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Graffiti artists speak out in support of 'Art in the Streets'

April 20, 2011 | 11:16 am

Workmen take a break as they set up the "Art in the Streets" exhibit outside the museum on April 14.

As “Art in the Streets” at the Museum of Contemporary Art comes under fire from law enforcement for encouraging tagging, graffiti artists say authorities are exaggerating the problem and ignoring the show's contribution to the local economy.

Los Angeles police officials said the exhibit at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA has become a target to taggers who want to leave a mark outside the Little Tokyo exhibition space where it opened Sunday.

Artist Saber said the exhibit will give a boost to the local economy.

"How much money has the exhibit brought into the local community?" he said. "The lines are around the block.”

Saber, whose work is in the exhibit, said it is ridiculous to suggest there has been a massive surge in graffiti because of the show.

“If you look at the amount of graffiti in Little Tokyo, it hasn’t changed much," he said. "It is a slight increase, but there is not the amount of graffiti they have people believe.”

Saber has become one of L.A.’s best-known graffiti-writers-turned-gallery-artist.

He said the verbal assaults on the exhibit are part of a widespread offensive by Los Angeles authorities, who in recent months have arrested and sued numerous taggers. He said the attacks will backfire and draw more attention to artists who deserve to be noticed.

“Ultimately, the controversy surrounding the exhibit is good,” Saber said, adding that he and his associates have donated numerous murals to the city at areas that would otherwise be tagged.

Los Angeles authorities should instead be asking why people leave graffiti, he said. “They should be asking why there are there no outlets for creative individuals?”

Other artists say graffiti as a movement has a life of its own.

“The 'Art in the Streets' exhibit or an exhibit like it had to come about around this time period," said Cristian Gheorghiu, also known as Smear, an L.A. tagger-turned-gallery artist who is being sued by the city for his tagging. "it would be a cultural crime if it hadn't."

“It is unfortunate that some of the people couldn’t control themselves and bombed the area around the MOCA, but that’s what art in the streets is all about: Untamed expression," he continued. "An uncaged tiger is lot more impressive than a tiger in a zoo.

“I can no longer touch the streets, but a lot of these other guys still can and will, and after a number of them are taken out of the game, others will take their place. That’s graff.”


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-- Richard Winton

Photo: The "Art in the Streets" exhibit is installed outside the Geffen Contemporary last week. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times