One of the most important museum shows to open this year, if not this decade, “Scratch” at the El Segundo Museum of Art works on numerous levels to highlight the past, present, and future of art, lettering, and Los Angeles.
Last year, the Getty Research Institute began an ambitious program conceived by graffiti collector Ed Sweeny: To compile over 150 Los Angeles graffiti artists into one giant black book, not only like ones carried by artists and their followers used to record sketches and signatures. GRI rare book curator David Brafman turned the artists onto the medieval version of today’s black book liber amicorum or “book of friends” in which one’s fellows would draw or write, as well s showing them antique manuscripts with lettering, calligraphy and engravings. Which brings us back around to graffiti, because the term comes from the old Italian slang for “little scratch” and well, engravings are made by scratching plates, and over the centuries, if not millennia, graffiti has been scratched into walls. (Scratching also refers to tattooing, and a number of cross-overs between tattoo and graffiti are up on the walls–notably Big Sleeps and Charlie and Bob Roberts whose collabs in “Scratch” are across from each other).
The result was a one of kind volume, L.A. Liber Amicorum, aka the Getty Black Book, which you can check out in full here.
Carrying the concept even further, GRI and El Segundo Museum of Art invited Getty Black Book artists Axis, Cre8, Defer, Eyeone, Fishe, and Miner to co-curate walls and floors inside ESMoA with collaboration pieces featuring fellow Getty Black Book artists, creating a living Los Angeles Liber Amicorum. (The shared initials of our region and books that inspired the exhibition are not lost on the artists, and several of the murals incorporate “LA” and local cityscapes into their murals).
The EMoA experience–a term they prefer to “exhibition”– includes many of the rare manuscripts Brafman had shown the artists, including a first edition of Albrecht Dürer’s book on perspective. With the rare books loaded on tablets as ebooks, viewers can flip through and leave them open to pages, furthering the dialog between the visitors, the works on the walls, in the cases.
ESMoA built out their walls with panels than can be removed so that the show can travel–European cities are more open to graffiti art that U.S.–MOCA’s 2011 “Art in the Streets” couldn’t find a a second spot for installation, and the Gale Make Canote-curated “Con Safos (With Respect): The Art and Culture of Urban Chirography” scheduled to open January, 2014 at the Muzeo in Anaheim was pulled after museum’s board of directors put intense restrictions on the artists and art to be shown out of a misplaced fear of gangs and graffiti.
The Getty and ESMoA know what showing respect to artists means, and they allowed these phenomenal artists free reign to their creativity. What emerged is profound and glorious.
From wheat paste montage to careful painterly details, “Scratch” celebrates LA’s street culture and the friendship between artists that develop out of respect for their art, placing their work into an historical continuum and turning our eyes towards the future.
“Scratch” runs through September 28, at the El Segundo Musuem of Art, 208 Main Street, El Segundo. The museum is open Friday through Sunday, from 10am to 5pm, and by appointment the rest of the week.
Top image: Dark Progressivism, curated by Defer, featuring Big Sleeps, Cryptik, Defer, Gaijin Fujita, Kopey, Patrick Martinez, Prime and Saber. Photo by cashview, via Facebook. All other photos, ColdFireArtCo.