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Art in the Streets: At MOCA Sunday and on shelves now

April 15, 2011 |  9:30 am


This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The highly anticipated and controversial "Art in the Streets" exhibition opens this Sunday at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Geffen Contemporary. Dozens of art books have been published over the last few years on the subject and its prominent players as it has become more accepted into the mainstream art world. 

Two books published this month are ideal companion pieces to the show: "Art in the Streets," by curator Jeffrey Deitch and co-curators Roger Gastman and Aaron Rose, and "The History of American Graffiti," by Gastman and Caleb Neelon.

" 'Art in the Streets' celebrates the exhibit with a broader scope and includes more historical essays on the people involved in the show," said Gastman during a break while preparing for the show. The book also explores other subcultures connected to street art such as hip hop and skateboarding in Southern California in the 1970s.

" 'The History of American Graffiti' gives an overview of graffiti from Houston to L.A., telling the true stories of the people involved," said Gastman. With Neelon, Gastman spent four years researching and interviewing more than 500 people in roughly 25 cities about the first visual art form created by teenagers. Many of the early participants considered themselves writers and that what they did was writing as opposed to tagging. 

"For the book, Caleb and I defined graffiti as the act of writing your name over and over for the sake of  fame. It's not street art," Gastman noted. But it has evolved since those early days with the abstract Wild Style and the addition of characters from pop culture.

Streetart2 "One of the hardest parts in writing this book was gathering the content," said Gastman. "We earned the trust of the communities, and an artist would bring us to their mom's house, get out a shoe box and pull out an old photo. It was like an archaeological dig. That was the most fun."

"American Graffiti" contains more than 1,000 photos from cities across the country and includes a section on the story behind the World War II-era phrase "Kilroy Was Here," which some consider an early example of modern graffiti. It wasn't until the late 1960s that disposable magic markers and aerosol spray cans became more accessible at hardware stores, creating a new style of outlaw art. Beginning in Philadelphia, graffiti spread to New York City, where it blossomed in the 1970s and 1980s.

Gastman, 33, grew up in Bethesda, Md., where he was a graffiti writer in nearby Washington, D.C. Since then, he has become a major facilitator of the movement into mainstream culture. He's a consulting producer (for the 2010 movie "Exit Through the Gift Shop"), editor of two underground magazines, Swindle (co-founded with Shepard Fairey) and While You Were Sleeping. Gastman also has written and designed nearly 30 books on the subject in the last six years. He also manages other artists by helping them get their work into local galleries such as L.A.-based Risk and Saber. Gastman owns a collection of vintage aerosol spray cans and is a fan of artist Richard Colman.

Gastman and Neelon, along with several of the artists featured in "The History of American Graffiti," will be on hand for a book signing this Sunday, April 17, from noon to 3 p.m. at the Reading Room at the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 152 North Central Ave., Los Angeles.

For the record,11:15 a.m. April 15: A previous version of this post had the wrong address for the Sunday book signing at the Geffen Contemporary.


Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art

When it was skateboarding for skateboarding's sake

-- Liesl Bradner

Photo (top): REVOKandRIME, American Graffiti, 2010. Credit: RIME.

Photo (bottom): Wild Style mural. Credit: Martha Cooper; "Art in the Streets," Museum of Contemporary Art