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Tagging outside an L.A. street art exhibit fuels debate

Authorities say the downtown Los Angeles show has spawned a rash of tagging near the museum. The museum says such 'anarchic' work was anticipated and is being cleaned up.

April 20, 2011|By Andrew Blankstein, Richard Winton and David Ng, Los Angeles Times

MOCA is not the first museum to deal with the issue. When the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego held an exhibition last year that included work by L.A. street artist Shepard Fairey, a tagger vandalized one of Fairey's murals. Museum director Hugh Davies said he was disappointed by the vandalism but accepted it as being part of the street art culture.

"There's an anarchic culture that doesn't want to go through the chain of going to art school, [then getting into a] gallery and museum," he said. "It's like, 'I want to do it in my own way, I'm not in it for the market.' "

The street art scene, which has long influenced popular culture, has been slowly entering the mainstream of the art world. There have been shows at major galleries, and street art has become an influential element of the fashion industry. The scene was chronicled in Banksy's Oscar-nominated movie, "Exit Through the Gift Shop," which was set in the world of L.A. street art.

Man One, a street artist who runs Crewest gallery in downtown L.A., said that he had not noticed much more tagging around the Geffen Contemporary in recent days and that he thought the police were overreacting.

"Law enforcement wants you to believe the broken window theory — that the city falls apart and bigger crimes occur because of an increase in tagging," he said. "One of the questions that the city should be asking is if there is an increase of violence. Have there been more shootings because of this show? Has anyone died because of this show?"

Man One also said street art created without permission could have redeeming value.

"The way I always look at it: Is it done with permission or without permission? That's what it comes down to for me. But either way it can be art," he added. "Not all of it is art, but sometimes there are some beautiful things that go up without permission."

Times staff writers Jori Finkel and Mike Boehm contributed to this report.

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