This is part 2 of our interview with 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 1 as well.
You briefly mentioned MOCA. Your work is currently displayed at MOCA at the Art in the Streets exhibit. Was that show the catalyst for your show?
No, as a matter of fact we started planning the Pasadena show before we ever heard about MOCA. It was interesting thing because we were planning the show and then we heard the announcement about the MOCA show. And we were like what a drag. They were going to take the wind out of our sails. And then I realized that was not the case at all. Their thing was going to be a very different focus from ours.
MOCA was going to be international, street and graffiti art, and on a focus on people that already had major gallery or museum representation and our thing was going to be very specific: people that either came up in LA or are doing work here and strictly graffiti related rather than including anything like wheat paste or stencils or anything else.
My focus at MOCA was to show as broad a selection of historically important writers and crews as I had room for. In Pasadena, there were certainly guys with deep L.A. history, but it wasn't so much about history as about where some guys have taken things.
How long does it take to prepare a show this caliber? When did you start working on it?
I think it might have been relatively early last year. It was still down to the line, down to the wire of getting everything up and prepared and on the walls. It was interesting to see that at MOCA too, this big ostensibly professional organization as far as I know, the labels on my wall are still not up. And how many weeks is it after the show? People fall behind.
How did your show come about?
I did a presentation at the Pacific Asian Museum. Somebody who was at that show said that we just came from around the corner from the Pasadena Museum of California Art and they have your book there. So I went over there and talked to somebody there about doing a presentation.
What I didn't know is that they were already thinking about doing a show that involved graffiti and they knew about me because of my book and they were thinking about getting in touch with me to see if I could help with the show.
When I met with the museum director, Jenkins Shannon, and the exhibition manager, Shirlae Cheng-Lifshin, I had all these ideas about what would be in that kind of show and they brought me on as co-curator.
Any suggestions for those that want to be in galleries?
The first thing is that I don't assume that everybody wants to do gallery shows. There are people that don't. It was suggested to me when I was talking to people about who they thought might be doing work that would be appropriate for the show. Somebody said that you should talk to Plek. When I talked to Plek, he said "Well I really appreciate you asking, but that is not what I am interested in, that is not what I am doing work for." I really respected him for that straight forwardness, because there are some guys that assume that because they have been in the LA scene for a long time therefore they should be in any show that has to do with LA graffiti.
One of the things that is clear that has been brought up by other graffiti writers that have been in shows and that are really working as full-time artists is that they emphasize that you can't just be some graffiti guy with a reputation. If you actually want to be a professional artist, then be a professional artist. And that means have a portfolio actually have a body of work that somebody can look at. And don't just have a few photographs of some cool streetwork that you have done.
Also, don't assume that they should be falling at your feet. They should respect you, but you should respect them. It's a two-way street. And the way Chaz puts it "Be ready to defend your work." Explain to somebody that doesn't understand where you are coming from. Why is this work important. What is the substance of this work? Why should I dig it if it is not immediately apparent. And some guys feel that they are selling out to do that and other guys don't. It's all very personal.
I still go back to what Siner said. There is always going to be the thing about the bomber versus the tagger versus the guy that is doing the piece versus the guy that is doing the legals. He said, who is to say what is keeping it real. It's a personal thing. What's keeping it real for you is where it's at. It's not like there is a universal thing about what is the most real thing to do in the world of graffiti at this point.
Do you think being involved with the MOCA show and now co-curating another museum show will open doors for you?
I don't know. It's funny, I don't have expectations that all of a sudden somebody is going to be calling me to do another show, curate another show elsewhere. I don't know what this might lead do. I don't assume that it is going to lead to something specifically related to this. But it is something that I wanted to do just in it of itself. I have been wanting to do some kind of show somehow just because it would be interesting to have work out there that might not otherwise be seen.
I didn't necessarily know that it would end up to be like the Pasadena show but I am really glad it did.
Street Cred - Steve Grody Interview - Part 1