Street artists have few outlets for their work in mainstream galleries. Indeed, some of the most famous practitioners of graffiti art, such as Banksy, say that they’d prefer not to have their artworks on show in a traditional gallery setting at all. Nevertheless, over the course of the last few years, the Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA) in California has given street artists a platform which still adheres to the basic rule of the genre that means any installations are necessarily temporary in their nature.
In short, the LBMA has struck upon the novel idea of allowing street artists to produce whatever they like on their gallery walls. At the end of these temporary shows, the works of art have simply been painted over to allow future generations of art to have their time in the spotlight.
Above: Mural by Hush at Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA)
One of the keys to the ongoing project, referred to as ‘Vitality and Verve – Transforming the Urban Landscape’ is that it allows street artists to produce whatever they see fit. What’s more, the LBMA has taken the idea a step further. It not only exhibits works made by street artists but it also allows traditional studio image-makers to try their hand at the street art style and to produce temporary pieces directly in its gallery spaces.
“The majority of the works in these exhibitions are created on the walls of the gallery,” said Ron Nelson, Executive Director of the LBMA. He explained that the invited artists were entirely free to use both traditional and non-traditional forms of art media. “Once an exhibition ends, the walls will are repainted and subsequently turned over to the next exhibition,” he said. “As such, it is important for fans of art to see these amazing at shows before they close.” This means that the LBMA is able to create a buzz about its short-term shows in a way that few others can. Although temporary exhibitions can always generate some more attention due to their time-limited nature, the LBMA’s approach goes a step further by making the artworks themselves temporary.
The idea for combining street art with a conventional gallery setting first came about in 2015. The first iteration of Vitality and Verve opened in June of that year and was originally planned to run until the end of September. In the end, it was such a hit that it was extended for a further month. According to LBMA, that exhibition focussed on the latest trends in the field of urban contemporary art. As well as murals, the show featured multi-media installations by some cutting-edge artists, both emerging and established talent. Among the contributors at that show were Aaron Horkey, Audrey Kawasaki, Cryptik, Greg ‘Craola’ Simkins, Hot Tea, Saber and Tristan Eaton, among others.
An Experience in New Art
At the time, the LBMA stated that it hoped that the exhibition would highlight the sensory value that works by these artists afford, especially in the way they transform the urban landscape around them. Much of the exhibition impressed attendees who were sometimes surprised by the realistic imagery as well as the numerous graphical patterns that were on show. Word soon spread about the quality of the experimental art show and the exhibition ended up being a record-breaking one for the gallery in terms of the number of visitors it produced.
“One of the goals behind [the exhibition]… was to offer a spotlight to artists who were stepping out of their studios to paint on a grand scale, using outdoor walls as their canvas,” Nelson said at the time. Due to the success of the debut show, the management team at LBMA took the understandable decision to repeat the show with a new generation of artists. A three-dimensional version of the show followed in 2016 which made plenty of use of sculpture to demonstrate how far street art could be developed. Artists involved in that show included Craig ‘Skibs’ Barker, Rebekah Bogard, Bumblebeelovesyou, Aaron De La Cruz, Sergio Garcia and Sarah Joncas, to name but a few.
In 2018, the exhibition returned for the third time in collaboration with the curatorship of Thinkspace Projects, based in Los Angeles. This show featured site-specific street artworks by no fewer than 21 different artists. Among them were Fintan Magee, Michael Reeder, RISK and Super A, some of whom had never been included in an organised art show before. As with the two prior exhibitions, all of the artwork was impermanent in its nature. Indeed, all of the installations were on show together on the ground floor of the LBMA which, according to Thinkspace Projects, generated “an immersive ephemeral playground for the senses.”
Founded in 1950 as a municipal art centre on the West Coast of the United States, the LBMA has a history of supporting avant-garde artists and ground-breaking genres, like street art. As well as Vitality and Verse, some of its forward-thinking exhibitions over the years have included the Artful Teapot: 20th Century Expressions, Architecture for Dogs and Masterworks: Defining a New Narrative.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.