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ESMoA SCRATCH exhibit just may be art history in the making

The minimal appearance of ESMoA exterior sign.
The minimal appearance of ESMoA exterior sign.
copyright 2014 Lori J Bjork

June 8, 2014 was opening day for the El Segundo Museum of Art (ESMoA) SCRATCH exhibit, featuring original art from contemporary Los Angeles (L.A.) street and tattoo artists. While graffiti as art has slowly found acceptance and appreciation by many in the zeitgeist, its inclusion in and on museum walls has been practically non-existent. Who knows? In 500 years students of art history may be studying the forward-thinking museums, like ESMoA, as one of the first museums willing to showcase graffiti art exhibits, like SCRATCH.

The minimalist facade belies the phenomenal art within.
copyright 2014 lori j bjork

It took almost two years from idea to SCRATCH exhibit opening. It began with Ed Sweeney noticing that some street artists would carry black books used to record their art ideas. Sometimes the black books would also include tags by other graffiti artists. Ed queried Marcia Reed, chief curator at Getty Research Institute, for interest in creating something similar to the street artists' black books. The creation could be considered a curation of a snapshot in time of current L.A. street art.

David Brafman, Ph.D., rare books curator at the Getty Research Institute, was brought into the mix to bring the project to life. He being the same David who stood on the art covered floor of ESMoA to share the story of the events leading up to the SCRATCH exhibit and to voice appreciation for those who helped him bring the vision to life.

David saw similarities with the black books graffiti artists were creating with a 16h century manuscript from the vaults of the Getty Research Institute called a liber amicorum (book of friends).

David also shared the art covered floor of ESMoA with a couple of the SCRATCH exhibit contributing artists, who also spoke to the gathered group. One artist shared how grateful he was for the exhibit and the opportunity to contribute. He shared that he had grown up in less than ideal circumstances which included being a foster child who never knew his mother or father.

In response to that remark someone in the crowd yelled out,

"I'll adopt you."

As laughter died down, he continued on that the black book is like a dream come true for him. This artist will have his art in the Getty Museum (which will become the permanent home for the black book).

Graffiti artists are all too aware that the art they create on the street is by nature: temporary. The black book is a great way for them to more permanently capture and record their creations. The official Getty Black Book is a leather-bound book that includes 143 original drawings by contemporary L.A. street and tattoo artists.

In the ESMoA two floors tall by 20 ft. wide museum space the SCRATCH exhibit is a veritable feast for the eyes. In addition to street art on the museum walls and floor, the L.A. Liber Amicorum (a.k.a. the Getty Graffiti Black Book) is on display under glass with a mounted, adjacent iPad that allows you to digitally flip through the contents of the black book.

There were some online bloggers who to make it more succinct wrote that Renaissance artists would be rolling over in their graves knowing that with the creation of L.A. Liber Amicorum there is the implication that graffiti art and renaissance art are equal in stature. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

This examiner would like to believe that if Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello and Da Vinci would, if not overtly thrilled to be immortalized as martial-art-knowing turtles, secretly love street art. That perhaps these Master Artists would be curious (and possibly thrilled) to try their hands at some street art of their own. Who knows? If they had been alive during these times, perhaps they would embrace the way things are today and have their own agents, managers, PR professionals and be into sushi & tequila shots.

It was quite refreshing to see all of the art appreciators of all ages who showed up for the SCRATCH exhibit opening. Those that did show up were also invited to participate in none, some or all of the interactive experiences offered, such as:

  • draw on the ESMoA sidewalk with chalk,
  • create their mark on the wax wall,
  • create works of art on the tables liberally laden with crayons, scissors, glue and other art supplies,
  • snag a SCRATCH scavenger hunt booklet and discover a secret message hidden amongst the art,
  • score a free exhibit poster, sticker, post cards; and
  • for those lucky children who asked (while supplies lasted) a commemorative, empty, black sketch book ready to be filled with their own art creations was theirs.

According to the ESMoA website

"Graffito is old Italian slang for 'a little mark,' and graphein in Ancient Greek meant 'scratch, draw, paint' long before it meant 'to write.' Graffiti artists craft letterforms, draft perspective, and merge line, color, and form with the same techniques employed by Renaissance masters like Albrecht Durer."

Thanks to SCRATCH exhibit contributing artists: Axis, Cre8, Defer, Eyeone, Fishe, Miner, Ludovico degli Arrighi, Ugo da Carpi, Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli, Albrecht Durer, Antoine Court de Gebelin, Johann Heinrich Gruber, Johann Josef Hauer, Mercury van Helmont, Wenzel Jamnitzer, Gregor Kleppis, Luca Pacioli, Johann Joachim Prack von Asch, Johann Michael Puchler, Gabriel Rollenhagen, Raimondo di Sangro principe di Sansevero and Urban Wyss.

The El Segundo Museum of Art is located at 208 Main Street, El Segundo, CA

ESMoA opened in 2011 as a new art laboratory that has purposely been built with leaks. Every experiment welcomes to spread the spark of creativity. EMSoA is run by artlab21 foundation, a 501 (c)(3) organization.

SCRATCH exhibit runs through September 21, 2014.

Museum Hours: Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Admission: Free

Appreciation also to Experience 11, the Getty Research Institute, artlab21 and exhibit sponsors: Directv, Chevron, Team One, Tallie and George Dennis, Monique and Tony Owen.

There are other photos from this event not included with the article. If you would like to view them, please visit Lori Bjork's tumblr by clicking here. Lori invites you to visit the exhibit and/or share this article with anyone you think may be interested in reading the subject matter included in this article. Thanks for reading.

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