GraffHead interviews Steve Grody, author of Graffiti L.A.: Street Styles and Art and the co-curator of the Pasadena Museum of California Art exhibit - Street Cred: Graffiti Art from Concrete to Canvas. Be sure to check out part 2 as well.
It has been a few days (at the time of the interview) since the opening of your show, Street Cred. How does it feel to curate such a well received museum opening?
It felt really good. It felt good to have a particular range of themes of graffiti related work I don't think has been shown before. Particularly gratifying for me was to get people that have not had exposure of this caliber.
When you started documenting graffiti over 20 years, did you ever think that the same people that were painting on walls would one day be showing in museums?
No. So many of the guys that I have talked to are surprised that things are still hopping 25-26 years later after the start of things in LA. It is kind of moving to them that they should still find work going on. It is a surprise for them and a surprise to me, too. I wasn't thinking that it would not be around, but I wasn't thinking one way or another. I don't know what I would have said 20 years ago. Whether things were going to grow.
It must have been difficult to choose whose work to include in the show. What was your criteria?
The overall theme of the show was an exhibition of people primarily from LA. People that started with street graffiti. They may still do street graffiti. They are taking that original inspiration and doing something different with it that is specifically for a gallery setting.
Right off the bat you can understand that there a lot of people that would not be in the show. Their graffiti is really strong, it is really stylish and respected in the community. But they are not necessarily doing anything different compositionally or conceptually from their street work. I wanted to show that there are people that have evolved a different body of work for a new setting.
Also the original space was cut back by two-thirds. It is still a decent size show, but when we originally planned it, it was going to be the majority of the museum and then the museum had a chance to get their hands on the traveling Clayton Brothers show. It could only be available at the same time as our show. Rather than delaying our show to get the whole space, and chancing that the show may never happen at all, we decided to go ahead and have a smaller, tighter show, but it was very tough to cut some guys that had submitted really good work.
There were understandably some people that came to the show and felt that that "my work is as good as this". Two things: we were trying to have a variety of themes in the show, and I had a co-curator to work with. She also had to feel that the work was strong and appropriate for the show. By appropriate, I don't mean that the there wouldn't be any weird content, it just means a strong enough artistic statement that fit in with everything we were trying to show.
One of the questions that has been raised in a lot of the reviews of the MOCA show is that if you take street art out of the streets and stick in galleries, is it still street art?
That question is irrelevant in the Pasadena show because their inspiration, their beginning is street art but it is not just doing their street art in a gallery like taking a tiger and putting it in a cage. It just sits there, you don't see the beauty of the thing.
What were the themes in the show?
We had these sub-themes. To start off, we had a category that was distinctly LA. and that would be things that had more influence coming from the Placa lettering tradition and also the Asian-Latino combination, so we had Defer and Skept and Chaz and Angst.
We moved onto people that were letter based that really composed on canvas or board. We moved onto abstraction. There is a minority of people in LA that have done that but they have done it really strongly. And that would be Push, Heaven, Kofie, Codak and Shandu. It was also nice to get Shandu in there, someone who is a first generation along with Defer and Skept. And then there is the other side of the coin which would be representation or in other words, character work. Some people overlap categories.
For example, Saber is the only one that had something in the letter based section, something in the representational section, his bus stop painting, and something in the sculptural section. But otherwise, most people just had one piece. Revok had two pieces because he had a letter based piece and one that was completely abstract. Most people had one piece in the show. And we had a small section in the show where people's work was more graphics based and finally a sculptural section.
I know there will be a lot of graffheads looking at the work and enjoying it and already know that there is this variety of work. But there are a lot of people outside the graffiti world that I think are going to be surprised to see something like this where they don't have to look at it in some kind of nose in the air condescending way. I wanted the work to stand on its own rather than "well it is good because it is graffiti." I wanted it to be it's good because it's good.
Street Cred - Steve Grody Interview - Part 2