Outside-In: Street Art in Blue Star Museums
Street art, much like a wild animal, is best seen in its natural habitat. No matter how many pictures of cuddly lion cubs we squeal over, nothing compares to spotting that first big cat on a safari. And sure, a friend can forward you an article titled, “Top Ten Street Murals in New York,” but it’s just not quite the same as seeing those murals for yourself.
In our latest edition of NEA Arts magazine, legendary street artist Lady Pink gave us the creator’s point of view. She helped visualize and vocalize the heart and soul that goes into the outdoor artwork you see on your daily commute or urban wanderings. In her words, “[Street art] is the purest form of expression you can imagine.”
Nevertheless, when the daily heat index reaches far over 100, hunting for art in the concrete jungle isn’t the first thing on our minds. So lucky for us that those cool, air-conditioned museums that we love so much have picked up on the talents of street artists, and are hurriedly adding names like Pink, Swoon, RETNA, and Twister to their collections alongside the likes of Braque, Duchamp, and Picasso.
While I do recommend that you take a step outside and look for some street art in the wild, we’ve found a few Blue Star Museums where you can catch some street style and beat the heat!
The National Hispanic Cultural Center (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
In the permanent collection of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, you can find the work of Charles “Chaz” Bojorquez, one of the earliest Los Angeles graffiti writers. A student of Asian calligraphy, Bojorquez combines his technical skills with the traditions of Mexican-American graffiti to create his unique style. According to his website, his current work tackles questions such as, “Does graffiti have intent, purpose, cultural identity, history and create unity? Who owns the public space and who has the right to speak and be heard?” Provocative and visually stunning, Bojorquez’s work is art worth contemplating.
The Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston, Massachusetts)
This summer, The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston is exhibiting the work of street artist, Barry McGee. McGee’s street monikers are plenty: Bernon Vernon, Ray Fong, and Twister, to name a few. But in the museum, Barry McGee is Barry McGee.
The Institute of Contemporary Art describes McGee’s gallery-based art as “[exploring] the contradiction central to his daily life---reconciling graffiti with an artistic practice---but also [addressing] the question that the avant-garde has historically asked: How might art and life be reconciled?” McGee’s exhibition brings a slice of urban life inside the museum walls, giving visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in his unique world.
Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, New York)
Jean-Michel Basquiat created the work above that is currently on view as part of the exhibition, I, you, we at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Basquiat was one of the early pioneers of the graffiti movement in the late ‘70s, but quickly evolved into an acclaimed painter. His work often addresses complex societal issues like racism and institutional power structures.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is one of the first museums to purchase work by Caledonia “Callie” Curry, or Swoon, as she is more commonly known. Swoon started doing street art in 1999, and began with large-scale installations in 2005. Her work usually depicts people, often her friends and family, and is inspired by everything from German Expressionist wood block prints to Indonesian shadow puppets.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, California)
Several large and striking murals by the artist RETNA are currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles. The expansive, black and white pieces address the context of public art practices, and also serve as a point of reference for students who participated in the MOCA and Louis Vuitton Young Arts Program, for which RETNA was a mentor.