Art In The Streets

Nike SB recently teamed up with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles for a retrospective of the world's finest graffiti and street art

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There are countless exhibitions at any one time around the globe tackling different aspects of street art or related forms of creative output. But if you're interested in an all around inclusive retrospective, covering the past, present and future cornerstones of the art form, then there is really just one place to go. Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) recently launched the 'Art In The Streets' expo, tracing the history and cultural importance of graffiti and street art from the 1970s and on till today. Teaming up with Nike SB, among other sponsors, the ongoing event has managed to collect art from the likes of Banksy, Fab 5 Freddy, Lee Quiñones, Futura, Margaret Kilgallen, Swoon, Shepard Fairey, Os Gemeos and Keith Haring.

Co-curator Aaron Rose, who Dazed spoke to, drafted in Portland-based sportswear giant Nike partly because of its CEO, Mark Parker, and his proved knowledge, dedication and interest in street art. As a collector himself, Parker has previously steered Nike in a similar direction, as the 2009 'Stages' exhibit showed, where Parker worked with Jeffrey Deitch, the MoCA director. For 'Art In The Streets', Parker and Rose worked together on incorporating Nike's skateboard division into the exhibition by commissioning artists to produce 'skateable art'. Artists Lance Mountain and Geoff McFettridge built architectural art inside the venue, which a) blended in with the theme of the exhibition and b) worked as a ramp when the Nike SB pro skate team came in to give it a go.

So, whether you're a skate fan or not, the 'Art In The Streets' expo is well worth a visit. The space itself is great, perfectly allowing Rose and curator colleague Roger Gastman to mix and match some of the great street art path finders with contemporary and local L.A. talent with more pop cultural artists such as Larry Clark, Terry Richardson and Spike Jonze, whose work has perhaps moved on from the streets and made its way in to many people's homes...

Dazed Digital: What was your criteria on who to include, and not?
Aaron Rose: We chose artists for 'Art In The Streets' based on a variety of criteria. One was their influence on the street and pop culture and the other was their accomplishments in the gallery/museum world. As you can imagine making decisions was incredibly difficult. There was really no way to include everyone that we thought should be in this exhibition. Unfortunately we just didn't have the physical space.

DD: Could this expo be staged any where else but in America? How pivotal is the US to street art?
Aaron Rose: I think this exhibition could be staged anywhere. Street Art is a global movement now and has been for at least ten years. That said, having it originate in the USA, and specifically in Los Angeles has been very important for us. New York city has a lot of baggage when it comes to graffiti and street art and it would have been hard to organise from there. It would have been even more political that it has been for us here at MoCA. Having a bit of distance from the birthplace of the culture has allowed us a fresh perspective on the subject. This has been invaluable to us in terms of making decisions on how to structure the show.

DD: Is graffiti the original street art?
Aaron Rose: I think cave drawings are the original street art!

DD: How does street art compare to pop art in terms of cultural influence?
Aaron Rose: I think it's too early to tell really. Street Art is the first major movement in art that has had the same kind of cultural influence (outside of the art world) that Pop had. That said, aside from a fascination with comic-book imagery, they are both really different. I don't think we will really understand the relationships for another 20 years.

DD: Has anything else ever been staged on this scale in terms of street art expos?
Aaron Rose: Not to my knowledge. There have been many fantastic shows about Street Art. I co-curated 'Beautiful Losers' in 2005, but that was much smaller in scale. It was terrific at the time, but the culture has grown 20-fold since then.

DD: Who is at the forefront today?
Aaron Rose: Honestly, some unknown Mexican kid on a street corner is probably doing more interesting work than anyone in 'Art In The Streets'.

DD: Is it better when it's been created illegally?
Aaron Rose: I don't think you can compare the two. Good art is good art regardless of the context in which it is created.

DD: What are the best examples of street art finding its way into mainstream popular culture?

Aaron Rose: This is really an impossible question to answer. One could write an entire book on this subject. Street Art and the surrounding aesthetic has permeated everything! Music, fashion, film, advertising...it's everywhere! It's been like this for almost 20 years too! It's funny that we even ask this question anymore. It's the cultural aesthetic of our times.

DD: What's the 'must see' item in the expo?

Aaron Rose: Os Gemeos created a miniature subway car just outside the museum by the entrance. They decided to create the work about two days before the opening. In the frantic rush to get everything together, all the artists were running around crazy then we started hearing, "The twins are building a train!" everyone was like "What?". I went out to check it and there they were in the parking lot constructing a subway car. It was around 1:00am. It was so last minute and fantastic. Everyone should check
it out.

DD: In what way does Nike's involvement with the expo make sense?
Aaron Rose: Nike has been a major supporter of the street art community going on two decades now. Nike's are the default shoe for this world as well. The fit is totally organic. It's almost like having a friend on board. Everyone at Nike loves this art, collects it and supports the artists involved.

DD: How important are brands like Nike to the past, present and future of street art?
Aaron Rose: Street Art has never been afraid of branding. It's almost like it is the first creative generation that understands the power of the media and that having your art on mainstream products is just another way of communicating an idea. Andy Warhol understood this as well. However when Andy was alive the world was different. He had to approach it more conceptually. Now, the brands have caught up and this generation can finally make Warhol's dreams come true.

'Art In The Streets' is at Los Angeles' MoCA until August 8, 2011, and then opening at New York's Brooklyn Museum March 30, 2012

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