The latest exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles is on track to become its most popular to date. 'Art in the Streets' has drawn in tens of thousands of visitors, both regulars and first timers, in its opening week and promises to attract thousands more.
So when the Brooklyn Museum, scheduled to show 'Art in the Streets' after its four month run at MOCA, abruptly cancelled the exhibit, many pointed to the controversy that surrounded the LA exhibit as the reason.
The show, which will 'trace the development of graffiti and street art,' is, like anything else related to graffiti, inherently controversial. When a museum chooses to showcase street art, it is often seen as its endorsement, which invariably feeds the flame of the ongoing debate about the merits of illegal vandalism as valid and appreciated art.
But this time, the controversy is not whether or not the museum approves, but whether the exhibit itself is the cause of a sudden upsurge in graffiti in the museum vicinity. Jack Richter, an LAPD senior lead officer, noted the close proximity of this new graffiti to the museum and seemed to indicate that there is likely a strong link between the two. Los Angeles County Sheriff Sgt. Augie Pando certainly believes that this is the case, asserting that the popular exhibit 'puts taggers on front street.'
Surprisingly, museum director and exhibit curator Jeffrey Deitch did not deny the allegations, taking instead a passive stance. 'We can't stop it,' he said, referring to the graffiti. 'It goes with the territory.'
Is the Brooklyn Museum worried about similar consequences? In a statement released by the museum, Brooklyn Museum Director Arnold L. Lehman cited the economy as the reason for the cancellation. It is with regret ... that the cancellation became necessary due to the current financial climate, he said. 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. Sally Williams, a spokeswoman for the museum, had no further comment.
Disappointed New Yorkers may not be satisfied with this explanation. Some see the controversial nature of the exhibit, and not the said financial concerns, as the motivation for the museum's sudden move.
But New York has never been a city to shy away from controversy, especially when it comes to street art. The Brooklyn Museum itself has had a number of graffiti exhibitions in the past, as Lehman pointed out in the statement, and even the MoMA featured a documentary on graffiti a few years ago. Galleries across the city house special graffiti exhibits, and Long Island City's incredibly popular 5 Pointz is a renowned graffiti mecca.
Perhaps fear of sparking a new graffiti wave across the city was a factor in the exhibit's cancellation, but the museum, with no blatant attempts at shying away from controversy in its past, is sticking to the economic explanation.
Frustrated fans will just have to look elsewhere for their graffiti fix next March.