To judge by the reactions of visitors the day I was there, Art in the Streets is a great show for kids and their families, maybe because they don’t even try to process the experience, or maybe they perceptually handle a lot more input than I can. I’ve never felt so pounded and depleted, and I’m someone who values energy for its own sake — in art, music, club-life, whatever — but all mere energy all the time makes for jangling boredom, and Art in the Streets is that kind of experience. This viewer, at any rate, kept yearning for the sort of contemplative pause that some of the work on display occasions. Banksy’s sooty, vaguely melancholy wall figures — a brass band, a child clutching a TV, a baby pouting in her galvanized-pail bath tub — are visitors from other realities taking up residence in ours. Stelios Faitakis’s mural, a complex narrative that engages Byzantine art, street uprisings, urban architecture, and sex, has an exquisite, brazen finish. And the writing Jean-Michel Basquiat did when he was still Samo (before his paintings started making millions for him and his handlers) scratched out urban telegrams composed by a gently naughty but also truly vexed streetside seer. Most of the stuff on view, though, clamors for our attention like needy children.
I believe good art wakes us into a freshly reimagined experience of familiar realities. Too much street art wakes us by yelling at us. Then again, if the exhibition weren’t so audacious, I never would have seen an enchanting and absolutely nutty object: in a room featuring a mural-ed low-rider stood an enameled tangerine-flake baby stroller, which for an instant made me wish I’d had a different sort of childhood. ■
Art in the Streets is on view at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Los Angeles until August 8. 250 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, 213-626-6222, moca.org.