Some critics might argue that “street art”—whether this loaded term refers to straight-up graffiti or more interpretive activities like skateboarding—has no business being in a museum. The whole point of street art in the first place was as a radical act of dissent, a rebellion against the very forms of art sanctified within museum walls. Street art has an essential element of criminality to it and if that outlaw spirit is institutionalized, doesn’t the very substance of the art disintegrate before the eye? Well, these arguments only hold if one sticks to the old idea of the museum as an elite organization split off from the rest of the community. What if the separation between the museum and the street weren’t as rigid? The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles will use these questions—as well as many others—in their first blockbuster exhibition since curator and dealer Jeffrey Deitch took over as director last year. No one expected Deitch to be a conventional, by-the-book leader, and he has immediately experimented with the principles of what a museum can do by planning the retrospective “Art in the Streets.” From the early days of taggers hanging on to the sides of Bronx subway cars to the tricks performed in Los Angeles skate parks, from its subversive rap and punk origins to its spectacular embracement by mainstream culture, street art will be explored in the exhibition through the various and divergent threads that weave together (and, in some countries, such as Brazil, Chile, and Iran, are still being sewn) to create one of the most influential art movements of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Deitch is no stranger to the genre. In fact, he was a regular fixture on the downtown New York scene of the late ’70s and ’80s, which galvanized the street-art movement. But to curate around such an ambitious theme, he relied on certain key figures who could tell the story from a first-person point of view. Among them: Fred Brathwaite, a.k.a. Fab 5 Freddy, the pioneering artist, curator, and all-around master of the New York scene, and Aaron Rose, the L.A. native who ended up creating a vital platform for many street artists in the early ’90s. “What is very rewarding about this project is that it’s being put together by a community of people with whom I’ve had a dialogue since 1975,” Deitch explains.“In particular, Fred and Aaron are friends and collaborators going back a long, long time.” Here, Deitch speaks separately with these two confidants to discuss their respective parts in a far-reaching movement: one that could never be contained in a single voice, a simple explanation, or a mere scratch.--Christopher Bollen
A pioneer of the early hip-hop and graffiti movements, Fred Brathwaite was one of the first individuals to publicize street art as pop art in the late ’70s. He got his Fab 5 Freddy nickname as a member of the Fabulous 5 graffiti crew and went on to introduce mainstream audiences to hip-hop with 1983’s cult film Wild Style. He cemented the link between early hip-hop and graffiti culture in 1988 as the first host of Yo! MTV Raps. Today, Brathwaite remains active in the art world, most recently exhibiting 10 multimedia works at The Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas.
JEFFREY DEITCH: I think because this is for Andy Warhol’s Interview we should start by discussing your genealogy with Andy, and how you had the remarkable insight to contact [writer, former Interview editor, and tv host] Glenn O’Brien and ask to participate in his show Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party.
FRED BRATHWAITE: I was a fan of Andy’s since I was a small kid. I recall seeing an ad of famous people on an airplane together. It was caricature drawing. There was Muhammad Ali, there was Miles Davis, and there was Andy Warhol. I had a fascination with him since I was little, and then I saw his work and the thing that he did. As I got older and more curious about the scene, I reached out to Glenn O’Brien, who was doing a music column in the magazine called “Glenn O’Brien’s Beat.” I loved the way he wrote about all different kinds of music—funk, reggae, new wave, and punk. I wanted to interview him for my college radio station. I was attending Medgar Evers College [of The City University of New York] for a short period. So that’s how I met him, and Glenn told me he was going to do a public-access TV show called TV Party. He said he wanted to have me on as a guest, because at that time I was also telling him about the beginning of hip-hop music—rap music, if you will, because at the time it really wasn’t known as hip-hop. And I was also telling him about graffiti and that I had been a graffiti artist and was interested in moving into the art world. I told Glenn, “I’d love to be a cameraman on your show.” He said, “Fred, you’ve never done that before. You can’t be the cameraman, but I’d love to have you come by and be a guest on the show.” When I showed up for the first episode, the guy who was supposed to operate one of the two cameras wasn’t there. Glenn looked at me and said, “Fred, get on that camera.” [laughs] I became one of the show’s cameramen and a regular guest. That was the beginning of my friendship with Glenn and many of the cool people that I would meet.
