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‘Street’ Scenes

May 21, 2011

Crash course

My favorite downtown LA succulents, the aloe trees at the Geffen Contemporary at MoCA in Little Tokyo, get to interact with the works in its current show, ‘Art in the Streets’. The art in the photo above would be the MTA bus with graffiti on its windshield … depending on whether you think graffiti is art or eyesore (my policy is it can be one or the other, or both at once), this show is provocative, stunning, and full of street-wise energy.

So street

The show is a comprehensive history of graffiti as art form, in all its permutations. From the earliest simple tags, to more recent painterly efforts, to current works by bona-fide art world superstars, it does not skimp on colorful eye-candy. Here’re my fave pieces outside MoCA.


This cheerily enormous mural by artist RIME came to be when MoCA was tagged ‘illegally’ a week before the show’s opening, by another — uninvited — graffiti artist named KATSU. Click here to see RIME’s mural in progress, and, here, to see video of the tagging-by-fire-extinguisher that took place in broad daylight, that it replaced. Ironically, MoCA’s celebration of street artists would seem to be by invitation only.


British art world graffiti superstar (and mysterious recluse), Banksy, contributes a steamrolled Yogi Bear. Kinda grim, kinda hilarious, this piece is considerably more whimsical than his usual offerings, but still, a bloody mess!

Past and present

Hoisted atop the pedestal formed by MoCA’s DJ/ticket booth, a New York subway car is splashed with colorful tags that hearken back to graffiti’s early days. Below, the booth itself was painted by Brazilian art twins, Os Gêmeos, in their trademark colorful-sad style. If you notice above the window, on the right, what looks like a skittering blue video game figure is actually a piece by “tile taggers”, Space Invaders. Their mission, to emblazon buildings worldwide with their pixelated mosaic video game creatures, they’re participants in MoCA’s show. They were also arrested by police at MoCA after being found lurking at a nearby historic Little Tokyo building with grout and tile in their possession. Spray paint, fire extinguishers, tile-n-grout: tools of mischief and alt. art mediums.

Enormous complexity

This massive mural, the work of Lee Quiñones & A-Team, was commissioned to cover an earlier mural by BLU. Controversial because of its images of coffins shrouded with giant dollar bills, its being painted over was a controversial move on the part of new MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch. Not known to be squeamish about the more outré works he showed and commissioned in New York before coming West, his decision was unexpected and met with cries of censorship. That aside, I can’t think of a more ‘nice’ replacement than this one. Called ‘Birds of a Feather’, it’s a much more feel-good piece. A symbolic representation of the struggles of various groups in the United States, it is complex and engaging.

Close up

It’s also very beautiful and a much more painterly effort. To see photos of this enormous work in progress, and get a better sense of the efforts of the artists who produced it, click here. I plan to actually go inside the exhibition at some point before it closes, photos I’ve seen online look amazing: colorful installations abound and pieces by many of my favorite artists are represented. Paul and I can drive up on a Saturday, check out the show at a more leisurely pace and have a meal in Little Tokyo — there’s a great yakitori restaurant nearby that features a delicious array of Tokyo style grilled skewers …

MoCA’s Art in the Streets exhibit at the Geffen Contemporary, continues until August 8, 2011. Click here for the MoCA website and for further information.

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