Art in the Streets: What You Missed at MOCA

10 Aug

Os Gemeos

'Untitled, 2010' by Os Gemeos

The award for the most talked about LA art show of the summer must go to MOCA’s Art in the Streets exhibit. The long-gestating project of MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch garnered more than its share of attention before the exhibit even opened thanks to controversy over an anti-war mural. If you’re not familiar with the “mural incident,” the short version is that MOCA commissioned Italian street artist Blu to create a mural leading up to the exhibit. The museum did not get a proposal from the artist before he started the work, and when he created an anti-war mural of dollar bills draping coffins, whitewashed the mural before it opened to the public. Bringing street art into a respected museum on such a grand scale was not going to be without some difficulties, but MOCA bungled this from the starting gates.


I hate Mondays by Banksy

Despite this misstep, I was excited to check out the exhibit and tried not to read much about it because I wanted to form my own opinions. When I finally paid a visit to MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo a day before the show ended, my first impression was positive. Accompanied by Mark & Angela of iFlipForFood, I was impressed by the scale of the exhibit and was extremely stimulated by the amount of vibrant art packed into the warehouse space. I was introduced to many artists I was not familiar with, such as Os Gemeos, and got to spend some time with favorites such as Banksy & Shepard Fairey. I especially enjoyed the following accompaniment to the above “I hate Mondays” piece completed by Banksy in 2010:

“Girlfriend:  So what does it mean?
Me: It was inspired by the famine in Darfur. It’s one of the most complicated stencils I’ve ever cut.
Girlfriend: That must have been terrible.
Me: It’s not so bad if you use a sharp knife.
Girlfriend: I meant the famine in Darfur.
Me: Oh yeah, totally.


"Stained Window" by Banksy & Students from City of Angels School

For the first half hour, I excitedly rushed from room to room, eager to see what surprise was around the corner. There were some wonderful pieces, lots of stimulation, and the feeling that this was an “important” event. However, my excitement started to wane as I realized that the exhibit was the art equivalent of a sugar rush: makes you feel good at first, but the hard realization that you didn’t consume anything of substance. There were minor efforts to show a timeline of the evolution of graffiti art, but for the most part it was people just wandering from room to room hoping to see “something cool.” The exhibit didn’t waste time on context, discussions of individual pieces, or even basic things like flow. I felt disappointed, and very grateful that I had watched the wonderful Banksy documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” so I could at least surround pieces in some context.


It was a trip

My thoughts closely mirror those of Lauren Licata at The Constrvct,  “The show offers no historical context and imparts nothing at face value. Colossal names and expansive art groupings provide considerable examples of the urban movement’s visual language, but their significance goes unexplained, leaving novice viewers an assortment of historical imagery alone, and even intermediate attendees the unaided task of piecing it all together. Taken as a whole, the show embodies the ‘Tumblr’ of museum exhibitions- a collection of pretty pictures, a vague assertion of their significance, and minimal content. Bottom line, don’t expect to leave this exhibit more knowledgeable than when you came in.”


I did love the Shepard Fairey room

I left the exhibit not knowing much more than when I walked in the doors. However, it was still a treat to see pieces by so many talented artists in one room. I definitely got my $10 worth. Although I don’t regret going in the least, I can’t help but be disappointed when I think of what the exhibit could have been.


Looks even more real when you see them move

201,352 visitors saw the exhibit during the almost four month run. This surpassed the previous record of 195,000 set by the Andy Warhol Retrospective exhibit in 2002 (my first introduction to MOCA). With the popularity of the exhibit, especially among younger audiences that might not make it to a lot of major museum exhibits, I’m sure we will be seeing more of these two exhibits in the future. Here’s to hoping that a more thoughtful approach is taken.

MORE PICTURES can be found on TreasureLA’s flickr. 

The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
152 North Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA, 90013



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