DEITCH: You’ve had a remarkable role as an artist, as a connector of people, and you’ve had an instrumental role in film. How did you discover that art was going to be your path?
Brathwaite: I grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. My father grew up with Max Roach, who became a prominent member of the be-bop jazz scene in the ’40s and ’50s. That was the most cutting-edge American music. Growing up, there were always lots of my father’s creative friends in the house talking about what was going on in the world with
culture and politics. It was a time of the anti-war movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power movement. All of these things were discussed passionately in my house every day. As a young kid running in and out of the room, I got snippets of this world, and as I became a teenager I began to look at the things I was involved in—the things going on around me. And I saw a similarity, a connection, between what we were doing in the streets and those earlier conversations about politics and art. Suddenly these things were much bigger than we realized. And I started getting really curious about art. I read about the Dadaists and the Futurists and the Constructivists—those kind of movements which were reflecting the angst of the people of their times. Their work was trying to lead a movement. I began thinking about what was happening, with painting on the streets and painting on the trains as being similar but also coming from a real, pure space. It wasn’t being created by academies. It was a spontaneous combustion of ideas that just happened. I would bring these ideas up while talking with Glenn and others. I was trying to find other people who could articulate the graffiti culture and take it out of that negative perception that the media gave us. I wanted to show that we were making viable art, a reflection of the time that we were living in.
DEITCH: The time you are speaking about—New York in the late ’70s and early ’80s—was a period when so many of the most important contributions to contemporary art and culture were germinating.
BRATHWAITE: Yeah. It was an amazing period. Amazing. Working on the essays for the upcoming show at MOCA and going over the material with [graffiti artist] Lee Quiñones, I’ve been thinking about that first important show of graffiti art at the Galleria La Medusa in Rome in 1979. It wasClaudio Bruni’s gallery. He came over and sought us out and wanted to give us a show. That show had a ripple effect and started calling out other [graffiti] artists like Futura  and ALI from [graffiti collective]Soul Artists. People began to say, “Wait a minute, this is interesting. These guys are doing it on their own and people are taking them seriously.” That’s because we were beginning to put the work in a context where audiences could look at it and not see it through the negative lens that the media put on it. They began to see some value in the work. I was also taking inspiration at that time from new wave and punk bands, which I felt had a similar attitude to what was behind the beginnings of rap music. It was this same rebellious attitude of, “We’re going to do this anyway, regardless. We are going to find a way to make this happen.” I saw that similar energy when I wastalking to Chris Stein and Debbie Harry from Blondie and also Glenn. And then, of course, just hanging out with Jean-Michel [Basquiat]. We talked often about finding an audience and getting people to understand what we were doing. All of these different forces seemed to be happening at the same time. And I remember you, Jeffrey, as being one of the people who came early on and saw the work and understood what was happening.
DEITCH: I believe we met at least by 1980.
BRATHWAITE: We definitely did. It was actually at [editor of Art Rite magazine] Edit Deak’s loft, because I had made a few pieces that I would put in the Mudd Club show, which I was in the process of curating. The same day you visited Jean-Michel and Suzanne [Mallouk], you came to visit Edit’s loft and saw some of the things I was working on for the “Beyond Words” show.
DEITCH: “Beyond Words.” Now that’s become essential history. Tell us about that show.
BRATHWAITE: Well, I had become friends with a bunch of artists on the scene in ’79. After taping TV Party, we’d all go down to the Mudd Club [a seminal club of the downtown scene at 77 White Street in Tribeca], and that group included [TV Party director] Amos Poe, [director] Eric Mitchell, the Talking Heads . . . It was an illustrious crowd of really cool people. I’d also become friends with Keith Haring, who used to do odd jobs. We were all struggling at this time. But Keith started to curate some shows and he did one at Club 57 [on St. Marks Place in the East Village]. He asked me to be a part of it. One was a black-light art show where all the art had to be made in fluorescent so it would glow in the dark.
