The Art in the Streets exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (MOCA), which has an opening party on Saturday, April 16th, followed by an official run starting Sunday, April 17th through August 8th, is unique in that it is the first major museum survey of the history of graffiti and street art to be presented in the United States. And what an exhibit it promises to be, with 50 impressive installations by diverse artists from the graffiti and street art community, dating back to the seventies and including such globally known figures as Fab 5 Freddy, Lee Quiñones, Futura, Margaret Kilgallen, Swoon, Shepard Fairey, Os Gêmeos, and JR (the Paris artist whose guerrilla street photo art won him a TED award this year).
The MOCA exhibit also gives much shine to the photographers and filmmakers who've tirelessly documented graffiti and street art culture, including early graffiti documenters Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant, and James Prigoff, with a comprehensive time-line illustrated with artwork, photography, video, and ephemera.
Fittingly, the LA exhibit will place an emphasis on the vital role that Los Angeles has played in the evolution of graffiti and street art (including special sections dedicated to cholo graffiti and Dogtown skateboard culture and featuring projects by such local artists as Mister Cartoon, SABER, REVOK, and RISK).
The Art In the Streets exhibit should appeal to fans of modern art as well as hip-hop culture & graffiti fans everywhere. Saturday night's opening party for MOCA members is a must-attend event, since in addition to all the visual art it will also feature hip-hop music and dance performances. Displaying their skills on the mic will be the stars of the Charlie Ahearn's definitive hip-hop culture film Wild Style, Busy Bee, and the Cold Crush Brothers with Grandmaster Caz. Also in the house (the house being the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA) will be the award-winning LA b-boy crew Killafornia. Charlie Ahearn himself, who is one of the Art in the Street exhibition's curators, will be flying out from New York for the exhibit. Last weekend I ran into Ahearn at Don Hill's in New York City, at a screening of his recent hip-hop short film All City (see below) that features young Brooklyn crew Nine 11 Thesarus, where he told me he was really psyched to be a part of this exciting LA exhibit. A couple of days ago I followed up with the legendary hip-hop director to ask him about his role in the MOCA Art in the Streets exhibit and what LA audiences can expect from both the exhibit and this weekend's opening party.
"I’ve been on the phone with Grand Master Caz and JDL and they are going to kill it, believe me," enthused Ahearn of the Cold Crush Brothers, who headline Saturday's opening party and also have a panel & performance at 5pm the day before (April 15) in Long Beach at the AXÉ LA Cultural Center.
According to MOCA the goal of Ahearn's section is to document his seminal hip-hop film's influence on the "global dissemination of graffiti and hip-hop culture" This week Ahearn said MOCA organizers invited him to be a part of the project "To show work related to the time making Wild Style; [it] was a way of bringing hip-hop roots material into the mix. I had done a large exhibition at Deitch Projects in 2002, Yes Yes Y’all, [also the title of the spin-off book he co-authored with Jim Fricke, published at the same time} largely of my early photographs from the South Bronx taken while developing the movie. Back in 1980 I was doing regular slide shows in Bronx rap clubs which were like visualizing my movie; images of hitting trains in the subway yard, performers in the hip-hop clubs, etc." This was the artistic groundwork that led up to his famous hip-hop film that was released theatrically in 1983 but has remained a potent primer to hip-hop culture for every generation since.
Ahearn's contributions to the MOCA show all date back to those years of research leading up to Wild Style. "For this show I added posters and flyers from that time to help tell how it all happened; like how my [late 1970's feature film] The Deadly Art of Survival Super 8 kung fu movie led me to Lee Quinones [who would go on to play the central graffiti artist role of Zoro in Wild Style], and The Time Square Show to meet Fab 5 Freddy, and rap posters with [Grandmaster] Flash and The Furious Five and The Cold Crush Bros," he said of the hip-hop artists who would all later star in Wild Style.
"I am also excited to be showing for the first time the original painted cells for the Wild Style animated titles designed by Andy Witten (ZEPHYR). It will be three walls of photos, posters, flyers and videos. Because I am psyched to be exhibiting next to Futura’s space in MOCA, I included a huge scratched slide image of Futura doing a hand stand back in 1980!"
One of the exhibition's highlights will be a Los Angeles version of Street Market, a re-creation of an urban street complete with overturned trucks by Todd James, Barry McGee (aka TWIST), and Steve Powers. Art in the Streets will also feature a memorial presentation of Battle Station, a rarely seen work by the late great graffiti artist, sculptor, musician, and (Gothic Futurism) theorist RAMMELLZEE (who died last year at age 49). Graffiti artists/fans will be sure to enjoy the display of graffiti black books that will be on display. If you attend the vast exhibit be sure to spend some time in the installation dedicated to the Fun Gallery, which connected New York graffiti artists with the downtown art community in the early 1980s, which will feature the work of Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the graffiti artists who shaped the gallery’s history. That's where you will find Ahearn's section. The Art in the Streets exhibition will open with a skate ramp designed by pro-skater Lance Mountain and artist Geoff McFetridge with skate demonstrations held onsite for the duration of the exhibition, which runs from Sunday, April 17th through August 8th, with the opening party this Saturday. visit the MOCA website for full details.
The ever-active Charlie Ahearn, whose short film Bongo Barbershop (see below, along with his All City short, and a clip from Wild Style) screened earlier this month during the NY African Film Festival, is finishing up his next project. A documentary titled Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer will be be premiered at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn NY in mid June. Note that the Art in the Streets exhibition will also be at the Brooklyn Museum next year from March 30th to July 8th, 2012.
Wild Style excerpt with Coldcrush Brothers vs Fantastic Freaks
Charlie Ahearn's Bongo Barbershop