Journalists, artists, museum administrators and other members of the art community — a few hundred, it seemed — came out for the press preview of MOCA's “Art in the Streets” exhibit yesterday at the Geffen Contemporary space.
“This is an exhibition but it is also a celebration of a community of artists,” said MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch, who began the proceedings by addressing the crowd right outside the museum, in front of a blue, purple and pink bus created by Risk.
“Virtually every great artist in this field is participating in this show,” Deitch added. “If you go inside you'll see there's a historical section but there are also about 30 major solo exhibitions that artists have created…It reminded me of the Arensale in the Venice Biennale during installation, with all the great artists from around the world here at once.”
The speeches — from Deitch, the curators Aaron Rose and Roger Gastman and the hip-hop pioneer and graffiti artist Fab 5 Freddy, who's represented in the show — included a lot of lofty rhetoric to match the occasion, the opening of the first street art retrospective in a major American museum. To Deitch, the Kenny Scharf mural is “incredible,” the works by Mister Cartoon “will astound you” and a painting by Lee Quinones is “astonishing” and a “masterpiece.” Rose told the crowd, “This is something you will never experience again.”
Deitch also mentioned the special bonus artist we refer to in our “Art in the Streets” roll call, but still didn't say his name. “We never got a straight answer about whether he was able to participate our not,” Deitch said, but his work did make it into the exhibit, in an installation that included a eye-popping stained-glass-themed painting.
(It should be noted that the crowd seemed blissfully unaware of the graffiti vandalism that the neighborhood has attracted in the wake of the exhibit.)
Inside the gallery was an explosion of street art and graffiti paintings, sculptures and installations, some of which were still getting their finishing touches. TAKI 183 and Cornbread tagged the white wall space right above their mention in the 1960s section of the historical timeline upstairs.
“I like the idea that they acknowledge me as the first one to start this culture,” Cornbread, known as the father of graffiti, told LA Weekly, though he was disappointed his city of Philadelphia didn't get enough love in the introductory remarks.
At one point, skateboarders started using the mini skatepark that's installed right inside the doors. Among the onlookers was Fab 5 Freddy. “Everything just overwhelms me,” he told LA Weekly. “There are paintings of mine I haven't seen in 20 years. There's a clip of me in the Fun Gallery talking at my show 20-plus years ago I never fucking saw. I was like almost collapsing in that. Lee's painting, which he worked on for two or three months, wouldn't tell any of us, I just saw yesterday — it was an emotional moment.
“I've never been in an art show this mega and encompassing. They compared it biennales but that's like a kabillion artists from everywhere. This is like a movement, you know, with a frame around it. You couldn't ask for anything better. Kids skateboarding — give me a fucking break, like what museum has ever done this? That shows how real and alive and relevant it is. It's just beyond description. It's cooler than — you couldn't dream this shit up, you'd be like, 'Get out of here, that can't happen. What the fuck — they're going to be skateboarding in a museum, painting with [the World War II graffiti character] Kilroy and shit like that?' You know what I mean?” We do.
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