Contemporary art USA

Does street art show encourage graffiti?

LA sees rise in tagging in museum district—will the same happen in Brooklyn?

LA street artist Smear (aka Cristian Gheorghiu) was arrested shortly before the LA Moca show opened

LOS ANGELES. Few would argue that “Art in the Streets”, the current exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (LA Moca, until 8 August), has been a failure. The show is on track to break the museum’s attendance records with 22,000 visitors in the opening week, according to arts news website Arrested Motion, and it seems to have attracted a new audience to the museum. None­theless, the exhibition has also created controversy: an apparent increase in vandalism in the local area has led to a police crackdown. With the show scheduled to move to the Brooklyn Museum in March 2012, some are concerned that similar issues will arise on the East Coast.

“We respect the right to have an art exhibition but we demand the security of other people’s property,” said Jack Richter, a senior lead officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, adding that there has been “an enormous amount of vandalism in the Little Tokyo area, near the LA Moca entrance”. The museum’s director Jeffrey Deitch admitted that there had been issues with “some of the young taggers who are anarchic”, adding: “It’s a language of youth culture, and we can’t stop it. It goes with the territory.”

But tagging teenagers were not the ones attracting the headlines. Several high-profile artists, including Invader, Smear and Revok have been taken into custody since the show started in April. Revok was arrested while boarding a plane to Los Angeles for breaching parole from a previous, graffiti-related conviction. He had his bail set at a staggering $320,000 and was eventually sentenced to 180 days in jail. For many, this summed up the contradictory nature of the show. An artist famed for his illegal work is invited to show at a museum but subsequently arrested for his artistic endeavours. The police clampdown “became almost like a carnival game, like shooting fish in a barrel”, according to Monica LoCascio, author of the Stickers street art books and arts editor of Paper magazine online.

It is no secret that New York has had a difficult relationship with street art. The amount of property being defaced in the 1980s led to drastic measures. Strict policing, particularly of the city’s subway system, resulted in a number of arrests and a significant decrease in “tagging” (leaving an identifying signature) and “bombing” (making a quickly painted, large piece of graffiti).

New Yorkers need not worry about an increase in vandalism, said Arnold Lehman, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, who maintained that the exhibition will neither celebrate nor glamourise graffiti: “It’s a historical show. It serves the purpose of documenting graffiti and the street art movement and their shift from informal to much more formal categories. We wouldn’t undertake this exhibition unless we knew we were going to act respectfully and responsibly.”

And what about the impressionable youngsters that idolise the artists in the show? “We’ll be engaging with them too,” said Lehman. “For every exhibition, we do a whole range of programmes to engage with local people. From organisations which help create murals to people who allow others to legally paint on their walls, there will be plenty of opportunities for people to express themselves creatively in an environment that’s controlled and structured.”

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11 Jan 12
22:34 CET


I rarely read the newspaper but one day this article caught my attention. it was some art exibit that had naked bodies or peoples heads laying on table while rich people ate food, and i thought "WOW thats considered art?" and people literally risking their lives and freedom to do something amazing on a wall. FOR FREE, isnt considered art? that just makes me sick. i really hope they lessen the charges on people who do graffiti because those artists are the ones who truly love what they do

12 Jul 11
3:50 CET


In answer to all the dull narrow-minded comments on here yes, it is art. Most graffiti is as much a part of the art world as 'outsider' & 'art brut' as well as the tradition of community murals. Basqiat & Haring are a couple of your homegrown art world-assimlated artists. But of course urban graffiti is a new thing that only goes back a few thousand years to ancient Greece & beyond(Romans LOVED tagging!) Teenagers will always tag, you only have to question a persons maturity if they're still doing it when they're in their 20's-30's. & no, graffiti 'pieces' are not tagging, neither are stencils. 'Pieces' take hours, sometimes days to complete, & often at no cost to the public. In laymans terms a 'piece' is a mural & murals don't need to be buffed (i.e. painted over by the authorities.) Most 'street art' is free art, yet most public advertising is done without your permission & makes every product we buy cost more. Brown & grey painted walls are dull things for dull people

5 Jul 11
16:8 CET


I hope that some graffiti-'artists' will decorate LA Moca and other galleries and museums which exhibit graffii.

28 Jun 11
21:25 CET


I think it is Art. It is created to make a statement, it is by definition art. I enjoy it, it makes me think. It is illegal to paint on someone's property without permission but that doesn't mean the painting itself is not art. It is in some cases great urban art, a sort of pop culture and political art. I am glad it is getting some recognition. Will a show encourage more if it... absolutely.

27 Jun 11
20:59 CET


'Its all because technically Museums don't usually illustrate nor celebrate our American "Urban Culture" normally and therefore you have creativity exploding at its very core radiating to all parts of the landscape around the world. This show traveling to the Brooklyn Museum is a welcome home exhibition for all the B-Boys & B-Girls who decided to take it to the streets back in the day and prove that the"Ghetto" has real people in it with dreams of success on their minds not just drugs,hookers and hustlers. These suburban new jack "graffic" artists with their stickers and stencils should be arrested for lack of creativity & talent not just vandalism. I'm going to renew my membership just in time so I can see the exhibition and chill with some old school friends. Viva la Hip HOP-KaM©

13 Jun 11
11:5 CET


Of course it legitimizes the defacement of public and private property. If you think otherwise you don't live in the "hood".

10 Jun 11
15:15 CET


I was unaware that museum mandates involved the celebration (or even recognition) of vandalism as an “art” form. Amazing! Why not celebrate the horrors of big city garbage laden streets, the abandoned sections of industrial towns, the spread of feces on an angry toddler’s bedroom wall, the urban areas we allocate to poverty? These are just as valid “self-expressions” as graffiti is. What is it museums want to show? Our "who gives a damn" attitudes from which contemporary democracy suffers or simply the victimhood we seem to embrace? Legitimizing graffiti is a clear example of the submission of our value systems to the world of anarchy. Incredible! We really are in the lowest common denominator segment of the past century aren't we. . .

9 Jun 11
5:15 CET


Yes it was for a parole violation but he was on parole because of graffiti so there you have it. As far as the museum in Brooklyn being able to control illegal graffiti, good luck! Legal walls are nice and all but the nature of graffiti and street art does not lend itself well to legality. If this exhibit were truly about the history of it they would know that. It's not just about the art it's about getting up. Legal walls are great for practice but other than that they are prohibitive and a good place to get busted.

8 Jun 11
16:47 CET


It looks to me by what was written in this article that Revok was arrested for parole violation not being an Artist. I have seen the show and it is not that good. It is better suited for the LA County museum and not a contempary museum.

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