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Animation at MOCA’s “Art in the Streets” Show

Art in the Streets

“Art in the Streets,” the first major museum survey of street art and graffiti, opened last week at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and I highly recommend it. It ranks among the most fun art exhibits I’ve ever attended, and features lots of eye candy in the form of large-scale installations that at times can feel more like an amusement park than a museum. As a first-of-its-kind exhibition, it’s also guaranteed to spark plenty of vigorous debate about what was chosen for inclusion and what wasn’t, not to mention all the controversy it’s already generated from the Blu mural debacle to irrational police fury.

Wild Style

Though minimal, animated works do have a presence in the show. A sequence of animation drawings from the opening of the influential early-1980s documentary Wild Style is displayed in one area. The sequence (watch it HERE) was designed by Charlie Ahearn, who directed the film, and graffiti writer Zephyr. In the “Battle Station”, a fantastic recreation of the Tribeca loft of the late Rammellzee, a mograph music video called “Alpha’s Bet” is screened on a television. The video, posted below, was directed by Celia Bullwinkel in 2002. (Disclosure: I am a personal friend of Celia and attended the show with her.)

Graffiti/street art has a complicated relationship with animation, which is a thread that the curators of the exhibit never explore. While the show features a handful of artists, like the aforementioned Rammellzee, who have the ability to express personal ideas beyond the confines of referential pop culture, many of the artists from Kenny Scharf to Banksy to the anonymous graffiti writers who painted on the sides of subway cars have relied on animated characters as their lingua franca for communicating with the general public. These cartoon characters, to my surprise, are rarely used to make any statement or to subvert the original intentions of the characters, a la Wally Wood’s infamous Disney “orgy” drawing. For graffiti and street artists, the act of recreating popular cartoon iconography is considered an accomplishment in and of itself.

If one looks only at the art displayed in the show, the conclusion could be drawn that things are beginning to change. More recent artists, like the Brazilian twins Os Gêmeos, have dispensed with drawing pre-existing animated characters and are creating libraries of new cartoon characters drawn in their personal styles. Like any vital art form, street art is evolving, and the evolution points in a positive direction that emphasizes personal creativity.

Below are a few of the cartoon references I saw in the show.

Will you take the Mickey or Woody train?
Art in the Streets

Kenny Scharf began doing Hanna-Barbera tributes in 1981, long before anybody else considered celebrating Hanna-Barbera’s cruddiness.
Art in the Streets

Only in the world of graffiti could Hanna-Barbera and DePatie-Freleng characters co-exist.
Art in the Streets

Ward Kimball would have totally appreciated this.
Art in the Streets

Donald and Franken Berry
Art in the Streets

Banksy-caliber wit
Art in the Streets

Airbrushed Felix
Art in the Streets

Art in the Streets

  • Neil

    This looks like an amazing exhibition.
    New York animator Joey Ahlbum rarely gets credited with his involvement in creating the opening sequence to Wildstyle alongside Zephyr and Charlie Ahearn . There is a brief mention of his work on that film and his thesis SVA film way back in the early 80’s

    • amid

      Crazy! I had no idea he was involved. Thanks for pointing this out, Neil.

  • Ah, yes. This looks awesome. I’m hoping to see this exhibit later on this summer. Thanks for posting about it, Amid.

  • Michael F.

    The Thomas the Tank Engine made me laugh. I never thought of it that way.

  • Actually that’s not Japanese Beetle (from DePatie-Freleng’s “Blue Racer”).

    I don’t remember the exact cartoon, but that’s a villain from one of the mid-to-late ’60s Hanna-Barbera show. I think it’s from “Atom Ant” or something.

  • The Gee

    It looks like a cool exhibit


    I’m still not down with the very concept that street art/graffiti can and should be curated. It’s way too contradictory. I’m of the school that it should be found, discovered somehow. At the most, maybe reproduced in a book but not as an exhibit, inside of a building.

    That said, I hope people enjoy it and can get something from it.

  • Ra

    animation and graffiti…
    “cada día paso por aquí” (barcelona 2004)

  • Someone should make a “Go Graffitiâ„¢” online app so anyone can do this on their computers.

    • The Gee