Sunday, May 22, 2011


April 17 - August 8, 2011

My exhibition experience!

It was great! Visually stimulating! Provocative! Challenging! Vibrant! Joyous! Satisfying! Humorous at times, and often confusing in terms of location and what I was seeing. As I looked around the gallery, I sensed that others were experiencing similar reactions. While moving slowly through the chronology section, I spoke to a young woman who shared my enthusiasm. Later I asked one of the guards for his evaluation of visitors' reactions; he assured me that what I was experiencing reflected the sentiments of the vast majority of the crowd.

Here is a link to photographs of some of the works in the exhibition

From Jeffrey Deitch's introduction to the exhibition catalogue

"Arguably the most influential art movement since Pop, graffiti—as we know it today—was invented by teenagers. The convergence of street art and graffiti styles that emerged from housing projects, subway yards, and bleak suburban parking lots has become a global phenomenon. It continues to thrive and evolve forty years after it began.

"The strongest artistic innovations quickly become international, spreading from one city to another through networks of artists: The wild style graffiti that was born in the Bronx spawned or connected with local styles in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, and Sao Paulo. Like other important artistic trends, the graffiti impulse could not be confined to one medium. The emergence of graffiti paralleled the genesis of hip-hop, its artistic vocabulary spilling over into break dancing, street fashion, and the language and rhythms of rap music. In the mid-1970s, the New York subways were like total works of art. Every square foot of the trains' surfaces, inside and out, was bombed with tags and throw-ups. Riders were blasted by the beats coming from boom boxes. A subway trip could be an immersion into utter urban anarchy or a shot of explosive artistic energy—it was probably both.

"Many artistic innovations occur during periods of prosperity and economic expansion. The emergence of graffiti as an art form in the '70s occurred in a time of economic and political challenges: the oil embargo of 1973, the stock market decline, and the malaise over the Vietnam War were among the factors that signaled the end of the American dream. The youth culture and the liberation movements of the late '60s had taught that anyone could be an artist. The unfulfilled promise of '60s idealism clashing with the disappointing reality of America in the mid-'70s led to angry and anti-authoritarian art forms such as graffiti and punk rock."

My discovery of graffiti

For me, it began with "Taki 183," the omnipresent signature that you found all over New York in the 70s on buildings, the subway, doorways, lamposts and wherever you looked. This was only the tip of the iceberg. Soon graffiti had conquered the entire subway system, inside and out. I knew only New York graffiti even though it was appearing in many other places.

The New York graffiti artists of this time were spray paint gymnasts. The animated manequins seen in the exhibition are convincing replicas of the real thing. The wall of spray paint cans in the exhibition demonstrates their tool kit.

What qualifies ART IN THE STREETS as a seminal / blockbuster exhibition?

As Peter Deitch said above, graffiti is "Arguably the most influential art movement since Pop." I have been aware of bits and pieces of this phenomenon over the last forty years. Roaming through the streets of SOHO, in the 1970s, one was constantly confronted with the graffiti movement as it was emerging. I was witnessing graffiti everywhere, but never put the pieces together. Previously, I saw it as a series of isolated phenomena. It took ART IN THE STREETS to awaken me to the vibrancy, vitality and majesty of this incredibly vigorous art movement.

This is exactly what a seminal exhibition accomplishes. It creates an awareness that did not exist previously for you. I am going to assume that most of the people whosee this exhibition will experience a similar awakening. For that, I thank and congratulate Peter Deitch and his collaborators.

As a new LA resident, thanks to ART IN THE STREETS, I see graffiti wherever it exists here in a new light. It confronts me in the part of the city in which I live, Boyle Heights, and the part of the city in which I spend most of my time, Downtown Los Angeles. There is graffiti in other parts of LA which are beyond the range of my routine travels.

Check out this excellent site - The Dirt Floor

By way of explanation / seminal exhibitions:

A seminal exhibition offers fresh, insightful and compelling cultural and intellectual content. It demands that you re-evaluate your established ideas. Beyond that, it offers new concepts which might not have entered your mind. Sometimes these concepts have been tested, sometimes not.

By way of explanation / blockbuster exhibitions:

Blockbuster art exhibitions are ubiquitous - a dime a dozen. Some are of real quality; some are atrocious hoaxes. Generally, they are lavish displays of famous and not-so-famous works of art that are seldom seen or are presented in a new context which might make them appear to be more unique and/or special. Some might be spectacular to see; some might have intellectual content, most do not. The term "blockbuster art exhibition" joined our lexicon when Tom Hoving, the brilliant and imaginative director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, brought the The Treasures of Tutankhamun to this country in the 1970's.

