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In the expansive world of Los Angeles street art, a new exhibit seeks to shatter graffiti’s glass ceiling.
Even in the furthest stretches of L.A.’s most eclectic art exhibits, there are limits. The to-be-expected showcases of Los Angeles’ art scene in 2018 extend at most to avant-garde live performances or the occasional dramatic mood lighting. Beyond the Streets, a new showcase celebrating graffiti art in L.A.’s Chinatown, seeks to break those boundaries.
Beyond the Streets is possibly the only art exhibit in existence with a handball court. It’s definitely the only art exhibit with a skate park. Housed both outside and inside of the Werkartz warehouse, this street art exhibit showcases over 100 “mark-marking, rule-breaking” graffiti and street artists.
Roger Gastman—the curator and mastermind behind Beyond the Streets—is well-versed in street art and graffiti himself. He co-curated MoCA Los Angeles’ popular Art in the Streets exhibit in 2011, and he is the co-author of The History of American Graffiti. Additionally, he was involved with documentaries including Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), and Wall Writers (2016). The latter documentary follows early graffiti pioneers like CORNBREAD, TAKI 183, and LSD OM in ’60s and ’70s NYC. In Beyond the Streets, guests may find the aforementioned sharing stories in the space of the 40,000-square-foot (3,716-square-meter) exhibit.
The exhibit—which opened to the public on May 6th—features notable participants, including the elusive works of Banksy, Shepard Fairey, female-activist art group Guerrilla Girls, RISK, DEVO’s Mark Mothersbaugh, and the smiling florals of Takashi Murakami.
Despite housing some household names, each participant in the showcase launched their career in street art or was heavily influenced by the medium. Many of these artists continue to work in this capacity today. Below are highlights of some of the most powerful works that graffiti art-enthusiasts can experience at Beyond the Streets.
A standout in the showcase are the photographs of Martha Cooper. Cooper worked with photographer Henry Chalfant on Subway Art (1984), a book which documents the NYC graffiti movement in the 1980s.
The showcase as a whole offers an experience in a variety of formats—some art pieces hang on walls, but much of the work begs for human interaction. You can step inside Murakami’s canvas mural, 20 feet (six meters) high, hung in a crescent shape in the center of a large room. Nearby, Danish artist HuskMitNavn has created a “drawing room” where guests can get to work on their own masterpieces.
In another room, artist Paul Insect fills his space with puppets, ranging from humanoid figures to anthropomorphic food. L.A.-based artist and tattooist Mister Cartoon’s installation depicts a chapel—in the center, he positions a shrine that reads, “All dawgs go to Heaven.”
For the Instagram-mongers, Melbourne husband-and-wife duo DABSMYLA put forward a floral installation that is of the more visually striking exhibits. In their work, three paintings are surrounded by a vibrant wall of flowers. Adjacent is Argentinian-Spanish artist Felipe Pantone’s “Artifact to Artifact Communication.” Here, several panels hang around a Corvette—each one reminiscent of a VHS tape on the fritz, glitching ever so slightly that one might think at first they imagined it.
In another room, Brooklyn duo FAILE erected their “Temple.” The temple, designed to appear in ruins, is decorated with ceramic mosaics on the outside. Inside, visitors will find a sculpture of a horse surrounded by several prayer wheels. “Temple” was previously showcased in Lisbon, and according to FAILE’s Patrick Miller in an interview with Print, was inspired by visiting several castles, monasteries, and palaces in Portugal.
“This idea of creating a modern-day mythology reflecting our society’s values and temptations has always been appealing,” Patrick Miller told Print. “Our work tends to have elements of bewilderment and enchantment.”
Two harder-to-find installations inside the space include a trippy, blacklist “Cosmic Cave” via Kenny Scharf and an adults-only room by Japanese artist AIKO.
Outside the warehouse, guests can stop by the adidas Skateboarding’s recreation of the Venice Pavilion—a long-gone recreational facility built at Venice Beach in the 1960s. This replica features work from Venice street artists, and it can, in fact, be used for skateboarding, just as the original was. Likewise, Puerto Rican artist Lee Quiñones’ work appears within a functional handball court, akin to the artist’s crafts in similar courts in New York.
At the entrance to the show is a garden installation from local Angeleno artist Ron Finley—the “gangsta gardener” who plants crops on city-owned parkways without permission.
In a speech at TED2013, Finley discussed his niche style as an artist. “I am an artist. Gardening is my graffiti. A graffiti artist beautifies walls—I beautify parkways and yards. I treat the garden as a piece of cloth, and the plants and the trees are the embellishment of that cloth. You’d be surprised what soil can do if you let it be your canvas.”
Guests are free to browse the gift shop, located outside the warehouse in a shipping container. Items include pins, totes, books, and art, including a collaboration with Los Angeles furniture company Modernica in which various artists have designed custom chairs.
Beyond the Streets runs May 6 through July 6, 2018, Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are available online here.