EVERYONE NEEDS TO SEE THE “BEYOND THE STREETS” EXHIBIT IN DTLA
By Katrina Froelich
Roger Gastman, the man who co-organized the Museum of Contemporary Art’s 2011 “Art in the Streets” survey, has recently put together an independent exhibition of more than 100 international graffiti and street artists. The exhibition, “Beyond the Streets,” opened May 6 and will be here in Los Angeles until July 6th.
Described as a “multimedia showcase of paintings, sculpture, photography, and installations,” the show sprawls over 40,000 square feet of industrial indoor and outdoor space. But even that doesn’t even come close to describe this exhibit, which is more than just a maze of colorful backdrops for your latest Instagram (although I’d be lying if I said it won’t improve your ‘gram feed). “Beyond the Streets” is an exploration of one of the most overlooked forms of art.
Graffiti, as most of us know, can be traced back to the late 1960s. Cornbread, who began tagging his name in his hometown of Philadelphia while in high school, is considered to be the first modern graffiti writer – at 65 years old, the artist now has his graffiti displayed on exhibit walls rather than just dumpsters and abandoned walls. Born as Darryl McCray, he acquired his quirky nickname at a juvenile corrections facility in 1967 when he complained to the cook about the white bread, saying he preferred his grandmother’s cornbread.
Since then, he began artistically tagging his name on the streets of Philly until he later graduated to more unusual surfaces – anything to get noticed. A Jackson 5 plane, police cars, and even an elephant at the Philadelphia zoo all donned his signature tag at one point. While he did gain early notoriety, it wasn’t until the 1980s that galleries even began to showcase graffiti as artwork. And even when they did, the installations were few and far between and they usually favored established white male artists, rather than those that look more like McCray.
Since then, graffiti has been more openly welcomed in the art community. Graffiti-style pieces now sell for thousands of dollars and cities are commissioning more and more street art (you know, so you can take a picture in front of it). Graffiti artists are starting to gain international fame – everyone remembers anything Banksy does and stencils by the Russian artist ‘Pavel 183’ have been sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Graffiti artists still face many challenges, and many people see graffiti as a problem, and particularly as a damage to public property. In the United States, graffiti in public places is illegal. In fact, the term “street art” was specifically coined in order to distinguish it from graffiti (the street artist had to gain permission in order to display their artwork in a public space, and the graffiti artist didn’t).
Gastman’s exhibit explores the evolution of graffiti and street art. It explores the use of graffiti for self-expression, political commentary and more. Gastman displays 100+ artists who have all made their mark (legally or illegally) in the world of graffiti. My personal favorite being the graphics and banners on display from the feminist activist artist collective “Guerilla Girls.”
“GUERRILLA GIRLS" POP QUIZ.
Q. If February is Black History Month and March is Women's History Month, what happens the rest of the year?
The exhibit also has some Los Angeles-specific highlights, like a historical re-creation of The Venice Pavilion that features graffiti from iconic writers from the Venice Beach community, and an outdoor garden installation by Ron Finley aka “The Gangsta Gardener” known for his illegal gardening projects in inner-city food deserts.
Long story short: This is 10000x better than The Museum of Ice Cream. And I would know – I went (and Instagrammed) both…
Katrina Froelich is the Fashion Editor at Tough to Tame. She’s worked in the fashion industry for over four years, gaining experience in PR and Editorial work at companies such as GUESS and Forme. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org