» RUINS OF LOS ANGELES #1: Sunken City of Graffiti, Wildflowers & Concrete

by Brian Awehali

If you head north along the Los Angeles coastline, you can find a once posh neighborhood that slid into the sea back in the 1930s. On the way, you’ll see a lot of loading cranes on the horizon, just like the ones Oakland pridesters like to wear on their hoodies and t-shirts. In fact, there are many more of these cranes in the Los Angeles harbor than there are in Oakland, where I used to live. Whatever. As far as I’m concerned, they’re either symbols of dirty transoceanic shipping that can be found in almost any port city, or they’re symbols of George Lucas’s frenzied imagination of imperial military might. Either way, it’s hard to see where pride or geographic specificity figure into it.

After the cranes, and at the end of Fermin Park, is a tall fenced gate and barricade. Past the fence, the road continues to an abrupt end, and well below that is the so-called sunken city of Los Angeles. Between a dozen and two dozen homes were destroyed in quakes and ongoing slides as the cliff here gave way. A manhole cover sits two inches from the edge of a cliff. Between several improbable palm trees, tall grass, blooming fennel and wildflowers overtake broken, wildly angled and heavily graffiti’d roads, pipes and curbs.

Continue reading


» YES, BUT IS IT ART?: Clever Monkeys, Banksy, Kea (蔡孟达) and Thierry Guetta

by Brian Awehali

When we look at monkeys…we can see ourselves. Memory, morality, politics, depression? Monkeys have all of these, and more. But do they have art?

Kea, Planet of the Apes: EinsteinThe images in this (disjointed & metaphorically mean) post are by a talented Taiwanese “graffiti” artist named Tsai Mengda (蔡孟达), AKA Kea. One aspect of his aesthetic reminds me of Banksy, and Kea seems to want people to think of him in the same category. Imitation may be a form of flattery, but Banksy must be annoyed by how many of his “imitators” – Kea and Thierry Guetta, the documentarian-turned-art-monster depicted in Exit Through the Gift Shop, chief among them – seem so thoroughly to miss most of the political substance of his work.

In fact, the entire celebration of “street art” and graffiti by the art establishment must drive someone like Banksy up a very dark wall. You know something’s amiss when the Los Angeles aristocracy host a street art celebration at MOCA, even if this kind of appropriation is just Capitalism 101. (For more on this process, see Thomas Frank’s fabulous “Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism”)

Mark Frank, writing for Modern Art Asia had this to say of Kea and the phenomenon of gallery graffiti while blurbing an exhibition of Kea’s work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai in 2010:

KEA bills himself as Taiwan’s most famous graffiti artist, but he lacks the street-cred of true masters like Banksy. His modest reknown comes more from hanging his work on walls than defacing them. His work is a celebration of pop-consumerism that embraces everything the international millennial generation really drools over—sex, pirates, dinosaurs and name brands.

Continue reading