Monday, July 11, 2011

Art in the Streets - Los Angeles

This past sunny summer Sunday was spent at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles checking out the Art in the Streets Exhibit. A word to the first-time-visitors of the Museum of Contemporary Art: there are three locations for this museum. When planning our outing to the exhibit of your choice, be certain that you Google-mapped the correct location. They are all in Los Angeles, but, as you already know or will soon find out the hard way, driving anywhere in L.A. can feel like driving to another city (state? country?) with the traffic as unpredictable as it tends to be.

The Art in the Streets exhibition is currently at the Geffen Contemporary location, in the heart of Little Tokyo. Find the closest parking lot [we found one with a flat rate of $6.50 within 100 yards of the MOCA entrance], and follow the crowds to the street art candy land. The Geffen Contemporary, architecturally, is essentially a large warehouse. I have been here before for a Murakami exhibit, and the space never disappoints, this time being no exception.

The exhibit begins before you enter the MOCA with murals on walls of the surrounding buildings, a spray painted bus, and even a tagged steamroller truck [Yogi bear met a most cruel demise...picnic basket for one now BooBoo].

I am a great fan of street art, I love discovering it where ever I go, in side streets, in little nooks and corners that many people don't look down. Going into this exhibit was like being a kid in a candy story, sensory overload from the moment I walked through the door and instant enthusiasm to take in all that I could. The scale of the show alone is overwhelming as you take a sweeping panoramic visual digestion of all that lay before you in the hours you have to peruse the exhibit. Color screaming from every corner and you wonder how they put all this together.

As much as I like seeing street art I, quite ashamedly, know very little about individual street artists. Fortunately for me, two of my friends that I explored the MOCA with that day happen to know a great deal about many of the featured artists. So, I stuck close to them as much as possible to hear the factoids and back story of the various artists, and was amused to notice that several strangers lingered near by, obviously listening to the same unofficial tour guides that I was.

The Art in the Streets exhibit had the typical throw ups on walls, but also more unconventional pieces including constructed ally ways made of found objects, enormous stencils used to great shadows on a tent, videos, black-lighted rooms with music, tagged cars, model trains, and a wall made of "lost pet" flyers. What was most valuable, to me, about this exhibit is that it allowed street artists to be featured as what they are: artists. I will readily admit that until about 7 years ago I had thought graffiti to be defilement of public property, vandalism. But, once learning about how it is made, hearing the back story of individual artists, and seeing more of it in general in various cities I became fascinated with it and realized it to be a medium of creative expression.

There is so much to see at this exhibit, that I would recommend going more than once if you can, especially if you live or work in the Los Angeles area. After three hours of surveying the exhibit, we decided to grab some dinner before heading home at the popular sausage grill Wurstküche. As I came to discover from my friend who'd been there before, this place usually has a line out the door, but we hit it just right with only a 10-minute wait in line. However, I will go ahead and say now that whatever the wait would be to dine at this location is worth it...don't let yourself be scared off. The menu is pretty strait forward: pick your sausage, select your two free toppings, and choose a beer. As far as sausages go, they cover their bases pretty well: the more familiar bratwurst & Italian sausage, the more gourmet mango jalapeño chicken or sun dried tomato & mozzarella turkey/chicken sausage, the exotic alligator & pork or rattlesnake & rabbit sausage, and even 3 varieties of vegetarian sausages. They also offer double dipped Belgian fries with an option of white truffle oil glaze and a selection of dipping sauces. For drinks you choose among Belgian, German, and North American beers & ales.

After you stand in line to place your order, you grab your number and head down a hallway to the indoor eating area. It has some private tables, but the greater atmosphere is featured at the commonly-shared beer garden tables complete with brown paper taped to the tables allowing for doodling and games of hangman or tic-tac-toe while you wait for your food. When your food arrives, don't forget to choose among the 5 varieties of mustard and then enjoy.

After dinner we spotted a cream puff place called Beard Papa’s, apparently a chain. The most grabbing thing about it is the little old-man-sailor icon. Cream filling selections abound including coffee, earl grey tea, pumpkin, chocolate, and the original vanilla. The ultra-sweet cream is balanced well by the plain but moist pastry that embraces it. Beard Papa's claim their cream puffs to be “the best in the world,” so are at least worth a try to say you’ve “had the best.”

A wonderful day spent with friends drinking in the creative endeavors of notable street artists. This exhibit truly should not be missed. Whether you see the exhibit or not, you should check out the list of artists and Google their work so on our next day trip or vacation you can be on the watch for their works in their natural environment: the streets.