A Conversation with MOCA’s New ART IN THE STREETS Exhibition Curator ROGER GASTMAN

Roger Gastman by Anita Marie Antonini

April 2011

Art In The Streets is an upcoming mega art exhibition, and Jeffrey Deitch’s first as MOCA’s Director. It will represent the graffiti and street art movements in both New York and Los Angeles from the late 70s through today. 
”Art In The Streets will be the first exhibition to position the work of the most influential artists to emerge from street culture in the context of contemporary art history,” MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch stated.

I moved to NYC in 1983 and I remember being completely confused trying to learn the subway system because you could hardly see out the window at what stop it was due to the graffiti everywhere. The streets were pulsating with life, with art, with revolution. Not only the sights of that time, but the sounds were just as important to the movement. Break Dancing and Hip Hop  were everywhere back then, when you could play music in the parks on a boombox. One of Fab 5 Freddy’s boomboxes now resides in the Smithsonian. Wish that I still had mine.

It was as if the streets were talking and what was being said could be fleeting and most of the time layered. Someone else always seemed to be changing a piece into something else in a matter of hours. You would have to catch it when it was fresh or it could be gone. Outlaw and always out there, the streets had a language of their own through this revolutionary art form.

Turn the clock forward and the evolution of graffiti, street art and skateboarding culture has moved from the outside to the inside. Street art is now almost as prevalent in galleries and museums as it is in the streets. This migration is part of what I discussed with co-curator of Art In The Streets, artist, author and founder of R. Rock Enterprises, Roger Gastman who has been at the forefront of the graffiti, street art and the skate culture movements for decades.

Anita Marie Antonini: Tell us about the exhibit, Art In The Streets. What’s interesting to me is how an artistic movement that originally started on the streets is now the subject of a well-deserved major exhibition in a museum.

Roger Gastman: The misconception of the show is that it’s just a who’s who of graffiti and street art and it’s really not that show. The show is a celebration of 30 or 40 of the best artists out of this world of graffiti, skate and street art who have really figured out how to bring their work indoors into the museum environment, into the gallery environment and who have done that for years. By now, their work is shown in museums and in art galleries for years. They are accepted and collected by serious collectors, and they have really succeeded on artistic merit alone. What we’re showcasing isn’t just work where you could say: “This is cool and it’s here because this happened on the streets in 1975.” Instead: “It’s cool and this is here because it’s freaking awesome art.”

Along with picking those best artists to really showcase and show what they do best, we also have a really great historic timeline that’s going to take the viewer through some big historic bullet points from graffiti and street art and skateboarding. That you can breeze through or you could sit there and really look at and see these things that happened and see these people that did things. I think it will be a lot of the artists in the show’s favorite section. We really made a great catalog to go along with the show–there are so many elements to it.

AMA: How will the installation reflect the multi-layered, visual build up that has been seen on the street since it began?

RG: There are so many layers to the street culture that we’re showcasing, things like graffiti, street art and even skateboarding at one time were edgy subcultures and now they are completely their own cultures with many different subcultures in them.

They are real businesses at this point and, of course, there will still be the kids running around writing graffiti and there always will be–God bless them! But you look at the commercialization of all of it and it’s hard to turn on the TV and not see an element of something on some commercials, in the background of a show, flip through a magazine, fashion etc. It is in culture–not necessarily in pop culture, but just: in culture.

AMA: How will the exhibition bridge the gap from past to present and make the transitions to show the evolution?

RG: We definitely spent a lot of time figuring out what was going to go where in the exhibition design and Jeffrey really had a lot of input based on his years of doing this, of what was going where.

It’s not really like you walk in and: “hey, here’s Los Angeles, here’s New York, here’s old, here’s new,” but in a way it is divided. You walk in and there’s a lot more LA and skate culture and to the right and to your left there is a lot more NY culture.

So, it’s definitely very thought out in its flow with what’s going into each other. When you’re looking at Craig Stecyk who is early Los Angeles street art and skateboard and you turn around and see Shepard Fairey who is very well-known in Los Angeles, California in the punk, skateboarding scene etc. By turning around 360 degrees you will see things that will connect to what you just saw.

AMA: You have already been installing for a couple of weeks and have a few more days left, how’s it going?

RG: I feel the show is going to be a very good experience for the artists involved in the show, let alone the museum goers, street artists and graffiti fans. I think that it’s going to be a great and different experience for everyone that comes to the show whether it’s someone’s grandmother or a fourteen year-old kid.

AMA: Where do you think that this genre is heading in the future?

RG: That’s a very good question. With my company–I have a marketing and branding company, and we make books, we work on documentaries–so much of what we do is based on graffiti and street art. The culture that I grew up with and my core group of friends that that I’ve had since I was like 14, we keep wondering when is this bubble going to burst and when are people going to get sick of seeing this stuff? We just finished publishing a book, The History of American Graffiti, by Harper Collins coming out at about the time that the show comes out. It’s pretty much of a textbook on American graffiti in every city. We kept discovering more things in each city and it just became more and more interesting, more exciting.

We are reaching out to all these regional papers now like in Milwaukee, etc. which surprisingly had a fairly good early graffiti scene and the press is just so interested and I don’t think it’s going to slow down. I think as more and more artists who have worked on the street understand how to move their work into the galleries and into the museums, it’s just going to get bigger and bigger.

Roger Gastman has been at the forefront of the street art, graffiti and skate movements for over a decade, as a writer and scholar on the subject. He is currently co-curating the Art In The Streets exhibition coming soon to MOCA, and his book The History of American Graffiti is currently on sale.


Roger Gastman’s Official Site

MOCA’s Official Site

Written by Anita Marie Antonini

Design by Marie Havens

** Photography will be posted at the end of April 2011**

read the complete article