DEITCH: I remember that. I was there.
BRATHWAITE: Yes, it was fun! They felt like really cool art-school projects. Anyway, [Mudd Club co-founder] Steve Mass had been observing what was going on with graffiti and the buzz of rap and new wave. You know, “Rapture” was a big song at the time. So Mass said, “Man, I’d like you to curate a show.” I said, “Wow, yeah. Maybe I’ll get some of the guys.” Because also at that time, I was working on developing [graffiti and hip-hop film] Wild Style with [director, writer, and producer] Charlie [Ahearn], so I knew a lot of the key rappers and deejays from the Bronx. I decided to put a show together that would showcase graffiti, but I also wanted to expand the concept of how that work was seen. I came up with the title “Beyond Words.” I asked Futura to help me put the show together. I wanted to get graffiti based, or rooted. That included inviting friends around us, people who used to do graffiti but were now trying to make art, and others from Club 57. Then Edit knew Alan Vega from Suicide, who was making art, and Iggy Pop made some stuff too. We had different things going on and threw it all together at the Mudd Club. And we got a bunch of groups to perform. The show was a blowout. Many, many people came and crowded the street outside. People were bouncing off the walls, having a great time. And a lot of people got to experience all of this culture for the first time, and they became fans.
DEITCH: It’s fascinating how these key events are so important when you look back in history, and how a show like “Beyond Words” brought this whole scene together and defined it.
BRATHWAITE: Yeah, it did. And you know what was also interesting about that time? It did bring people together. In that downtown scene there weren’t really that many people of color hanging out. It was just a handful of us—me, Jean-Michel, Pat Griffin, who was a young architect. But we had all these different people in a room together—Latin and black guys from the Bronx and Lower East Side hanging out, mixing, dancing with punk-rock, new-wave arty types. Everyone was enjoying each other’s company. It was amazing to be in the room, because things like that didn’t happen on a regular basis. But that was really representative of what New York is. In fact, Afrika Bambaataa, who was one of the DJs at “Beyond Words” later made a song called “Planet Rock,” which was inspired by playing in front of a new kind of crowd: all those spiky-haired kids enjoying this stuff. “Planet Rock” changed the face of contemporary music. It created the electro-beat sound.
DEITCH: You’ve been talking about the interrelationships between new music and new art. Can you expand on the idea of how graffiti was involved with rap and punk music?
BRATHWAITE: I felt strongly at the time that there was a synergy between rap music, deejaying, breakdancing, and the graffiti art on trains and walls. I saw them as one thing. When I met Charlie Ahearn at [Collaborative Projects art exhibit] “The Times Square Show” in 1980, he said right away, “Let’s make a movie.” We began making a film that would connect these forms as one movement, which we now know as hip-hop. My personal motivation was also that of being a painter and having my first shows alongside Lee Quiñones. I was very concerned about creating something bigger as a platform on where we were coming from as visual artists. I felt it was a complete culture, with dance, a unique sound, and visuals coming from a similar place—all made by these wild, urban New York teenagers, essentially [laughs]. It was great to put the pieces together to what would become Wild Style . A lot of the people in that film were really playing themselves. There was a lot of life imitating art at that time and everybody got it, everybody played along. And I think to our surprise, these things are still pulsating globally in ways that still boggle my mind. To be in Brazil and see the work of Os Gêmeos or to be in England and see what Banksy is doing is pretty fascinating to me.
DEITCH: The art and the music of that time is resonating more and more today. It fascinates me how much of the work was given attention by the art world establishment at the time. But while the “official” art world moved on, the actual audience just kept getting bigger and bigger. In fact, the audience for the art that has come out of your innovations is probably bigger than anything else in contemporary art.
