Keep it on the streets
Yesterday L.A. Weekly broke the story, publishing a private email sent from Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman to one of the participating artists:
I am writing with the unfortunate news the Brooklyn Museum must withdraw as the second venue for "Art in the Streets." I asked our curator, Sharon Matt Atkins, for your email address so that you might hear this news directly from me.
As I hope you know, we have all been tremendously enthusiastic about this exhibition from the very beginning, and we applaud LA MOCA for organizing such a groundbreaking project bringing the important history of graffiti and street art to a broad public. In Brooklyn, we saw it as an appropriate next exhibition for us after our Jean-Michel Basquiat and graffiti exhibitions in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
We regret that we are now in the position of withdrawing from this project. We have already and will continue to face severe reductions in financial support that require the Museum to make very tough decisions in light of the challenges facing us in the coming fiscal year. With no major funding in place, we cannot move ahead.
I know I speak for Sharon as well in expressing our regret that we will not be able to move ahead with presenting "Art in the Streets." We have the utmost respect for your work, and I hope we will find other opportunities to collaborate in the future.
So what's the real story?
The succinct official press release states that despite being "tremendously enthusiastic" the cancellation became "necessary due to the current financial climate." Lehman went on to say "As with most arts organizations throughout the country, we have had to make several difficult choices since the beginning of the economic downturn three years ago"
The cancellation has sent the blogesphere ablaze, alternately condemning and hailing the decision. Those cheering the decision include City Councilman Peter Vallone, head of the Public Safety Committee, and the New York Daily News, which has kept the local tabloids filled with "concerned citizens."
Vallone had even announced that the exhibit would have created more crime, "as it did in LA" and would have sent a "message" that graffitti is "commendable and worthy of posting in a museum exhibit."
Gothamist caught up with some of the artists involved who aren't buying the excuses. Carlos "Mare 139" Rodriguez, subway graffiti artist, sculptor, and NYU Scholar in Residence said " Anything that's as controversial and politically charged as graffiti in NYC is going to have some blowback. It's unfortunate, because if any place could have a great discourse about this art, it should happen here. In many ways, it falls in line with the shortsightedness of New York in not including a diversity of voices in artistic institutions. "
Meanwhile, Artnet's Walter Robinson is pissed, believing the show was knocked off by the "goon squad." He asserted the show "would easily have been popular enough to pay for itself, and might have turned a profit."
We're certainly disappointed we won't get a chance to check out the show. While the politicians quibble about money and vandalism, we've been more interested in the nuances around graffiti as an art movement. LA Times art critic Christopher Knight, thought the MOCA show "got it wrong" on several levels. (His thorough critique is well worth the read.) Does graffiti belong inside gallery walls? Next time, let's hope the discourse will be more than smoke and mirrors, muzzled before it begins.