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Graffiti Art

by Walter Robinson
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How pissed off should we be about the cancellation of “Art in the Streets” at the Brooklyn Museum, announced yesterday by museum director Arnold Lehman? We don’t get to see the show for ourselves, and that’s certainly an insult, and the classic New York graffiti artists are robbed of a moment of home-town triumph, and that’s not fair.

It’s some consolation that graffiti is everywhere, and hardly needs the museum. The 7 Line of the NYC subway offers its own graffiti epiphany when it suddenly rises above ground and passes through the “5 Pointz” open-air graffiti gallery during the approach to the Court Square station in Queens.

And graffiti’s winning presence in our lives is chronicled every day by blogs like New York Shitty.

What’s irritating is not the art (or the lack of it), but the rotten politics that drive the decision. The Brooklyn Museum says that its “withdrawal” from the exhibition tour results from “the current financial climate” and the “economic downturn” that began in 2008.

That obvious boilerplate deserves a second look. “Art in the Streets” probably cost $500,000 to put together and no doubt could be traveled for much less. It would easily have been popular enough to pay for itself, and might have turned a profit.

In fact the show was killed not by budget worries but by the goon squad. Thuggish city council member Peter Vallone all but threatened to pull the Brooklyn Museum’s $9 million city appropriation if it went ahead with the show, and the dim-witted Daily News was beating the drum of populist resentment against the art before it even came to town.

It was shaping up to be a battle between “Art in the Streets” and the maniac mouth-breathers in power, and you can hardly blame Lehman for skipping that particular battle.

The show may still make it here, under the unlikely banner of Los Angeles museum director Jeffrey Deitch, who told the New York Times that if he couldn’t find another museum to host the show, “we’ll just do it on our own.”

So can one of you Street Artists paint up a picture of the guy in a muscle suit? We might need that later.

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.