Distinguishing between seminal and blockbuster exhibitions

Below are examples of both, most of which I have seen over a number of years.


Cubism and Abstract Art and Fantastic Art Dada and Surrealism were the two most seminal exhibitions ever presented in an American art museum. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., founding director of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, was curator of both. In 1936, they established the canons of interpretation for the historical roots of the modern art movement. Often embellished and revised, the content of these two exhibitions has influences how most Americans view the Western European roots of the modern art movement. At the time, these two exhibitions appealed to a small coterie of wealthy modern art cognoscenti. 


The Family of Man,a huge photographic exhibition in 1955 at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, had lines of people stretching from the museum entrance in the middle of the block on West 53rd Street to Fifth Avenue. Essentially a composite of the personal choices of Edward Steichen, Director of the Department of Photography at MOMA, it was an idiosyncratic exhibition that elevated photography to a new level. The design of the exhibition was a maze; it compelled gallery goers to investigate its nooks and crannies. This was one of the first times that photo blow-ups appeared in an art museum.

Seminal / Blockbuster

In the late 1970s, the new Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris emerged as a fountainhead of 20th century art interpretation. Paris-New York, Paris-Berlin and Pairs-Moscou, a trilogy of exhibitions organized by Pontus Hulten, examined 20th century art history through links between these art capitals. These exhibitions included art objects, films, posters, documentation, and reconstructions of exhibition spaces such as Gertrude Stein's salon. Pontus Hulten was the founding director of LA MOCA. Arriving in 1980, he left in 1984.


The Treasures of Tutankhamun, jointly organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and National Gallery of Art, Washington, the exhibition opened in Washington in 1972 and later went to The Metropolitan Museum in New York. It toured American cities until 1981 and attracted, at that time, unprecedented crowds. To accommodate huge number of visitors, a reservation system was developed  with tickets being sold on specific dates for specific time slots.

Seminal / Blockbuster

In 1986, the Centre Pompidou presented Vienne 1900-1938, l'apocalypse joyeuse, another exhibition which defined the totality of a city as an art center within a specific period of time. It embraced art, cultural history, political history and the impact of Nazism on the Jewish artists and intellectuals who made Vienna their home. Clearly a seminal exhibition, it was immensely popular. The Centre Pompidou initiated evening openings with a midnight closing.

Borderline Seminal / Blockbuster

Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992. This remarkable exhibition depicted the global society of the late 15th century. Although studded with masterpieces, it made a significant cultural statement demonstrating the diversity, vitality and interconnectedness at that time of the world's population and cultures. Perhaps more blockbuster than seminal, its intellectual content cannot be overlooked.


Aurea Roma: DallaCittàPagana alla Città Christiana (Golden Rome: From the Pagan City to the Christian City) 2000, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Roma. This exhibition was planned to coincide with the celebration of the 2,000th anniversary of Christianity. Although it confirmed the power and opulence of the Catholic Church, it also presented a non-theological view of the emergence of a monotheist society.

By way of explanation / my seminal / blockbuster exhibitions:

Having created two exhibitions which were seminal / blockbusters, I can speak with some authority.

Above: Photo of crowds waiting to enter The Lower East Side: Portal to American Life exhibition at The Jewish Museum, 1966. There were lines from Fifth Avenue to Madison Avenue along 92nd Street.

In 1966, I created The Lower East Side: Portal to American Life exhibition at The Jewish Museum in New York. It is listed among thousands of other events in world Jewish history in The Timetables of Jewish History: A Chronology of the Most Important People and Events in Jewish History. This exhibition invigorated a sense of ethnic pride among Eastern European Jewish immigrants and their progeny; it encouraged other ethnic groups to follow a similar pattern.

Above: Photo of crowds in the 1940-1949 section of the Harlem On My Mind exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In 1969, I createdHarlem On My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America: 1900 - 1968, an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Displays of Power: Memories and Amnesia in the American Museum author Steven C. Dubin wrote: "Harlem On My Mind is a landmark. It opened the doors of cultural institutions to multimedia. It helped define the blockbuster exhibition." Of the exhibition catalogue which reflected the content of the exhibition, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., chair of the Afro-American Studies Department at Harvard University, said, "This catalogue ...remains ... one of the richest and most comprehensive records of the African-American in the twentieth century."

The exhibition was divided into six chronological sections: 1900-1919 / From White to Black Harlem, 1920-1929 / An Urban Black Culture, 1930-1939 / Depression and Hard Times, 1940-1949 / War, Hope and Opportunity, 1950-1959 / Frustration and Ambivalence, 1960-1968 / Militancy and Identity.


