Does graffiti work in an art gallery? Is it still able to democratically maintain its authenticity as a free and social aesthetic, or does the gallery steal this capacity? Can the rambunctious and illicit energy that sparks the kaleidoscopic letters and imagery you see scattered across our city make the leap from the concrete wall to the pristine wall? Or, will the white cube sterilize it? These questions linger in L.A. Louver’s Roll Call. Bringing together eleven street artists from Los Angeles, the exhibition gives us a sampling of their different approaches to making that leap. It’s a goal they share, and it’s one they prove requires a creative professionalism.
One thing you might notice about the art is how far from the street it seems. The surfaces of Jesse Simon’s sculptures shine with a high-gloss finish, the imagery of Kizu’s canvases carefully wrap around their edges, and the haunting faces of Estrada’s paintings are aggressively realistic. These are highly crafted pieces, and they testify to the level of skill these artists possess. That skill translates into commercial success when you consider that Retna’s resume includes working for Nike, and Slick’s work appears in Ocean’s 12 and Charlie’s Angels.
But, the spirit of the street also lingers in Roll Call. The cryptic letter styles of Cavazos echo across the numerous overpasses and billboards commuters encounter daily, and Fujita’s imagery illustrate the mosaic of cultural juxtapositions occurring from Highway 1 all the way past San Bernardino. Los Angeles comes into focus in the gallery. Absent of the usual peripheral distractions, the work reflects our city back to us in an unavoidable way. Far from neutralizing the work, Roll Call demonstrates how graffiti can be just as polished as the art nestled in The Broad without loosing its soul.
Roll Call runs November 16, 2016-Janurary 14, 2017 at L.A. Louver (45 North Venice Boulevard Venice, CA 90291)