Jeffrey Deitch has been involved with the world of graffiti and street art for 30 years. His first group show as director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles was organizing and commissioning the acclaimed and controversial “Art in the Streets” at the Geffen Contemporary. Art in America Magazine caught up with Deitch for an interview to talk about the exhibition and street art. You can read a teaser below and read the full story here.
RONI FEINSTEIN: The exhibition seems to comprise two distinct components. One offers a history of graffiti since the mid-’70s with a focus on youth culture, identifying graffiti as an art form created by inner-city teenagers with close ties to the subcultures surrounding hip hop and punk music, break-dancing, skateboarding, street gangs and tattooing. The other presents work by artists, many of them art-school trained, who originated within or continue to be involved with graffiti and street art but who have developed a personal style and vision that resonates within the mainstream art world. The two different strains are merged and undifferentiated in the context of the show. I am wondering why the exhibition has been structured in this way.
JEFFREY DEITCH: [The structure] reflects my own experience with this work. I became part of the circle of the Wild Style graffiti writers in New York in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The core group was Lee Quinones, Fab 5 Freddy and CRASH. There were clubs like the Mudd Club, galleries like the Fun Gallery and Fashion Moda, and events like the “Times Square Show.” I’ve known Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper [among the most important chroniclers of Wild Style in the media of photography and film] since then, and RAMMELLZEE and a number of the others. There was Kenny Scharf, of course, Keith Haring, who I had a long involvement with, and Basquiat.
FEINSTEIN: This was one integrated group?
DEITCH: That’s right. When I opened up the public gallery [in 1996], I was looking for something that was fresh that came out of street culture. In late 1999, I discovered Barry McGee and immediately became enthralled. At Barry’s first exhibition with me, I dropped in a conversation “my old friend Lee Quinones” and Barry said, “Do you think we could get Lee to come to the opening?” So I invited Lee and FUTURA and a few others and we were able to make these wonderful connections between generations. What I began to understand was that these artists coming from different places—Barry from San Francisco, Os Gemeos from Brazil, Shepard Fairey, who came to my gallery when we had our first Barry McGee show—all looked at each other and at the Wild Style people, who were universally revered. So these connections are very real.
FEINSTEIN: Kenny Scharf is prominently featured in the exhibition with early Jetsons paintings, a re-creation of his “Cosmic Closet” installation of 1982, the painted car and a multilevel mural. Scharf has always seemed to me to bridge the gap between popular culture and fine art. Historically, how does his work figure in?
DEITCH: He’s a very important figure in the show. Kenny is from L.A. and really represents that L.A. sensibility and generation, growing up on TV. [In 1978,] he goes to New York and the School of Visual Arts and meets Keith, Fab 5 Freddy and Basquiat and merges the L.A. esthetic with the fluidity of the Wild Style. He makes a combination that’s uniquely Kenny and he’s continued to build on it. He’s had a fantastic breakthrough recently with these big public murals.
Source: Art in America Magazine