BRATHWAITE: That’s great the way you put that, Jeffrey. When I was looking at the Russian Constructivists, these agitprop artists actually painted on trains. It was a heavy influence. They were bringing art to the people, to the masses, and breaking it out of the clubbiness of the art world, which is a monolith. We use the term pop in the art world, as in Pop Art, but we forget that its root is popular—popular culture. As we’ve become more sophisticated and we have more means of accessing information, we can put these stories together for ourselves, as opposed to only relying on some person in the art world. We can now dictate some of these rules ourselves. And by the fact that thousands of people have experienced aspects of this particular culture, they’re able to understand it. They’re able to put the pieces in place. Wild Style was a key to putting faces on individuals and allowing people to see that we were just young folks trying to break out and do something interesting that touches a lot of people. Our main aspiration for Wild Style were the movies that would play on 42nd Street in Times Square. That’s the old 42nd Street with all the Kung Fu and horror films. That’s where our target audience would gather for entertainment. We wanted a film that would appeal to our target audience, and now that film resonates 30 years later as a cult film. Rolling Stone voted Wild Style number 7 of 25 greatest music DVDs of all time. It’s so much more than we could have asked for, but really it’s just a reflection of the popular vote. We’re not from the classic background of those who had the large, loud voices of the art world. We’re not those people. But we were determined. Our objective was to do it by any means necessary, particularly Jean-Michel. It was going to be music, it was going to be film, it was going to be art, and it was definitely going to happen. We were figuring out ways to make it happen, and of course doing good work along the way. It’s great that it’s still alive and thriving and there are new players jumping in and adding new pieces. It keeps it from getting staid and boring.
consider skateboarding a form of illegal, experimental dance that happens on the street. That’s how it fits into the larger movement of street—specifically graffiti. —Aaron Rose
In 1992, then 22-year-old Aaron Rose founded the Lower East Side’s Alleged Gallery as a space to exhibit the works of his street and skater friends. These individuals—including Mark Gonzales, Barry McGee, and Shepard Fairey—helped redefine the downtown art scene as Alleged introduced largely marginalized street art to the greater public. Almost 20 years later, Rose is still challenging cultural norms through his work as an independent curator and filmmaker. He co-curated the critically acclaimed exhibition “Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture” in 2008 and worked with Deitch to organize the exhibition at MOCA.
JEFFREY DEITCH: I want to talk specifically about the art that arose out of skateboard-related culture, and for you that conversation starts in Los Angeles. You were able to take the strands of those various subcultures to New York and open a platform for the linkage between them—and graffiti—with Alleged Gallery. It became its own art movement known as Beautiful Losers.
AARON ROSE: I grew up in Los Angeles until I was 19, so that’s where it started for me. When I was a teenager, I had no knowledge of graffiti beyond what I’d seen on mtv. What was really big in the ’80s out here was punk and hardcore punk, skating and photocopy art and flyers. I grew up in Woodland Hills in the West Valley, which is about as suburban as you could get.
DEITCH: But even in that setting, a tough art form was emerging out of street culture.
ROSE: There was an alternative record store out there called Moby Disc. I stumbled upon it one day when my mother dropped me off at the shopping mall. They had a section of punk records. And, basically, seeing those vinyl 7" and 12" punk records was what turned me onto punk. Then through punk into skate culture, which I had known about for a while but it hadn’t really reached where I was living yet. When skateboarding and punk merged, it really became a large teen subculture.
DEITCH: What were some of the bands, artists, and album covers that were important to you?
ROSE: Black Flag was hugely influential. And so were the Circle Jerks and D.I. When I was 12 years old, I ditched my bedroom at night with an older neighbor, and he took me to this club called the Cathay de Grande, which was a big punk club in l.a. at the time.
DEITCH: You were 12 years old? I can’t believe they let you in the club!
ROSE: Oh yeah. There were no rules at that club. I barely remember the show, but I do remember that in the middle of the performance, the police came in and arrested the bass player. [Deitch laughs] I was like, “This is the most incredible thing.” And from then on, I just sort of stopped going to school and started taking the bus to Hollywood, and hanging out on Melrose Avenue. That was the epicenter of the l.a. punk movement at the time.
DEITCH: What year was this?
