Keeping the Streets Safe From Art
MOCA’s opening of Art in the Streets on Friday night, its well-curated show about street art, was jam-packed. The self-consciously hip, micro-skirted and designer eyeglass-framed listened to hip-hop outdoors, then crammed inside with other arts aficionados and many of the artists themselves to anoint street art with museum legitimacy.
This is the first major street art museum show, and MOCA’s to be commended for it. If I can take its director, Jeffrey Deitch, to task for whitewashing Blu’s mural, I can applaud him now.
The show renews your understanding that ambivalence is the price we pay for creative expression in our society.
The street art on display is, at its very essence, illegal. It comes from an outlaw spirit and is painted with an outsider’s spray-can. Any of this work would be painted over in our City’s streets. It is legit in a museum, but sends you to jail outside.
Literally sends you to jail. Earlier this month, the City forced a Valley Village resident to remove a mural she’d commissioned on her private property.
Meanwhile, MOCA covered the outside wall where Blu’s work had been with a strange and poorly-executed Americana mural by New York street artist Lee Quinones. Whereas Blu’s mural made a statement against the human and financial cost of our wars, it is hard to know what Quinones is getting at, other than a gesture of multi-cultural patriotism that feels as empty as Disneyland’s Main Street after the theme park closes.
Back at the Art in the Streets opening, it was impossible not to note that the surrounding buildings have been tagged in protest by street artists who didn’t get in or who object to some of MOCA’s prior approaches. An artists’ protest-performance accompanied the opening; video here.
Gang tags blight neighborhoods and foster criminal activity. I’m glad they’re illegal. But where does tagging stop and art begin?
I would happily tolerate murals I don’t like – on aesthetic or political grounds – as long as I knew I could support an artist who would paint something different elsewhere. I think our City would be much more beautiful and vibrant if there were murals everywhere. I’m uncomfortable that we have laws making private property owners erase art from their walls, even as we have more super-graphics, and digital billboards, and city buses rolling through our streets wrapped in images for the latest tent-pole movie.
I don’t think laws can define what art is, and I don’t want our legislators trying to write them. Maybe the best thing MOCA’s show does is make me feel my own ambivalence, and focus on our society’s collective inability to define just what art is.
The work in Art in the Streets is legal only because you have to pay to see it, and I admit that if I woke up tomorrow and found some rogue artist had sprayed my garage with the same work, I’d paint over it myself.
Yes, I’m ambivalent. Guess I live in LA.
Images: An opening night visitor prays with Banksy; an artist signs an autograph for a fan; Lee Quinones mural outside MOCA.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam Leipzig is the founder and CEO of MediaU, online career acceleration. MediaU opens the doors of access for content creation, filmmaking and television. Adam, Cultural Daily’s founder and publisher, has worked with more than 10,000 creatives in film, theatre, television, music, dance, poetry, literature, performance, photography, and design. He has been a producer, distributor or supervising executive on more than 30 films that have disrupted expectations, including A Plastic Ocean, March of the Penguins, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Dead Poets Society, Titus and A Plastic Ocean. His movies have won or been nominated for 10 Academy Awards, 11 BAFTA Awards, 2 Golden Globes, 2 Emmys, 2 Directors Guild Awards, 4 Sundance Awards and 4 Independent Spirit Awards. Adam teaches at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. Adam began his career in theatre; he was the first professional dramaturg in the United States outside of New York City, and he was one of the founders of the Los Angeles Theatre Center, where he produced more than 300 plays, music, dance, and other events. Adam is CEO of Entertainment Media Partners, a company that navigates creative entrepreneurs through the Hollywood system and beyond, and a keynote speaker. Adam is the former president of National Geographic Films and senior Walt Disney Studios executive. He has also served in senior capacities at CreativeFuture, a non-profit organization that advocates for the creative community. Adam is is the author of ‘Inside Track for Independent Filmmakers ’ and co-author of the all-in-one resource for college students and emerging filmmakers 'Filmmaking in Action: Your Guide to the Skills and Craft' (Macmillan). (Photo by Jordan Ancel)