MOCA’s Art in the Streets with Kids?

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Remember all those tips for visiting museums with kids I posted last week?  Well, this is what happens when you forget to take your own advice. Sunday we planned another family day at the museum.  We chose the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA exhibition space in downtown L.A.  We were anxious to see the current exhibition, “Art in the Streets.”  We saw a huge cartoon-like street art mural on the outside of the museum a few weeks ago, and couldn’t wait to come back and see more.

The exhibition chronicles the origins and development of graffiti and street art.  It highlights the three major influences of the movement: 1970s New York Wild Style, East L.A. cholo gang graffiti, and Venice Beach and Santa Monica skate culture.

We took our time getting out of the house and arrived at 2pm (so much for tip #3 – Go Early).  The line outside the museum confirmed that Sunday mid-afternoon is definitely prime time.  But the line moved quickly, and I occupied myself people watching.

There were a lot of young, hip-looking 20-30 year olds in line –artist and student types in jeans and black t-shirts, men with short-shaven hair, and people with a variety of piercings and tattoos — by no means your typical museum crowd.  I also saw other families in line and inside the museum, many with babies and small toddlers in strollers.

The huge exhibition space, formerly a police car warehouse, was crowded with people and street inspired objects. A wildly painted retro car immediately caught our attention. After checking it out, we headed up to the second floor. The ramp’s wall had a playful and brightly colored Kenny Scharf mural.  We strolled though the second floor galleries. One of my favorites was a large installation of spray-paint cans depicting the evolution of can designs over time.

It was when we got back downstairs that we discovered this may not be a totally kid-friendly exhibition.  We encountered some very graphic images. There was some nudity, but hey, we can deal with that. However, other photos depicting gang-related violence with guns and blood-covered bodies were disturbing and inappropriate for young children.

We realized we should have learned more about the exhibition before we went (that was tip #2, by the way).  Had we done that, we could have avoided those images when we brought our kids to see the exhibition.  And, even though this exhibition is clearly geared toward an adult audience, it would have been helpful if the museum provided families with some guidance.

Moving more quickly, we made our way through the rest of the exhibition, stopping briefly along the way to explore works that interested the kids.  We all found a video of teenagers doing tricks and floating down the street on invisible skateboards memorizing.  Other families crowded around an installation of artfully embellished real musical instruments that visitors can play. One mom was jamming on an electric guitar while her daughter played on the keyboard.

On the way home, our usual post-visit question, “So, what did you think?” led to an interesting conversation: My 9 yr old son said, “I liked the blue car and the video of the air skating.  How do you think they did it?” Then teasingly he said, “Mom, remember when you thought that moving arm with the spray-paint was real?”  Giggling, my 7 yr old asks his brother, “Do you remember the girl lifting up her shirt with no bra? That was awkward!” My husband and I glanced at each other trying not to crack-up.

In the midst of all of this silliness, though, the boys raised very thought-provoking questions.  They asked, “Why do people do graffiti?” and “How is gang graffiti art?” – this latter question raised one of the most controversial issues surrounding the exhibition.

After struggling to address these questions, I started to feel better about our exhibition choice.  Sure we could have chosen one that was less complicated, but aren’t these the kind of questions I want to explore with my children?  And isn’t this exactly why I feel it’s so important to expose my children to art and all its controversies?


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