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Does street art show encourage graffiti?

LA sees rise in tagging in museum district—will the same happen in Brooklyn?

By Zang Greiner | From issue 225, June 2011
Published online 7 Jun 11 (News)

street graffiti picture example

LOS ANGELES. Few would argue that “Art in the Streets”, the current exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (LA Moca, until 8 August), has been a failure. The show is on track to break the museum’s attendance records with 22,000 visitors in the opening week, according to arts news website Arrested Motion, and it seems to have attracted a new audience to the museum. None­theless, the exhibition has also created controversy: an apparent increase in vandalism in the local area has led to a police crackdown. With the show scheduled to move to the Brooklyn Museum in March 2012, some are concerned that similar issues will arise on the East Coast.

“We respect the right to have an art exhibition but we demand the security of other people’s property,” said Jack Richter, a senior lead officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, adding that there has been “an enormous amount of vandalism in the Little Tokyo area, near the LA Moca entrance”. The museum’s director Jeffrey Deitch admitted that there had been issues with “some of the young taggers who are anarchic”, adding: “It’s a language of youth culture, and we can’t stop it. It goes with the territory.”

But tagging teenagers were not the ones attracting the headlines. Several high-profile artists, including Invader, Smear and Revok have been taken into custody since the show started in April. Revok was arrested while boarding a plane to Los Angeles for breaching parole from a previous, graffiti-related conviction. He had his bail set at a staggering $320,000 and was eventually sentenced to 180 days in jail. For many, this summed up the contradictory nature of the show. An artist famed for his illegal work is invited to show at a museum but subsequently arrested for his artistic endeavours. The police clampdown “became almost like a carnival game, like shooting fish in a barrel”, according to Monica LoCascio, author of the Stickers street art books and arts editor of Paper magazine online.

It is no secret that New York has had a difficult relationship with street art. The amount of property being defaced in the 1980s led to drastic measures. Strict policing, particularly of the city’s subway system, resulted in a number of arrests and a significant decrease in “tagging” (leaving an identifying signature) and “bombing” (making a quickly painted, large piece of graffiti).

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