This Groundbreaking Exhibit Might Be the Coolest Street Art Show Ever

Big names, underground sensations, immersive environments, and even a “gangsta garden”

In 2011, Art in the Streets—a first-of-its-kind museum exhibit of street art—broke attendance records for MOCA. Now, seven years later, Roger Gastman, the graffiti historian and street art guru who helped assemble that exhibit, is coming back to L.A. for a new show so sweeping in scope that rather than try to fit everything inside a conventional gallery, his team has taken over an entire warehouse in Chinatown with more than 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor displays.

Beyond the Streets examines global street art movements, and brings together works of painting, photography, sculpture, and film by over 100 influential artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Takashi Murakami, Jenny Holzer, and Martha Cooper. A strong contingent of L.A.-based artists are in the mix, including Shepard Fairey, RETNA, Ben Jones, CHAZ Bojórquez, and Gajin Fujita.

Artist Stephen Powers with his “Onward Foward” & “Deep in The Feels”

Photo by Matthew Kuborn of ESPO’s Art World 2

“The world of graffiti and street art is very diverse. That is one of the beautiful things about it,” Gastman says. “Beyond The Streets explores the world of graffiti and street art and how massive it has become today, through the eyes of the artists that helped create it, continue to push it, and are inspired by it.”

The exhibit is broken into 25 sections, and features several large-scale installations, including the “Faile Temple,” an interactive construction the street art duo FAILE first dropped onto a street in Lisbon in 2010, and the surreal “Cosmic Cavern” by artist Kenny Scharf. Outdoors, there’s a garden by L.A.-based activist artist Ron Finley, who uses “gangsta gardening” to bring nature into urban environments without city permission.

FAILE TEMPLE (Ceramic, Marble, Bronze, Cast Iron, Steel, Limestone and Mosaic, 2011)

Photograph courtesy of FAILE

There are also two structures described as “historical recreations” of famous graffiti spots: Venice Beach’s Venice Pavilion, which will feature graffiti done by a collection of iconic artists from L.A. (and, yes, the recreation, presented in collaboration with Adidas Skateboarding, will be open for skateboarding, just like the original) and a full reproduction of the New York City handball court where Lee Quiñones created his famous murals starting in the 1970s, complete with an all-new mural by him that was custom-made for this exhibition.

And while there is certainly plenty of respect for the icons of street art on display, this show isn’t just about work from the past. “For Beyond the Streets, one of the most important things was to celebrate and show where these artists are now, and not just tell a historical story,” Gastman points out. 

“Lil Crazy Legs during shoot for Wild Style, Riverisde Park, NY 1983” by Martha Cooper

Gastman is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on street art. In addition to helping curate the blockbuster MOCA show, he served as a producer on the films Exit Through the Gift Shop and Wall Writers, co-published Swindle magazine with Fairey, and co-authored perhaps the authoritative book on American street art, The History of American Graffiti, as well as over a dozen other books on a subject he’s been passionate about for most of his life.

“I became interested as a punk little kid in the early ’90s, growing up right outside of Washington D.C.,” he says. “It was fun and different. It led me to meet all sorts of people from different backgrounds I never would have been exposed to. Quickly, I began to travel to paint graffiti and explore different scenes.” Now he’s bringing everything he’s explored together. 

Paul Insect, “Now We Are Far Away” (Acrylic and Spray Paint on Raw Linen, 2018)

Courtesy of Paul Insect

In addition to all the visual art on display, there will be a series of live performances, lectures, and events, and a mentoring program for local kids focusing on skateboarding and creating art. There will also be a collection of limited-edition goods for sale, including artist-edition spray paint cans, limited-run Modernica fiberglass chairs designed by Shepard Fairey, and other must-haves for street art aficionados.

Beyond the Streets, 1667 N. Main Street, Chinatown; runs May 6 to July 6, 2018. Tickets ($25) are required and must be purchased in advance.

RELATED: Giant Street Art by RETNA Signals New Industrial Mall Downtown

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.