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Celebrating Graffiti, Not

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Heather MacDonald in the City Journal:

The Brooklyn Museum has canceled its participation in Art in the Streets, a recklessly irresponsible exhibition glorifying graffiti that was scheduled to open in Brooklyn next year. Director Arnold Lehman says that the cost of mounting the show, which was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in downtown Los Angeles, was too great in the "current financial climate." It's difficult to believe that the cost of mounting a graffiti exhibit is any higher than the cost, say, of insuring the sublime John Singer Sargent watercolors that the Brooklyn Museum will be exhibiting in 2013 in conjunction with Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Let's hope, rather, that the Brooklyn Museum canceled the graffiti show because its trustees wisely spotted a public-relations disaster--if not a betrayal of their civic obligations--in the making.

Following an editorial in the New York Daily News criticizing the show, City Council member Peter F. Vallone, Jr. wrote to Lehman, warning him that taxpayer money shouldn't be used to encourage the destruction of public property. Had the museum proceeded with this self-indulgent wallow in anti-bourgeois values, its standing as a responsible institution deserving taxpayer support would have suffered incalculable damage. New Yorkers who lived through the epidemic of subway vandalism in the 1970s and 1980s understand graffiti's poisonous effect on urban life. That epidemic, which overran Central Park and other precious public and private spaces as well, led many residents to flee the city and convinced the rest of the country that New York was ungovernable. Yet Art in the Streets actually celebrates the assault on the New York subway system, indifferent both to graffiti's illegality and to its corrosive effect on civic vitality.


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