The Blog

Erotic Art vs. Pornography. Graffiti Art vs. Vandalism.

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.


Watching a museum exhibition in the process of being installed --with artworks being unwrapped and moved around --is not necessarily the most interesting thing to experience about an exhibition. But here is an exception. On Saturday, I drove to El Segundo to see what's going on at ESMoA, the new, adventurous art museum on Main Street. Last year, I talked about an exhibition there that covered almost 600 years of European art --with most of the artworks from the private collection of museum founders, Eva and Brian Sweeney.


This time around, it's a completely different story. In preparation for the new exhibition that is scheduled to open on June 8th, ESMoA invited a group of well known Los Angeles graffiti and tattoo artists to paint the walls and floors of its main gallery. And I mean literally EVERY SQUARE INCH of its walls and floors.


Each of the invited artists had a crew of friends helping with the project. So, when I stepped in, it felt like a big, popping party. Just imagine being in a big, noisy, bustling kitchen with dozens of cooks stirring and chopping away. As far as I could tell, no alcohol or any other substances were involved, but some people were wearing facemasks to protect them from the paint fumes.


Being introduced to a few participants, I had the chance to talk to them about this project and about art in general. I have to admit that the thoughtfulness and eloquence with which they spoke about art surprised me quite a bit. Why? Probably because, for me, as I'm sure it is for many of you, the word graffiti is typically associated with the act of vandalism, with tagging and defacement in public spaces. But here, in El Segundo, after spending a couple of hours observing these artists in the process of working, one simply cannot leave without a sense of respect for their commitment to their art.

Three years ago, a provocative exhibition at MOCA, Art in the Streets, introduced us to the fact that street art at its best can be challenging and worthy of our appreciation. But this upcoming exhibition at ESMoA raises the bar a few notches higher --it's done in collaboration with the Getty Research Institute and will include several rare first edition books from the Getty collection. In preparation for the exhibition, the participating street artists were invited to view a collection of the Getty's rare books, including the first edition of Dürer's landmark book on perspective.


By sheer coincidence, the same day I went to El Segundo to see graffiti art I also received a very sexy email from Leslie Sacks Fine Art, a well known LA gallery. The email contained half a dozen images of erotic etchings by Picasso that the gallery is selling right now. Some of them, subject-wise, are very graphic indeed. So why, you might ask, when great artists like Picasso deal with such a risqué subject, it is considered art. And why, in many cases, we dismiss such imagery as pornography. In a strange way, it parallels the issue of graffiti as art vs. graffiti as vandalism.


Take a look at the Picasso images on our website. You see, this Spaniard is not just a genius artist, he also has a wonderful sense of humor. And if you do not giggle while looking at these etchings, you're missing quite a lot. Pornography raises --pun not intended --only one issue. Picasso, as any other great artist dealing with erotic subjects, is concerned with the whole gamut of issues --moral, aesthetic, and artistic.


A few years ago, I talked about the amazing juxtapositions of two great paintings exhibited at the Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona: famously infamous The Origin of the World (1866) by Gustav Courbet, and a contemporary response to that by famous Spanish artist Antoni Tapies. The subject of these two paintings, the female anatomy, is what pornography usually thrives on. But in the hands of these two artists, it's pure art. I wonder what you think about all this.

P.S. If you want to learn about Edward's Fine Art of Art Collecting Classes, please visit his website here. You can also read The New York Times article about his classes here.


Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, click here.