The Architecture + Design Museum on 6032 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles was transformed into a canvas of graffiti art by some of the city’s most iconic artists for the “Beyond Graffiti 2” exhibition, which opened this past Saturday evening. Curated by the Los Angeles Art Collective (LAAC), Beyond Graffiti 2 is a colorful farewell to the building the A + D has called home since 2010. The building will be demolished within the next few months to make room for the L.A. Metro’s new Purple Line train station.
Considering the controversially illegal and fleeting nature of contemporary graffiti art in L.A. alone, painting the walls of the A + D Museum is a fitting last hurrah that brings up the age-old debate of who and what defines art, and challenges the notion of where it “should” be. But it also sheds light on L.A.’s valuable graffiti art history and its unique close-knit community. With the renovation plans of LACMA across the street and L.A. Metro’s expansion in tow, the exhibition points out the constant evolving nature of the city and evokes questions of what its future beholds.
Walking past the A + D entryway, the once-blank white walls of the gallery space were now decked out with the individual graphic styles of locally based graffiti artists including Aise Born, Atlas, Axis, Chaz, Defer, Eder Cetina of LAAC, Eyeone, Fishe, Kofie, Krush, and Swank, alongside contributions from Dense, Keef Aura, JOR JS Crew, and The Street Phantom.
Jazzy hip-hop beats set the laidback vibe of opening night as fellow graffiti artists, friends, and enthusiasts gathered around the spaces and narrow hallways of the gallery. Some visitors gazed at the artwork, while others enjoyed themselves at the digital spray paint installation by CutMod Digital Media. The party continued outside in the back lot where more people stood for drinks and food-truck grub. As I made my way there with LAAC’s and Beyond Graffiti co-curators Eder Cetina and Victor Solomon, they pointed out a hard-to-miss giant digital projection -- also by CutMod -- that covered the building’s entire smooth white facade. Geometric mountain-like forms whose edges would become illuminated with moving white streaks of light covered the bottom half of the wall. Above it, a giant inverted-color digital projection showed an artist’s hand writing calligraphy or drawing in real time, as if sketching on the building itself.
As we chatted with drinks in hand, Cetina recalled people’s skeptically curious reactions about the A + D Museum hosting a graffiti exhibition, unsure of its outcome. But as Beyond Graffiti 2 pieced itself together, the community -- quite naturally -- grew more appreciative of the effort. Until now, Cetina is still amazed that the A + D Museum entrusted the entire gallery space to LAAC and put together such a free-form exhibition. “[Other museum institutions] can’t fathom that, and I still can’t fathom that,” he said.
Beyond Graffiti 2 conveys not only a spirit of raw talent, it also expresses the artists’ genuine love of creativity itself as well as their involvement with the growing community -- especially when artists working in a cultural center like L.A. have high expectations and competition to face. “Everybody has gone beyond the graffiti lifestyle into a professional level, whether it’s painting or design. The fact that all of these guys have a work ethic, it’s so strong,” Cetina said in admiration. “I believe that choice, not chance, determines your destiny. And I think that each one of them is carved out for themselves. They have taken what they had -- in the streets, in schooling -- and still are very active in the street world, in the graffiti world. Some of them are passionate about making sure that they still do that kind of work. Each one, teach one.”
As the demolition of the A + D’s current building looms in the near future, Cetina feels optimistic about the changes taking place throughout the City of Angels, from the Westside and particularly in Downtown’s booming Arts District -- which will become the A + D’s new home starting this June. “It was awesome to know that [the A + D building] will live as a Metro station here [...] We see all the changes here. This corner, girl, is gonna. blow. up in the next five years. This will be, like, the shit,” Cetina told me, pointing to the ground. “The new renovation of [Peter] Zumthor across the street at LACMA, it’s on a whole other level -- I like it, actually. I think change is necessary in this city. I think that we are in a stagnant state at times here.”
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