For the first three weeks, I was just like everyone else in the scene—tweeting about Shepard Fairey sightings or inquiring on Facebook as to the whereabouts of any new Invader tiles. By late July, street art in San Diego had reached saturation point. The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s Viva la Revolucion exhibition—which featured Fairey and more than a dozen others—was a huge success. Smaller galleries were doing similar shows, and everywhere you looked, and especially in the media, everyone was drinking the Kool-Aid.
But it was Aug. 6 when I turned. Early that morning, someone extensively tagged the Fairey mural in Hillcrest with blue spray paint. Pedro Alonzo, co-curator of Viva, remarked to KPBS that the tagger was a “parasite” and added, “There doesn’t seem to be a statement being made.”
Yet, it was a statement. Whomever tagged the mural (we’ll call him “Polo Joe,” since those were the only decipherable words) probably knew exactly what he was doing. Random tagging is something you see on restroom walls. Polo Joe not only covered almost the entire mural, but he also likely brought a ladder to reach the higher portions. What I think Alonzo has forgotten is that street art, by its very definition, isn’t commissioned by an institution funded through philanthropic donations and government grants and installed on the side of an Urban Outfitters. It’s not a tourist attraction or a T-shirt, and it’s not something you hang on your wall. It belongs in the streets, performed in the wee hours and with wide eyes watching out for the cops.
Art should always be an act of rebellion. It can be crass, aesthetically unpleasing, even parasitic, but if it gets us talking, then it is, indeed, art. After all, Fairey himself, as well as dozens of other graffiti and street artists, started off as taggers. For me, the line between selling out and buying in becomes clear when you have a guy with a can of spray paint to remind you of the difference.
Alexander Jarman’s fashionable assemblage of notables
At the June 3 Summer Salon Series at the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA), attendees of a panel discussion with local arts leaders didn’t want the discussion to end. The event was set to stop at 9 p.m., but the organizer, Alexander Jarman, manager of public programs at SDMA, let it go a few minutes over.
“The security guards were giving me looks,” Jarman laughs. The panel discussion was the finale to a night that included taking over the parking lot in front of SDMA with a bus filled with interesting—at times, odd—performance art; a video / performance / sculpture piece called “Vibrating Milk”; and an eclectic music concert. The mix of art activities and engaged guests was a scene typical of any Summer Salon this year.
“It was sort of this experiment,” Jarman says of the series’ first season, “and it worked.”
To get the Salon going, Jarman took a night when the museum was already open late, pitched his idea to his boss and, when he got the green light, worked his ass off. He enlisted David White, owner of Agitprop gallery in North Park, and the pair packed the weekly Thursday event with emerging artists doing mostly interactive performance pieces.
The galleries inside the 1920s Spanish colonial museum have never felt so hip and contemporary.
For Jarman, the series’ success is best captured in moments. There was a point when artist Michael Trigilio had 10 guitarists spread across the upstairs galleries playing the same chord for 20 minutes straight.
“I’ve seen a lot of those paintings for three years now,” Jarman says. “And then, I walk into the gallery and it’s like this cacophony of sound…. It totally changed the environment. So, I suddenly began to look at these works differently.”
At the Turkey Trot a few weeks ago, Jarman was jogging and chatting with White about next year’s Summer Salons.
“Can we pull this off again?” he asked White. “Can we make really compelling one-night shows for the whole summer? Can we get people to the museum? Can we get people interested and involved?” If this year is any indication, they certainly can and will.
Lucía Sanromán’s bold moves
The Here Not There: San Diego Art Now exhibition, which appeared this summer at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s La Jolla branch, was bound to be important simply because of timing, scale and venue. The exhibition was a survey of more than 40 San Diego artists, with a focus on emerging careers. Nothing of comparable scope had appeared for many years, and associate curator Lucía Sanromán, fully aware of the intractable problems such a survey presents, could have played it safe. To her credit, she didn’t.
Sanromán could have hedged her decisions by leaning too readily on preexisting critical judgment, by depending on easy notions of regional character or by attempting to be fair to the full range of local artistic practice. And the result might have been more immediately satisfying to many public, critical and artistic communities. In fact, artists upset by being rejected for the show organized two Here Not There counter-exhibitions.
But then, a look in the mirror is more comforting than an unfamiliar vision, and Sanromán said she “did not want the show to be a stand-in for an identity.” Instead, she attempted a fresh and logistically challenging examination of the full range of San Diego art, applying, in collaboration with her colleagues, an independent, serious and yet open critical judgment. She said she hoped to bypass the “over-signification” that haunts curatorial choice, and create a kind of “communal banquet” where individual works could express, unimpeded, “their own spirit.”
Largely, she succeeded. The show did have limitations—an over-dependence on artists associated with academic institutions, a narrowness of sensuality and emotion, a paucity of place—yet imbalances are inevitable in such an ambitious show. Sanromán, who began with a sense of San Diego’s negative identity—we are, after all, not known for art scenes as weighty as Los Angeles or even Tijuana—was soon struck by this city’s joy in serious play, something clear in the work of Brian Dick, Brian Goeltzenleuchter, Jason Sherry and Matt Hoyt.
Me, I delighted in many new discoveries: the astronomical wit of Adam Belt, the memento mori of portraits by Vicki Walsh and the ghostly metamorphoses of Jeff Irwin’s ceramics.