Graffiti and street art show to take over MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary in 2011


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Anyone wondering what Jeffrey Deitch’s next step will be as the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art now has an answer. In two words: street art.

Local artists and gallery owners have been whispering about the possibility, and this week Deitch confirmed his plans for a 2011 show. ‘We’re going to send out the press release in a few weeks,’ he says. ‘Right now we’re trying to iron out sponsorship. It’s going to be the first major museum survey of the history of graffiti and street art presented in the United States.’


The show is called ‘Art in the Streets,’ not to be confused with ‘Born in the Streets,’ recently staged by the Cartier Foundation in Paris. Deitch says the MOCA endeavor will be bigger, broader and more historical in sweep. ‘A show at this level has never been done anywhere.’

The choice of subject is no surprise to anyone who knows Deitch. Since the 1970s, he has supported New York artists like Lee Quinones, Futura, Fab 5 Freddy, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. More recently, Deitch Projects, his former gallery, showed the work of California anti-heroes Barry McGee and Shepard Fairey.

The MOCA show will cover the 1970s through the present, including international street-art stars such as Banksy from London and Space Invader from Paris. (‘Banksy is very excited about the show,” says Deitch. How does he know, considering Banksy’s notoriously elusive nature? ‘We communicate through his assistant Holly.’)

But also expect a substantial focus on Los Angeles: the legacy of cholo graffiti in the 1970s, the

influence of New York Wild Style graffiti starting in the ‘80s and skateboarding-fueled art of the ‘90s.

‘About 25 artists will be invited to do major installations or murals,’ says MOCA’s director. “But in terms of all the artists represented there will be more than 100.’ One installation already confirmed: Mister Cartoon’s Ice Cream Truck, shown above, the work of an L.A. graffiti artist now famous for creating tattoos for the famous (think Eminem and Beyoncé).


To organize the exhibition, Deitch is working with two L.A.-based curators: Aaron Rose of ‘Beautiful Losers’ renown and graffiti guru Roger Gastman. Fred Brathwaite, better known as Fab 5 Freddy, is serving as a curatorial advisor from New York.

Rose says he’s excited to see MOCA take street art seriously. “Because there’s a criminal edge or outlaw vibe, it doesn’t get the same respect that art coming out of academia gets,’ he says. ‘But you can’t deny the cultural importance it has had in art, music and fashion of the last 20 years.”

He thinks the exhibition has huge crossover potential to reach new museumgoers in the city’s Latino and African American communities, and teenagers across the map. ‘I don’t think MOCA has done anything on this scale,’ Rose says. ‘The sheer number of kids who will come to this museum will be mind-blowing.”

The show is slated to open at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary in April 2011. ‘I decided I had to do this in my first season at MOCA,’ Deitch says. ‘I didn’t want to waste time opening up the museum to a larger audience.’ -- Jori Finkel


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