All in a Life's Work: A Conversation with Roger Gastman on the street culture retrospective, "Beyond the Streets"
This May 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, curator Roger Gastman will open a mega retrospective, BEYOND THE STREETS, celebrating and illuminating both the history and reach that graffiti and street art movements have had on contemporary art and pop-culture. And it's funny, we say this a lot in our world, "Oh, graffiti and street art are the longest running art movements the world has ever seen." But this isn't just hyperbole. There is a truth to this and, with Beyond the Streets, Gastman sought of ways to tell the complicate story of how these cultures have grown to reach some of the biggest names in contemporary art, as well as find ways that renegade, political and subversive art histories are both informed and galvanized by graff and street art practices.
Now, full disclosure, I am indeed a "guest curator" of Beyond the Streets, along with Caleb Neelon and NYC graffiti writer and historian, CHINO. But what Roger Gastman has built with Beyond the Streets is a new way of beginning to look at the evolution of street culture. I sat down with Roger to get the genesis of Beyond the Streets, asked about what his approach was to gathering a group of artists to represent and expand the story of graffiti and street art and what surprises the show will have once it opens.
Evan Pricco: I have to ask, why now? Why do you think we need to take another look at street art and graffiti in this context?
Roger Gastman: Graffiti and street art has continued to evolve and today they stand as very important art movements that are established and more importantly influence other genres within contemporary art. Art in the Streets was a huge success but there was still so much more to say, artists to explore and narratives to teach. Everyone has been wanting more, the next chapter. I feel that it’s necessary to continue this conversation.
I get asked this all the time about street art and graffiti, but people continue to wonder about the longevity of the movement. And I always say that it sort of represents a broader discourse and movement away from traditional art culture and structures, and that new audiences get turned onto art year after year and have found this outsider form to be their entry point. Why did you think there has been such longevity?
Graffiti and street art have maintained such longevity because it continues to adapt and influence art culture in so many ways that its undeniable. Some of the artists in Beyond the Streets create work that some visitors would never consider being influenced by graffiti or street art, yet they are in a major way. Graffiti and street art movements have trickled into nearly every aspect of contemporary culture that we are always immersed in some version of it. You don’t have to go to the museums to see the work, you experience it on your way to your job, biking to school, walking your dogs. With its constant presence in our lives, its become more and more understood and wanted. The audience gets broader year after.
I like your approach here on Beyond the Streets, because you are tapping into how expansive these art forms have reached with inclusions like Holzer and Murakami, but also sort of reminding people that Guerrilla Girls and Mark Mothersbaugh were essential in this growth. How did you even begin to shape the curation?
Understanding the origins and fundamentals of the movement is part of it, but really examining how much the art form has expanded today was a must for me. It was important to include a wide reach of artists that have connection to the culture by either participating or being inspired by it. So many more artists than one thinks have a deep connection. BEYOND THE STREETS had to tell more of a story and had to make the artists in the show be excited about who they were showing with and make them be inspired. Not just painting after painting. Gotta mix it up.
Did you have a few things that you knew had to happen in this show? Things that you really sought out?
Recreating a portion of the Venice Pavillion is exciting and will be a very exciting especially for those who didn’t get to experience it. I wanted to bring the FAILE Temple to the west coast, its absolutely remarkable. Same with the iconic LEE handball court, that will be a fully functional court just like the original. I’ve always wanted to work with the Guerrilla Girls, they are inspiring and essential to this movement. And SEEN is in the show – SEEN, wait till you see what he does. A major intent for BEYOND THE STREETS is to explore graffiti and street art directly from its host city as the exhibit travels. For this first exhibition, I really wanted to work with Chaz Bojórquez, Mister Cartoon, RISK, Dennis Hopper, Estevan Oriol, along with Jason REVOK, RETNA, Patrick Martinez and so many others who are essential to the movement right here in Los Angeles. I can’t name everyone and everyone is going to be mad I didn’t mention them.
Are there parts of your personal collection in the show?
I have some historical ephemera here and there from my collection, not much. The main focus of the show is on all of the new work by these artists. 85-90% of the work was made specifically for this exhibit.
I'm sure setting this show up, as it was with Art In the Streets, you found some surprises that arose that led you to new curatorial decisions?
Absolutely – it really came down to space. It was difficult to lock down a space in Los Angeles with the square footage I wanted; in the end I am 20,000 square feet less than I wanted. I had to scale back a bit, which changed some things here and there. Overall I’ve been able to do a lot of what I initially set out to do.
Talk about the space? It's in Downtown Los Angeles?
Yes, its Downtown just east of Chinatown. The neighborhood is primarily full of industrial warehouses and the new Los Angeles Historical Park was just opened around the corner. We are utilizing over 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space.
The Ron Finley piece of this show is one of the highlights for me, I loved that addition. What is he doing? How is that going show up?
Ron is out working in the community, drawing attention to things that matter on his own terms and he’s not apologetic about it. The Ron Finley Project are creating a garden installation with edible plants and fruits trees, an oasis in a very industrialized area of the city, highlighting the importance of nature and the lack of natural spaces in our urban environment. Ron’s well known saying is; ‘plant some shit’, I hope this installation will encourage our visitors to do just that.
You are a collector of art things, I'm a collector of art things, what is the shop going to have?
Its going to be full of collaborative merchandise for the exhibit that we’ve also been working on. adidas Skateboarding has been full of support as a partner on the exhibit and we created a capsule collection with them called MARK MAKER, RULE BREAKER. I’ve compiled a 500-page exhibition catalog that will also be available. Modernica has been working with us on some special artist collaborations to release in the shop as well that I know everyone will love, can’t share those details just yet. I promise the gift shop is going to be just as exciting as the show.
What else can you tell us?
Beyond the Streets will be full of surprises nobody will want to miss, trust me. Tickets just went on sale last week and the response has been overwhelming. I can’t wait to open and show you what we’ve been working these last few years.
Beyond the Streets will run from May 6—June 6 in downtown Los Angeles