Graffiti is one of the core elements of hip-hop, but perhaps gets overshadowed by superstar rappers and dance competitions on major television networks. But the artform is alive and well, as evidenced by the Beyond The Streets showcase in downtown Los Angeles that has been extended through August 26. Graffiti historian and art expert Roger Gastman curated an experience that explores the history of graffiti and explains how street art has become high art. It’s a feat that was no small undertaking, but is done incredibly tastefully.
Walking up to the gallery, visitors are greeted by an installation by the Gangsta Gardener, Ron Finley. Finley has made a name for himself through urban gardening, revitalizing the streets of inner city Los Angeles. The scene is serene yet lively as various fruits and vegetables grow alongside succulents in adidas Superstars.
Once inside the exhibit, visitors are immediately immersed in the streets, with a wall of spray cans to one side and paintings by Eric Haze and Chaz Bojorquez on the other. The exhibit is a winding maze of culture put into a gallery setting with white walls and bright lights.
The history of graffiti is strongly showcased as newspaper articles about the SaneSmith brothers, who painted on bridges because it was illegal to tag on streets, are displayed alongside work from icons like DAZE, CRASH and Lady Pink. The origins of tagging are also explored with a tribute to TAKI 183 later in the tour.
Despite being heavily underrepresented in the art world in the past, women get their fair shine here. Besides Lady Pink, Claudia Gold – who many know as Claws – has a nice display right next to Takashi Murakami’s mentee AIKO. Guerrilla Girls also have a prominent display of the work they did starting in the mid-1980s to fight for women to have equal exposure and inclusion in the art world. They brought the receipts.
Beyond The Streets is not strictly dedicated to one region or even the battle of the coasts, but features work from across the country and the world. One interesting display is Bill Daniel’s work showing how homeless communities in middle America created their own art through drawing stick figures with chalk on trains.
Perhaps the most striking work in Beyond The Streets is RISK’s statement on police brutality. Placed among several colorful pieces, a cop car sits eerily waiting for guests to hear its story. RISK, inspired by Damien Hirst’s “Natural History,” dipped the vehicle in formaldehyde and then sliced it “like bacon.” His own words calling out the police for patrolling the hood like sharks give the reader goosebumps.
There are several pieces throughout Beyond The Streets giving social and political commentary, including RISK’s and of course, what would a graffiti exhibit be without a work from Banksy? But a lighter note is Bill Barminski’s interactive room. He created several props made out of cardboard for visitors to play with, including pistols, flowers, Beats by Dre headphones, a boombox, and a Pencilzooka.
Mister Cartoon also brought a positive vibe with his exhibit, mimicking a strip mall church. The whimsical room is anchored by a casket that says “All Dawgs Go To Heaven” and a tribute to dogs of all sorts, including Nate Dogg. The room is brought together by portraits of the Virgin Mary and you can’t help but hum “Hail Mary.” Do you wanna ride or die?
Those attending Beyond The Streets should plan on spending at least a couple hours wandering through the exhibit. They will feel a wide range of emotions and have several moments of nostalgia. The last work they will encounter is a piece by VHILS, a Portuguese artist whose statement exemplifies the overall theme of the entire show: Creation through destruction. What people might have viewed as corrosive to society has actually given life, value and voice.