ROSE: That was ’82, the same year as my Bar Mitzvah. That’s when I discovered alternative culture. [laughs]
DEITCH: Not too many other 13-year-olds have this kind of experience.
ROSE: It was this record store! It comes up over and over again how small cultural hubs end up changing people’s lives. It was a record store in the middle of the Hills with two racks of punk records. And I’m sure the same thing happened to hundreds of other kids who grew up around there—all because of two bins of records.
DEITCH: Tell me more about the scene on Melrose Avenue.
ROSE: There were a lot of thrift stores. It was the beginning of thrift store culture, where you could buy old army surplus stuff. And there were a couple of record stores. And there was a store called Posers that sold all of the British punk and mod gear. It was weird because punk and mod and ska and new romantic were all kind of part of one subculture. But it was punk and skateboarding that tied it all into a new kind of art—which was how skateboard graphics were created. They were marketed for 12- to 16-year-olds, so all the graphics were rebellious and anti-authority because that’s what kids like us wanted. It was very controversial art. It was designed to scare your parents. And the punk flyers—especially the Black Flag flyers that [artist Raymond] Pettibon created—were scary and crazy and interesting. I didn’t consider any of that art at the time. I didn’t know what art was.
DEITCH: Tell me a little more about this connection between punk and skate.
ROSE: They’re both activities that are rooted in rebellion. They’re anti-authoritarian, and they are also a place that certain kids—some of them very creative—could go and be accepted. If you were a “loser” at school, if you were a nerd, if you were a goof, punk would accept you and skateboarding would accept you. As long as you could skate, there were no restrictions socially. One of my favorite things about skateboarding, and this is what ties it into graffiti in a lot of ways, is that it was a completely multicultural group. You could be black, white, Asian, Latino, or you could be from Mars. It didn’t really matter. As long as you wanted to skate, you could skate. Where I grew up, it was primarily white, so it was really exciting for me personally to meet all these different kids. I was friends with gangsters. I had a friend who was in the Crips. I didn’t gang bang with him, but I knew those people because we all had this common love of skateboarding and hanging out on the scene. It’s very much a Southern California phenomenon. Skateboarding started in the ’50s, but it wasn’t until [Craig] Stecyk and the Dogtown thing that skateboarding adopted an outlaw attitude that was later tied to a music scene.
DEITCH: Did you meet some of the innovators at that time, like Stecyk?
ROSE: No, but I remember Craig’s graffiti from when I was really young because my parents would take the family down to the Venice boardwalk. I remember seeing the Dogtown cross when I was, like, eight years old. But personally, I didn’t really appreciate l.a. culture as something important or significant until I got to New York. It wasn’t until I could look at it through a long lens, that I started to understand. That’s when I organized the first skateboard exhibition in 1993 and suddenly found out who these people were that were making all the graphics. Like, Mark Gonzales was just a skateboarder to me. I knew he drew but it wasn’t until later that I understood the whole creativity behind it.
DEITCH: I’m intrigued by this connection between art and skateboarding. How is it that someone like Mark Gonzales becomes both an artist and a skateboarder?
ROSE: That’s a good question. Skateboarding now is defined as a sport because people have figured out a way to monetize it—mainly companies that sell skateboard-related clothing and shoes and things. So it’s fallen into the realm of athletics. But it’s a “sport” that has absolutely no rules. It’s completely free-form. So I consider it dance. I consider skateboarding a form of illegal, experimental dance that happens on the street. That’s how it fits into the larger movement of street—specifically graffiti.
DEITCH: Illegal performance art! That is fantastic.
