Last week, in the industrial heart of Downtown L.A., thousands of people were confronted with art and artists behaving badly. Big time. Graffiti and litter messed up every square inch of the walls and grounds around the crowds. But judging from their body language and smiles, the people were having the time of their life. And who could blame them?
For several weeks, dozens of artists from around the world have been working hard inside and outside of the once gritty old garage building which, a quarter of a century ago, was transformed by Frank Gehry into what is known today as MOCA's Geffen Contemporary. The resulting exhibition, with its messy, explosive, joyful energy, is called Art in the Streets.
If you had the misfortune of riding the New York subways in the late 70's or early 80's, you might be excused for your grudginess toward graffiti. And the same can be said for regular folks feeling abused by taggers scrawling their names around local stores and apartment buildings. And again, who could blame them?
But what a difference 30 years makes... And that is precisely what this museum exhibition is all about. Without art behaving badly we would have never had the thrill of discovering the graffiti art of Keith Haring. And can anyone enjoy the great paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat without feeling and smelling the danger of the streets that inspired them? Or would Barrack Obama's presidential campaign be the same without the Shepard Fairey posters pasted all over the country?
One wants to congratulate MOCA's director Jeffrey Deitch, who has been able to pull this wild rabbit of an exhibition out of his hat, in spite of the embarrassment caused by the white washing of the mural that initiated this exhibition a few months ago.
At the same time that MOCA is welcoming a multitude of artists from out of town, a few outstanding Angeleno artists are basking in the attention of American museums somewhere else. A big traveling exhibition by Mark Bradford just closed in Boston and, in a few weeks, is going to open in Chicago. After that, it goes to Dallas and San Francisco. Guess where it's not coming? Yes, in L.A., his native town, the artist is still waiting for the attention his art fully deserves.
Fortunately for us, it takes only a short trip to Santa Barbara to experience the joy of the sprawling retrospective of Charles Garabedian. The exhibition shows this painter, now in his late 80's, to be at his absolute best. Most of Garabedian's paintings are inspired by Greek and Roman mythology and populated by endearingly clumsy, naked figures of men and women. Prepare to lose yourself in the deep blue sprawl of Mediterranean skies and then plunge into the warm green waters of the Aegean Sea, all that conveyed by the quick brush strokes of the artist's surprisingly young hand.
If you happen to be in Northern California, then you definitely don't want to miss, at the Oakland Museum of Art, a retrospective of works by Michael McMillen, a wonderfully idiosyncratic Angeleno artist whose sculptures, paintings and installations owe so much to the mystique of Hollywood studios, with their back lots and movie sets.
We should definitely be grateful to these out-of-town museums paying well-deserved respect to our very own artists. But wouldn't it be wonderful if Los Angeles' cultural institutions would be the first and not the last to acknowledge the local talents? I guess that's why the Bible says "a prophet hath no honor in his own land."
Art in the Streets
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
April 17-August 8, 2011
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
May 28 - September 18, 2011
Charles Garabedian: A Retrospective
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
January 22 - May 1, 2011
Michael C. McMillen: Train of Thought
Oakland Museum of California
April 16, 2011 - August 14, 2011
To see images discussed in Art Talk, go to KCRW.com/ArtTalk.
Banner image: Shepard Fairey, Art in the Streets preview. Photos by Obey Clothing, via Street Art News