What does the “Art in the Streets” exhibit mean for California and the “street art” movement overall?
The fact that this is the first official survey of Graffiti & Street Art by a major art institution makes it incredibly significant. It’s not very punk rock to say it’s nice to see all this work in an institutional setting, but in life, there’s a natural arc to things, and graffiti and street artists have worked in obscurity for little or no money—aside from some rare exceptions—for so long, it’s definitely time their efforts get the official recognition they deserve. This art is ephemeral by nature, and it deserves its place in the history books. The only way that will happen is through shows like this.
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Why do you think it took so long for an art museum to formally recognize this genre of art?
The art world is basically split into four distinct factions: the artists who make art, the dealers who sell art, the institutions that enshrine/sanctify art, and the fans who love looking at art. The dealers who sell art, no matter how pure their intentions may be, are ultimately motivated by profit, which makes them quicker-moving and adaptable to trends and stylistic shifts, both micro and macro, in art. Because of this, almost all meaningful exhibitions of graffiti and street art have been held in private art galleries where the work is for sale. The institutions that enshrine and sanctify art are totally removed from that commercial aspect and focused on writing the academic history of the art world in the public eye as they see fit. Unfortunately, as we all know from our incomplete childhood educations, history is totally subjective and curators and museum directors are oftentimes very removed from the passionate, explosive creative process of the artists, and out-of-sync with popular movements in real time. In many cases, the last art movements a lot of these people were able to relate to personally were Abstract and Pop Art, leaving a huge gap in the story. When curators can’t relate to the work or understand its meaning and relevance in depth, it’s nearly impossible for them to be motivated to sanctify that work for the public to see. Luckily, in Jeffrey Deitch, we have a museum director who totally understands the relevance of this work, and most importantly, it’s connection to the art movements that came before it, and that’s the reason a show like “Art in the Streets” was able to happen.
Do you think this show has the power to effect bigger change in the museum world?
It’s the institutional art world’s duty to educate the public about important art movements like this, and perhaps no single body of work has been as important in the public sphere in the last 20 years as the emergence of graffiti and street art. It’s now achieved a level of influence that only Pop Art before it was able to maintain. Luckily, above all else, the museum world is ultimately driven by attendance numbers. That means, no matter how resistant they may be to showing this type of work in a museum setting like with “Art in the Streets,” when they ultimately see the numbers of bodies that came through the doors at MoCA to visit this show, they’ll be forced to come to terms with the fact that this is the art people want to see. Most importantly, young people, who make up an increasingly dwindling percentage of museum attendance, have been coming to the show in droves. At Art in the Streets you literally see generations of families coming to view it together, parents and grandparents bringing their kids to see the work and getting excited by the energy of the art when they experience it in person.
You’re a part of the artist series of Trucker jackets that “Art in the Streets” sponsor Levi’s produced for sale at the show. In your opinion, what cultural significance does the Levi’s trucker jacket hold and why was this an important collaboration?
The Trucker jacket is a significant piece in that it’s one of the few fashion icons that has managed to mean something important to almost every demographic and ideology of youth culture movement since it was first introduced. It’s very rare that a single garment can mean so much to kids in the graffiti, hip-hop, punk rock, heavy metal, and skate worlds simultaneously without undergoing any significant changes along the way. The Levi’s jackets made for this show really track that relevance, tracing the evolution from people like Crash and Lady Pink who were some of the OG graffiti artists who painted on jackets in the 1970s & 80s to people like Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring who were the pioneers of the artistic brand collaborations we see today, up to people like myself and Neck Face who both represent different factions of art and pop culture, but have close ties to the jacket’s aesthetic and connection to music culture. Most importantly, Levi’s donated these jackets to the museum, and all profits from the sales go directly to MoCA to fund the show.
How has “street art” changed over the past several years?
By nature, graffiti and street art are totally evolving genres that are in constant flux. It’s important to understand that straight-up street graffiti is the ultimate origin point for all of this, but obviously, the so-called “Street Art” side of things has been most popular lately. I’d be lying if I didn’t say the down side to Street Art’s popularity is the legion of bad imitators it spawned, but like the Ramones gave birth to a million bad punk bands, ultimately, we’ll see some Dead Boys, Clashes, and Nirvanas coming out of this sooner than later.
What’s something you never leave the house without?
My Diabetes monitor. It’s hard-wired in. If I left the house without it, I wouldn’t be coming back. Oh, and stickers…
Interview by Pete Williams
Photo by Jon Furlong
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