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New York Post - When Museums Hail Graffiti

Rich Lowry of the New York Post decries the institutionalizing of graffiti in museums .. .but for a different reason than me. He thinks it creates a graffiti buzz around the neighborhoods. I think it de-fangs street art and makes it "establishment".

Lowry's recent editorial is called "Glorifying A Blight" and an excerpt is here:

Glorifying a blight


Rarely does a museum ex hibit cause a crime spree. That's the dubious distinc tion of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, where a show on "street art" -- a k a vandalism -- has inspired graffiti "artists" to deface nearby buildings.

The museum's director, Jeffrey Deitch, has long experience in legitimizing graffiti. When he was in New York, his SoHo gallery specialized in the work of the spray-can and Magic Marker set. When he hosted a show featuring a replica of a graffiti-scarred ghetto street in 2000, the NYPD arrested one of the alleged artists under suspicion for having earlier defaced a Bronx middle school.

For all the self-congratulatory transgressiveness of Deitch and other promoters of graffiti, they tend to blithely accept only damage to other people's property, as Heather Mac Donald notes in a withering critique in the City Journal of the "Art in the Streets" show.

The museum paints over graffiti on its own back wall, and "doesn't even permit visitors to use a pen for note-taking within its walls," Mac Donald writes, "an affectation unknown in most of the world's greatest museums." MOCA's implicit attitude is "Heedless acts of vandalism for thee, but not for me."

"Art in the Streets" is simply a glorification of the loathsome practice of painting your name or doodles on someone else's property. As Mac Donald documents, graffiti culture celebrates routine acts of theft and intersects with street gangs. It involves a lifestyle (late-night forays to break the law) and brings consequences (criminal records) that are destructive to young lives.

Then there are the effects for everyone else. Surely, some vandals are gifted artists, just as some drug dealers have keen business minds. But so what?

Graffiti is almost always hideously ugly. It damages private and public property. It costs millions of dollars to fight and remove. It was the cutting edge of the wave of disorder that nearly sank pre-Giuliani New York City. If an aspiring artist is ambitious and talented, there's an obvious recourse -- find a canvas and paint on it. It worked for Rembrandt.

The people who run and back the museum are fortunate enough not to live in neighborhoods beset by graffiti or to own property likely to be targeted for the "art" they celebrate. It's not their children running around with spray cans or their businesses being vandalized. They can afford to excuse and patronize a public nuisance that is the bane of communities everywhere. They are a disgrace even to the decadent elite.

comments.lowry@ nationalreview.com


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