Posted by: cassymuronaka | August 19, 2011

Graffiti as art

Artist: Mr. Cartoon

There was a point during my tour of the “Art in the Streets” exhibition where I thought my sense data receptors would implode. As usual, my tribe and I were reaping the consequences of our procrastination as a family unit. The gigantic celebration of graffiti artists at the LA Contemporary Museum of Modern Art (MOCA)  was on its last day, and it drew hundreds of primarily young people who also had waited until the last minute to enjoy the installations on a hot, humid day, a day whose elements could not be overcome in a cavernous hall.

The visual and aural levels were off the charts. “Art in the Streets” itself was bright and loud, as were the attendees moving in a slow herd through the downtown museum.

Almost every person in the room was gripping a digital camera set on “no flash,” the only way you may shoot a piece of art in museums that permit photography.

This freedom to chronicle a visit to MOCA drove its guards bonkers, because of the subsequent traffic jam through the various rooms of “Art in the Streets.” With sweat dripping down their necks, the museum’s protectors used up a great deal of their workday trying to block the shutterbugs from carelessly backing into non-interactive displays, such as souped-up cars and a polluted putting green.  The guards spent the rest of their time carefully eyeballing the enthusiastic visitors who moved as close as possible to their favorite installation, in order to be photographed beside it.

Artists: Banksy and City of Angeles School students

There may be some who question the wisdom of presenting an art exhibit celebrating the illegal practice of graffiti, which many people equate with vandalism.  And as one who has logged a lot of time sitting in freeway traffic while gazing at gang wars expressed in spray paint on cement overpasses, very little of which neither expresses a deep artistic statement nor offers insightful comments on the human condition, I can understand and appreciate this attitude.  Nevertheless, I am glad I slogged my way through “Art in the Streets,” and I believe it to have been worthwhile for MOCA to curate.

For whether you like it or not, graffiti always has been with us.  It is from and for the people; you can find it buried under Vesuvian ash in Pompeii.  The tools of expression have just changed over the millennia.  So it probably behooves those of us not tiptoeing through the night with a can of Krylon to make a vague attempt to understand graffiti and pay attention to what is written and drawn.

But to you budding graffiti artists in cities across the nation, I do suggest that you find a canvas for your  political statements other than buildings of your grossly-underfunded school system and form of public transit. Removing paint from an elementary school is considerably more difficult today than it was a couple of thousand years ago, when all you did was throw a bucket of water at the natural pigments used on the wall of a Roman catacomb to anonymously demand a new emperor.

Artist: Kenny Scharf

Note: My apologies to two of the artists for lack of credit.  I couldn’t find wall info for their work, and the guards were helpless.


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