ART IN THE STREETS annointed graffiti with new status. What does all of this portend for the contemporary art world? Will there be a graffiti reevaluation in the global art market where art is sold like commodities on the stock market? Will graffiti enter the global art market as a new and desirable art commodity?

Most people who call themselves artists today want to see their work exhibited in museums. They view inclusion in a museum show as a careerism stepping stone. Graffiti is outsider art; it's original intent had nothing to with museums and their associated prestige.

There is no question that this exhibition has set in motion a whole new set of options. Perhaps we will begin to see plaques placed alongside graffiti works with the names of collectors who have purchased them from artists or their agents? Perhaps we will see evanescent graffiti works on video sold much as Bill Viola markets his art? Perhaps none of these will happen? Perhaps the movement will fade into oblivion? (I hope not.) We'll just have to wait and see how all of this plays out!

Graffiti is created to be seen in situ.(Some graffiti artists were commissioned to create specific works seen in the exhibition galleries.)From my perspective, rather than transforming non-museum art into displayable museum art, there might have been another approach. I would like to have seen a battery of webcams attached to video projectors presenting varied examples of graffiti so that they would have been seen in context - on the streets. For me, this would have been a more authentic presentation of current examples. With regard to presenting historical examples as museum objects, I concur with doing this by way of interpretation. That's a different story.

is a must see exhibition.It is big and diverse, not the kind of exhibition that one can digest immediately. I have seen it twice and am going again next week.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Last Remaining Seats

King Kong - The Eighth Wonder of the World

King Kong, 1933

As a member of the Program Sub-Committee of the Los Angeles Conservancy's Last Remaining Seats Committee, I prepared the program notes for King Kong. Having seen it first as a child and many times again as an adult, for me, it demonstrates the wonders of movies - the ability to create a total unreality. It will be shown at the Los Angeles Theater on June 15.

Special guest at this showing will be Pauline Wagner (who is 100 years old). She was Fay Wray's stunt double in the film. Below is a recent interview with Pauline Wagner, as well as some scenes from King Kong.

My Program Notes

Ray Bradbury called it one of the “greatest films ever made” Andrew Sarris disdainfully dismissed it as a “B” picture. There is no question that King Kong, can be viewed as an iconic masterpiece of special effects filmmaking. It has been remade, imitated, and bastardized while at the same time generating a genre that has flourished ever since its release. Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings said, “Watching that film propelled me into a love of making movies and learning how to do visual effects, the very stuff of movie magic.”

The creative force behind the film was Merian C. Cooper - adventurer, explorer, filmmaker, journalist, prisoner of war, studio executive, technical innovator and war hero all rolled into one. Leading man, Carl Denham, could be seen as a personification of Cooper.

Prior to making King Kong, Cooper had traveled to the South Seas and Africa aboard The Wisdom as a member of Captain Edward A. Salisbury’s expedition. Its purpose was to create documentary films and written records of their explorations. Ernest Shodesack, who later became Cooper’s collaborator and co-producer, joined The Wisdom expedition in Sumatra. Cooper and Schodsack later made documentary films in Siam (Thailand). They released two: Grass (1925) and Chang (1927).

Cooper and Schodesack came to the making of King Kong with considerable experience in exotic cultures. They amalgamated that with the wizardry of Willis O’Brien’ s technical effects.. The script is pedestrian good guy / bad guy with beauty and the beast throw in for good measure and love triumphing as the last scene fades out. What sets King Kong apart from all others is O’Brien’s special effects. O’Brien had pioneered the art of three-dimensional stop-motion animation for nearly twenty years. In reality, King Kong was not 18 feet tall weighing a ton. He was an 18-inch metal armature with articulated joints enveloped with cotton and string, coated with latex rubber and covered with rabbit fur. In order to achieve a sense of motion, the figures had to be manipulated and photographed frame-by-frame (24 frames per second, 1,440 per minute). Miniature jungle environments served as backgrounds and foregrounds for three-dimensional illusions including rear screen projections.

The derisive ethnic stereotyping common in motion pictures and accepted across the board in American society during the 1930s is viewed today as offensive. We see the tribal chief as an aboriginal caricature and the Chinese cook, Charlie, as a strange backward foreigner.

The film did not receive any Academy Award nominations. In 1975, it was named one of the 50 best American films by the American Film Institute. In 1991, King Kong was considered to be "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 1998, the American Film Institute ranked it as number 43 on its list of the 100 greatest movies of all time.
As is the Hollywood practice, film classics are regurgitated time and again. Being a purist, I have never seen them.

l976 - Produced by Dino de Laurentis

King Kong (1976)

2005 - Directed by Peter Jackson 

King Kong (2005)