels and are designing t-shirts, skateboards, spraypaint cans and a bunch of other stuff that will actually be produced and displayed at the museum. The other project is a collaboration between Make Something!! and Nike Skateboarding, which is one of the sponsors of the show. We will be teaching a series of workshops for teens on-site at the Geffen that relate to sneaker design, making skate films, designing boards, etc. Both projects are really exciting for us.
How would you compare the influence the Fun gallery vs. the influence the Alleged gallery on this art and its artists? Are you amazed at the evolution or was it something you expected?
The Fun gallery was kind of like Alleged's older sister. Fun happened ten years before us and along with a few similar spaces in the East Village, they did set the stage for that kind of art being accepted in New York City. I suppose when Alleged came along in the 1990s people were perhaps more ready to check it out as the result of their previous knowledge of places like Fun. In some ways I'm totally amazed at how much all these artists have grown. It's also completely intriguing to see who was popular then and who has actually managed to stay in the limelight. Art history is fickle. They're always shuffling the deck and I find the whole circus wonderfully entertaining.
Is there an artist or artists showing in “Art in the Streets” that you always wanted to work with or show at Alleged that you were not able to before?
I haven't had a gallery now for over ten years, but I do remember always wanting to do a show with Mister Cartoon in New York back then. The fact that his work is finally going to be seen in a major museum is beyond exciting to me. But seriously, I'm excited for all of the artists. It's a crazy show.