“I think work has definitely moved inside, it’s been moving inside for years,” Roger Gastman, curator and founder of R. Rock Enterprises
, told me. Though he dates the start of the process as far back as the early 1970s, he says that in “the last three to five years, especially, the landscape has completely altered.” One need only look at “Art in the Streets,” a 2011 MOCA exhibition organized by Jeffrey Deitch, Gastman, and Aaron Rose, as both indicative of the successes bringing street art into museums and the challenges that still remain. A major survey of street art, the show looked across continents and decades to bring together 50 street and graffiti artists like
, Chaz Bojorquez, and
The crowds that flocked to MOCA to see the show were a similarly broad group according to Deitch—from top collectors and patrons to a diverse range of communities that museums struggle to engage. This should perhaps be unsurprising given that the birthplace of street art is the public sphere. Street art “is for everybody, because this art addresses contemporary life,” he said. “It addresses the conditions in the street, in the cities. It speaks to people.” By some estimates, the show drew a staggering 201,352 people to the museum.
But when Deitch began to organize the exhibition, he immediately ran into an institutional knowledge gap, one that can be traced to the art world’s historical dismissal of street art. “We needed to build a curatorial team. I put the word out, I surveyed who is there in universities, museums, who has expertise in this area,” he told me. “And we could not find anybody.” Deitch looked to the commercial arena for curatorial partners and—though some critiqued the move—the exhibition clearly resonated with a large audience. A similar story can be told of Gastman’s 2013 show “Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s,” which looked at the gritty Washington, D.C., of the decade and featured some graffiti art. Though hosted by a somewhat hesitant Corcoran Gallery of Art, it went on to prove a blockbuster in terms of visitor numbers according to Gastman.