Over in Los Angeles, former Soho gallery mogul Jeffrey Deitch‘s historical survey of graffiti and street art at MOCA, Art in the Streets, has brought on a massive wave of graffiti and street art all around town—and attendant arrests. In a hateful Sunday editorial the NY Daily News suggested that the likelihood of the same happening here, when Art in the Streets opens at the Brooklyn Museum next March, is reason enough to cancel the exhibition.
From top to bottom this is one of the more insulting art-related op-eds published in years, and eerily reminiscent of attacks on things like Robert Mapplethorpe’s X-Portfolio or, for that matter, Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ.” Before calling into question the Brooklyn Museum’s meager public funding—”the city spends some $2.4 million a year to battle vandalism, and the transit authority spends plenty more, taxpayers also subsidize the Brooklyn Museum to the tune of about $9 million a year”—the editors call the exhibition a “grand celebration of vandalism” and describe some conspiracy between the worlds of street and commercial art against the common man:
museum mavens will be sticking their thumbs in the eyes of every bodega owner and restaurant manager who struggles to keep his or her property graffiti-free, not to mention the eyes of all New Yorkers who cringe recalling the days of graffiti-covered subway cars.
As if “museum mavens” never found themselves on the receiving end of a can of spray paint.
More generally, though, there’s the Daily News‘s myopic attitude that graffiti and street art have no artistic merit and constitute nothing more than vandalism. This fails to take into account that many of the large murals being created by street artists today are done with building-owners’ permission. It also ignores the very powerful origins of the medium, its root in a very specific, depressed and difficult period in America’s post-war history—evidence of which has mostly been painted over and washed away. The editorial also suggests that graffiti/vandalism is only done by gang members, which is just crazily insulting to graffiti artists, gang members and Daily News readers.
That said, after nearly 400 words of pure shit, the Daily News editors do close with one good suggestion for Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman: “he also has to let graffiti “artists” have a go at the museum’s bright white walls and its landmark facade and its beautiful, expensive new entrance pavilion.”