BEYOND THE STREETS is one of those epic destination art events where a simple perusal of the impressive participating artists list is enough to make the point. At time of this writing, it’s still growing and poised to top 150 names, from the marquee to the emerging, from writers to posters, muralists, sculptors, installation artists, documentarians, and every post-graffiti permutation, across four decades of street art from invention to influence, and from the margins to the mainstream — plus a number of high-profile fine artists whose relationships to street art are more nuanced. Ticketed and community-centric like a pop-up museum, BTS is taking over Werkartz (the 40,000-square foot DTLA multi-use, indoor/outdoor space that hosted Shepard Fairey’s Damaged exhibition last year), and hosting talks, happenings, demos and other events through July.
And since BTS is curated by Roger Gastman, you know it’s going to be special. As a graffiti historian, and as he puts it, an “urban anthropologist,” Gastman is perhaps best known to LA audiences for his curatorial work at MOCA’s Art in the Streets juggernaut. But he also founded Swindle with Fairey, co-produced Exit Through the Gift Shop, and directed Wall Writers. His latest crime of passion is BTS, which he curated with support Juxtapoz Magazine’s Evan Pricco, author and historian Caleb Neelon, legendary NYC graffiti writer David “Chino” Villorente, and Adam Lerner, Director of the MCA Denver (where Gastman recently produced a large-scale project). When Cartwheel Art spoke with Gastman this week, he was fired up about the independence of what BTS has been able to pull off.
“I love those big institutional projects, like at the Corcoran and MCA Denver, but on the scale of what we wanted to do, the rules work differently. Here there’s no Board asking questions. And between all the people on the team, we know how to do this stuff, it’s all in-house. Production, curation, marketing, all while keeping the artists’ best interests close at hand.”
So who are some of those artists? Shepard Fairey, of course. Chaz Bojorquez, Kenny Scharf, Jason REVOK, Lady Aiko, FUTURA 2000, LADY PINK, Lee Quiñones, INVADER, HAZE, SWOON, Guerrilla Girls, Barry McGee, Stephen Powers, FAILE, Dash Snow, Jenny Holzer, C.R. Stecyk III, Felipe Pantone, Maripol, RETNA, Gordon Matta-Clark, Martha Cooper, Dennis Hopper, Takashi Murakami, Mark Mothersbaugh, Charlie Ahearn (who directed Wild Style in 1982-83), and fittingly, the original 1967-1973 Philadelphia and New York City writers like TAKI 183, SNAKE 1, CORNBREAD, MIKE 171, SJK 171, LAZAR, COCO 144. Suffice to say, it’s a diverse and inclusive selection in terms of people as well as styles, eras, geography, and mediums. We spoke to Roger Gastman to find out more about how it all fits together, and what exactly it means to put the “Beyond” in Beyond the Streets.
“I called it Beyond,” says Gastman, “partly because it’s definitely not a redo of MOCA. I mean, that was a great experience, I think it was a huge learning experience, both for the audiences and for me. But “beyond” also because the street art culture itself is growing, has grown, and questions kept arising about what is considered “legitimate” now. For us, it’s about pushing culture beyond where it is now, forward into the future. I’m watching Cartoon painting in front of me right now. ”
It seems, however, that for Gastman, looking toward the future includes and requires making a proper assessment of the past. He’s a historian after all. So in addition to the stars of today, Gastman reaches back to street art’s earliest days, providing context for what the current generations are up to, as well as taking the opportunity to show new work by these living legends. Chief among those legends has to be the one and only Chaz Bojorquez. Cartwheel Art reached Chaz for his thoughts on BTS, and what he’ll be showing.
“This show in Los Angeles gives me the opportunity to go back to my roots of 50 years, by showing archival photographs. And I’ve re-painted my icon image Señor Suerte to represent my “Old School” history — and I will also be exhibiting three new paintings of my current artwork, illustrating how I’ve grown as a graffiti artist.”
“This show is about world Graffiti and Street Art,”
“It’s about the youth and the future of Street Art. In Los Angeles we already have a long history of painting in the streets, the Chicano mural movement and Cholo gang graffiti. But only in L.A. do we have the freedom to express ourselves in all the arts and live the west coast lifestyle. That’s what we bring to this exhibit.”
It will doubtless be fascinating for audiences to be able to compare photographs like Bojorquez’s with those of his East Coast contemporary, the NYC-based Martha Cooper — perhaps the single most renowned documentarian of Wild Style graffiti and what came after.
“I’ll be showing classic graffiti photos with a few seldom-seen ones that Roger culled from my archive,”
Cooper tells Cartwheel Art.
“Roger is amazing! He has been a tireless supporter of graffiti. He managed to track down important first-generation artists like Taki 183 and Cornbread, and record and share their stories through his books, magazines, documentaries and exhibitions while keeping up with the latest street art. Much respect! I’m happy to have followed the scene over the past 40 years. Whatever comes next, I’ll continue to try to document.”
There is also a presence of documentary photography by less likely practitioners such as Gordon-Matta Clark (better known for his sculptures), and Dennis Hopper.
“We are showing images from Dennis Hopper’s extensive archive of photographs of graffiti,” says Gastman. “He was inspired by those moments. And of course, many of his paintings were based on the patterns of tags and buffed-out walls. And even more surprising, the sculptor Gordon Matta-Clark took something like 1,800 images through the windows of tagged subway cars in 1973. Pretty much no one has ever seen them! I worked with his estate to be able to include a bunch.” And even outside the world of documentation, BTS features work by sort of proto-de facto street artists from those early years like the Guerrilla Girls and Jenny Holzer, who were using text- and image-based strategies of street art to intervene and disrupt the discourse. And further, it includes artists like Takashi Murakami, who although he does work on an architectural scale is not always associated with the street art world. “Well!” says Roger. “If you look at his social media he’s obsessed with street art. And he often uses spray paint now and collaborates with street artists. It’s definitely a situation of mutual influence.”
Murakami will install a huge, two-sided, free-hanging painting in a circle, so viewers can move not only around but also into and through it. And that’s far from the only large-scale, interactive, immersive situation at BTS. Site-specific, interactive installations, like FAILE’s famous Temple, a 30-foot recreation of “Hand of Doom” by its original artist, the legendary New York City graffiti artist SEEN. A playable handball court by Lee Quiñones, a garden by activist Ron Finley, and faux-strip club shunga-inspired room installation by AIKO. Even the proverbial gift shop is curated, with gems like Modernica chairs by Basquiat, Shepard, Haring, and Futura; a collaboration with Adidas; and limited edition Montana spray-cans. Be sure to exit that way.
Top image: Paul Insect
The exhibition is open from May 6 – July 6, 2018.
Tuesday – Sunday 12-7pm. Closed Monday.
1667 N Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tickets: $25 https://www.showclix.com/event/BTSLA
Estevan Oriol at Beyond the Streets
Beyond the Streets
FAILE at Beyond the Streets
Lil Crazy Legs by Martha Cooper
Stephen Powers at Beyond the Streets
BTS “S” Instructional