Monday, April 25, 2011

L.A. celebrates graffiti/tagging vandalism

Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos

Radical Graffiti Chic
by Heather Mac Donald
City Journal

MOCA’s exhibit, Art in the Streets (reviewed here), is the inaugural show of its new director, Jeffrey Deitch, a former New York gallery owner and art agent. Deitch’s now-shuttered Soho gallery showcased vandal-anarchist wannabes whose performance pieces and installations purported to strike a blow against establishment values and capitalism, even as Deitch himself made millions serving art collectors whose fortunes rested on capitalism and its underpinning in bourgeois values. MOCA’s show (which will also survey skateboard culture) raises such inconsistencies to a new level of shamelessness. Not only would MOCA never tolerate uninvited graffiti on its walls (indeed, it doesn’t even permit visitors to use a pen for note-taking within its walls, an affectation unknown in most of the world’s greatest museums); none of its trustees would allow their Westside mansions or offices to be adorned with graffiti, either...

Property owners bring graffiti on themselves, according to Deitch. “You’ll be blasted if you use roll-down gates or if you don’t keep your property up and be welcoming,” he asserted. Nonsense. Graffitists don’t distinguish among “welcoming” and “unwelcoming” proprietors; they hit the most eye-catching, status-producing target, or simply whatever is at hand, such as the Geffen Contemporary. Moreover, that Deitch would fault a struggling store owner in a crime-plagued area for using roll-down gates suggests just how clueless he is about the world beyond Spring Street in Soho and Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles...

Certain inescapable implications follow from the decision to mount a graffiti show in a museum. Deitch has clearly confronted none of them. The city and county of Los Angeles annually spend over $30 million on graffiti abatement, a sum that does not include law enforcement and court time, private outlays, or the hidden costs of fear and lost neighborhood vitality. The city could save a lot of money by suspending its graffiti-eradication efforts. “Should it?” I asked Deitch. “I don’t know,” he responded. This will not do. If graffiti is a boon, the city should not waste its money trying to paint it over. If the city is right to paint over graffiti, why is Deitch promoting it?...

What unites the players in MOCA’s graffiti show, which will travel to the Brooklyn Museum in 2012, is self-indulgence. The graffiti vandal combines the moral instincts of a two-year-old with the physical capacities of an adult: when he sees a “spot” that he wants to “mark,” he simply takes it. Jeffrey Deitch and his trustees can toy with the “outlaw vibe” (as Aaron Rose euphemistically puts it) of graffiti, knowing full well that their own carefully ordered lives will be untouched...

The whole article here

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