ROSE: They try to put rules on it. They try to judge it. Ramp skating has become the most popular televised form of skating because they can constrain it. They can judge it based on what’s happening within this box of a ramp. But street skating, which is what I grew up with, is completely free of rules. You can do anything. When I see a skater go by, I think, What is this person going to do here? It’s the same with people who write, who make music, who draw, who make movies. Creative people tend to have all of those different avenues in them. Plus, one of the interesting things about skateboarding and graffiti is that skateboarding exists in the documentation of an act. Like, you didn’t do the trick unless somebody got a photo of you doing that trick. In the same way, graffiti doesn’t exist unless someone got a photo, because it’s gone immediately. So you simultaneously had 14-year-old kids that were learning how to be photographers and videographers. Because when you go out skating with your friends, you need one friend who knows how to take a good picture. Without the picture, there is no proof that you pulled the trick. And the whole currency in skateboard culture is your ability to do something new and completely innovative. That’s why you have someone like Spike Jonze, who at age 17 was already directing skate films. He had learned the process as a teenager because he was out documenting his friends skateboarding and then sending the pictures into magazines like Thrasher, which is really the first punk skateboard magazine. All of their contributing photographers were 13, 14, or 15 years old, you know? That’s how someone like Ed Templeton started. It attracts creative, multidisciplinary, freethinking, creative people. Skateboarding, like graffiti, will never be tamed. No matter how much they monetize it, no matter how big it gets, no matter how many companies are putting millions and millions of dollars into marketing it, it’s always going to be some Mexican kid on a corner in Echo Park that changes the rules of the game.
DEITCH: What were some forms of skateboarding that were actually couched in an art-world setting?
ROSE: Mark Gonzales’s performance, which will be featured in the exhibition, was one he did in Germany in 1998. What he did in that museum, aside from the fact that it was set to classical music and he was wearing a costume, was no different than what he was doing in a skate park. He recontextualized it. Putting it in a museum, he called it ballet and that was that. I noticed in the early ’90s how graffiti crews and skate crews started hanging out a lot together. That’s how I discovered graffiti. Through [curator, writer, and senior editor at Paper magazine] Carlo McCormick, actually. He was the door guy at Max Fish for years. I met Futura and Dr. Revolt and a lot of those graffiti guys at that bar. Mainly because Carlo knew them.
DEITCH: They went there because Carlo could get them free drinks!
ROSE: That’s why everybody came there. I started understanding graffiti and seeing the parallels between skate and punk culture and graffiti. I would sit in the booth and talk to those guys. But nobody had started connecting it all in any real way.
DEITCH: So that East-West connection really happened in the early ’90s? Again and again we talk about these small stores, clubs, little galleries, and the essential role of a place like Max Fish in putting together a scene. Why did you go from l.a. to New York?
ROSE: I was 19. It was 1989, and I was in a band. We did an impromptu Greyhound bus tour of divey places all the way across the country, and ended up in New York. Our lead singer ended up having a breakdown when we got to New York, and got arrested and put into a mental hospital. So we were all kind of stuck there. But I was walking around the East Village in 1989. It was still pretty wild.
DEITCH: Oh, yeah! You know, Avenue A toward Houston Street was still just this open drug market.
ROSE: Yeah. And I loved it! I just hung out. I didn’t go home. I got a cheap little spot on Ludlow
Street to live. I got a job working in a clothing store. There was no reason to be there, you know? But in New York I saw an explosion similar to what was happening in l.a. with punk and skating and Melrose Avenue. I saw the East Village scene and the crazy squatters. There were all these crusty punks with leather jackets, so dirty and so wild. There were all these late-night clubs. It was kind of heaven for a 19-year-old.
DEITCH: Which were some of the clubs you went to?
ROSE: Save the Robots. I spent a lot of time there. And The World. I had some good nights at The World. There were a bunch of other ones, too. I worked at that store and then I got the storefront space on Ludlow for $400 a month. Four of us shared it and lived in the back, while the front became the gallery.
DEITCH: And that was Alleged.
ROSE: That’s right. It opened in 1992. I had never been to an art gallery before.
DEITCH: [laughs] That’s remarkable.
ROSE: I didn’t even know that it was a business, like, that things were for sale. I remember somebody told me to go to Mike Kelley’s show at Metro Pictures right around that same time when he was doing all the stuffed-animal pieces. I was like, Oh, this is what an art gallery is.
