'Beyond The Streets,' And Far From Vandalism: Street Art Gets A Massive Show

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Outlaws. That's what they were considered when they spray-painted walls and bombed subway cars with modern-day hieroglyphics. They worked in alleys and train yards, bridges and tunnels. Now, many of them are being celebrated in a massive warehouse near Los Angeles' Chinatown.

The exhibition "Beyond the Streets" focuses on the studio work street artists created later in their careers. It has more 40,000-square feet of paintings, murals, photos, installations and even old video games. (NPR gave "Beyond the Streets" a small amount of support as a media partner.)

"This is vandalism as contemporary art, or contemporary art as vandalism, depending on how you want to look at it," says curator Roger Gastman, co-author of The History of American Graffiti. "Street art has become such a buzzword, and lot of the motivation for doing a show like this was to show who the true artists respected by people inside the culture are."

The show includes 100 artists, living and deceased; "risk takers," Gastman says, whose work connects with and inspires artists today. There are classic works by Keith Haring, TAKI 183, Jenny Holzer, SWOON, Jean-Michel Basquiat and photographers Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper. There are also newer works by CRASH, FUTURA 2000, LADY PINK and Shepard Fairey.

Artist Kenny Scharf has decked out a Day-Glo, black-lit room for this show, and Lee Quiñones has painted a full-size handball court. Some of L.A.'s legends are here too: street gardener/activist Ron Finley constructed one of his outdoor gardens, and tattoo and graffiti artist Mister Cartoon created his own chapel.

"Our art criticizes the art system"

Then there are the Guerrilla Girls, a collective of artists who hide their faces with gorilla masks. The group formed 33 years ago in New York to protest the lack of women artists in museums and galleries, and the way women are represented in the art world.

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