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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.

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dijitalhaze July 24, 2011 @ 2:37 p.m.

Mr. Di Piero has some astute observations about the formalistic, social and historical precedents concerning "street art", but his comment about subway/streetcar interior "tagging" and "graf" I found to be a bit startling:

"...subway riders didn’t get the opportunity to choose the art that was imposed on them and that, inside the cars, invaded their psychological privacies. The random scrawls and slashing incoherent imagery were like obnoxiously loud fellow riders ranting unintelligibly about subjects that had nothing to do with your life."

What would be interesting is to swap the concept of "graf/tagging" out for "advertising" in general; I most certainly don't have the opportunity to choose the messaging that is imposed upon me that has, for the most part, nothing to do with my own life..."Too much (advertising) wakes us by yelling at us."

It is fairly easy to look at any "scene" from the outside and critique its snobbishness/elitism (and the "street art" scene has plenty of that internecine and exclusionary nonsense to go around) and find it all an overwhelmingly hip spectacle (this seems to be Di Piero's significant, though not overriding, take on the show. Along with the implication that this show is a synecdoche for the whole scene/movement)...but, it is quite another situation to find within a group or scene tactics and/or methodologies that could be perceived as radical critiques of culture and society as a whole.

Di Piero's irritation and dislike for interior graf/tagging within subway cars does just that. Whether he realized it at the time of this review or not.


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