Artecnica Tote bags in front of graffitiLove it or hate it, Art In The Streets  at MOCA is getting lots of buzz, and raising some fascinating questions, some of which we address on today’s DnA: when does graffiti become art? Who gets to enter the hallowed halls of the art world? And what about the “real” street artists who get left out? In putting together the show, I got to speak to some fascinating people, among them “cholo” graffiti writer, and one of the patriarchs of the LA graffiti community,  Chaz Bojorquez. Not only is his monochromatic work, painted for MOCA, layering letters that draw from Chicano and Asian influence, quite beautiful, but he’s full of illuminating insights into the world of  graffiti. Among them: it was more scary painting in MOCA than out on the street because, ”outside it’s not the police, it’s the gangsters you have to watch out for.  But in here your reputation is up on the wall.” And advice to young taggers who’d like an entree into the art world: “Tag more, it’s a career move.” Also talking about the street art show, as well as the movement’s history and place in the culture: Shepard Fairey, Fab 5 Freddy, Lee Quinones, Jeffrey Deitch and Roger Gastman.

We also hear from Fabian Debora, one of the artistic talents at Homeboy Industries, the gang intervention program, who has along wtth other graffiti writers at HB, teamed up with design company and Alex Lin, graphic designer, to create a series of tote, or “quote” bags, emblazoned with favorite slogans of Father Gregory Boyle and being sold in art museums. He talks about the significance of getting a foot in the door of commercial design, as well as the challenge for “homeboys” moving from the world of gangsta graffiti and prison art to acceptance in the fine art world.

If there’s a throughline to the show, it’s that even as graffiti divides people over whether it is art or crime, beauty or defacement, it is a visceral art form that speaks for our time.

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