L.A.'s Geffen Museum Gets A "Wild Style" Of Its Own
“What does that say?”
A thin brunette woman stands inquisitively at the end of a long line, hip jutted and peering thoughtfully at something in front of her. She snaps a picture, as though a photograph would help her understand it more.
What she’s gazing at is an odd-looking city bus, emblazoned on either side with vibrant colors. Atomic orange, rich cerulean, and sweet lavender intertwine around enormous bubble letters spelling something illegible. The design spans the entire length of the vehicle.
“Um… ‘Big’? I think it says ‘Big,’” replies a man with a slightly askew newsboy cap next to her, equally perplexed.
A few moments of study delivers the answer.
“Oh, it says ‘Risk.’” Satisfied with their discovery, the pair moves on to other topics, anxiously awaiting the gallery inside.
The artwork, done by graffiti artist Risk in the intertwined “Wild Style” letters often found on the New York subways, is just one of hundreds of street art pieces displayed at The Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Art in the Streets” exhibit.
The show, which opened April 17th, is housed in The Geffen Contemporary Museum and attempts to chronicle the evolution of street art.
The young man and woman are just two of numerous overheated bodies crammed grudgingly together in line, fanning themselves in the humid spring air as they wait impatiently for the unobtrusive double doors to open.
Walking into the museum is like walking into a Wonderland of color.
Blinking light installations, chaotic video reels, haphazard posters, glowing blacklit rooms, and Dada-esque furniture pieces populate the downstairs portion of the space. A more cut-and-dry (though informative) timeline of graffiti culture engulfs the upstairs level.
However, in spite of the professional treatment of an anti-establishment art, the exhibit has been rife with controversy—much like the art form itself.
Museum curator Jeffrey Deitch ordered a mural he commissioned for the exhibit from an Italian street artist known as “Blu” painted over in early December due to the “offensive content” (namely, rows of soldier’s coffins draped with one dollar bills rather than the traditional American flag). The response to this move was not positive amongst many in the artist community, particularly Blu.
“It is censorship that almost turned into self-censorship when they asked me to openly agree with their decision to erase the wall,” Blu said.
“Deitch invited me to paint another mural over the one he erased, and I will not do that.”
Reactionary graffiti has also been popping up all over the surrounding community, mostly from artists in support of the exhibit.
A French graffiti artist known as “Space Invader” was recently arrested after being found with pieces of blue tile and grout. Space Invader, who leaves tile replicas of characters from a video game of the same name all over the world, was detained by the Los Angeles Police Department.
“The exhibit kind of glorifies graffiti," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Augie Pando. "It puts taggers on front street."
But in spite of these rather salient obstacles, the show opened to immense critical acclaim.
“I like how accessible it was,” said Hallie Mayer, a University of California, Irvine student who drove up to see the exhibit. “There was something for everyone - color, light, sounds, bold shapes and images, as well as wit, defiance, bravery, and history. No matter what type of experience you like to have with art, that exhibit had something to provide for you.”
Mayer, whose mother is an art teacher, says she has always found graffiti a captivating form of expression. “I think the thing I find most fascinating was seeing the evolution of graffiti over time from a simple marking of turf into a bold socio-political art form. It was also exciting to see the variety of styles and mediums that street art encompasses - it's not just spray paint any more, it's everything anyone can get their hands on,” Mayer said.
The show certainly does use every imaginable medium. A street scene constructed almost like a set overtakes much of the back portion of the museum, with bombastic neon signs and simulations of gritty city sidewalks.
World-renowned street artist and man of mystery Banksy features in the exhibit as well, with a satirical ode to commercialism invading a free-form art.
Numerous rainbow-hued, graffiti-tagged panels coat the far back wall of the museum, which Banksy overlaid with thick black paint designed in the shape of a vaulted Gothic stained glass window. In the front of the piece kneels a small hooded figure in front of a paint can, worshipping at the window. Accentuating the display to the left is a taxidermied dog peeing on an empty painting frame.
Mr. Cartoon makes an artistic appearance alongside Banksy with an ice cream truck that looks like it rolled out of an episode of “Pimp My Ride.” Half-naked women, candy, and “beater” cars adorn the side of the burnt-orange truck in a symbolic ode to the Los Angeles lowrider culture.
The exhibit will be open until August 8th, 2011. It will relocate to the Brooklyn Museum from March 30th-July 8th, 2012.
To find out more information on the Geffen Museum’s “Art in the Streets” exhibit, go to www.moca.org.
Reach Lindy here.