DEITCH: Maybe your attitude didn’t change that much, because 10 years later when I bought a Chris Johanson from you at Alleged you never sent me an invoice. [laughs]
ROSE: I didn’t know how to run a business. I was a terrible gallerist, the worst in history, possibly. So, I eventually connected with the skate scene in New York, through a guy named Jeremy Henderson who was very much a part of it. And there was a skate shop on Avenue A called Skate NYC. It was graffiti guys who also were into skateboarding, so it was a little nook across from Tompkins Square Park. Eventually that crew went on to be involved with the shop Supreme, and around that time, which was 1994, Larry Clark made Kids . A lot of those kids that hung out at Skate NYC and Supreme ended up being in that movie. That was a big epic moment for skateboarding in New York.
DEITCH: And that movie defined it.
ROSE: [interrupting] It redefined skateboarding as being focused in New York. New York became its mecca, and a lot of West Coast skate companies were developing brands geared toward New York with much more of an urban graffiti aesthetic. It was like the birth of what they now call “street culture.” Now street culture is punk, hip-hop, skateboarding, surfing, graffiti. It’s like a massive global culture that is all tied together. But for so many years it was very geographic.
DEITCH: So Larry Clark’s movie Kids articulates and packages it and sends the message all over the world, similar to the way that the Wild Style movie did.
ROSE: Very much so. It redefined New York City as a skateboarding destination.
DEITCH: What were the early days of Alleged Gallery like on Ludlow Street?
ROSE: There was nothing else on the block. We opened around the same time as Max Fish, and other than that, it was just drugs. It was a heavy-duty drug lot. So nobody wanted a business on that street. It was the worst possible place to open a business. Our first show was basically a group exhibition of paintings by the bartenders at Max Fish and others who lived in the area. Then I went back to l.a. to visit for the holidays, and that’s when I remembered how great skate graphics were. I hadn’t been seeing them in New York. In fact, I’d never met Spike Jonze, and it turned out that my roommate’s girlfriend was a stylist who worked with this girl who turned out to be Spike’s sister. Spike faxed me this list of names and numbers that I still have. It’s pretty much everyone.
DEITCH: That’s incredible!
ROSE: Once that happened, I really started understanding all of the artists behind that and what they all did. It was funny. I re-examined my youth through the lens of having a gallery in New York.
DEITCH: Who were some of the key people during that time?
ROSE: Spike Jonze. Mark Gonzales. Jeff Tremaine. Tremaine started the whole Jackass franchise. He’s the director of all the Jackass movies, but at that time, he was a pretty serious fine artist.
DEITCH: So Jackass comes out of radical performance art.
ROSE: Oh, yeah. For sure. In the future, Jackass could fit into a history of performance-art retrospective. All that stuff comes from interstitial skits in skateboarding videos. In between tricks, you’d invent skits to go from skate sequel to skate sequel. You’d invent skits of people doing funny things. Anyway, a huge list of people were involved in that show. It was around the time I learned about Twist [artist Barry McGee] because I had seen some decks he had painted. He wasn’t in the show. Half the people who were in it didn’t choose to pursue an art career. But some of them definitely did. Mark Gonzales alone has been such an influence because he is not only a fantastic artist but he invented what they now call street skating. He laid the foundation for how skateboarders have skated for the last 20 years. It all comes from his part in the Spike Jonze film Video Days . Mark redefined the urban landscape as a skate laboratory. It was incredible. It was that free-form, everything’s an obstacle style of skateboarding which was basically nonexistent before he came around. It completely blew the doors wide open.
DEITCH: It’s fascinating that one individual had that insight.
ROSE: One individual, and also one video. That was how you learned about things: the vhs tapes that you found at the video store. I mean, that video made Mark the most influential skater in history to date—and I don’t think anyone would ever argue who that is in skateboarding—and launched Spike Jonze’s career. Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore saw that video because everyone was talking about it and hired Spike to direct a music video for them off the Dirty  record. That video for Sonic Youth launched Spike’s video career. It’s pretty interesting the way all these things work. But you have to have an audience that is ready to accept it—a group of people who are trying to define themselves. That’s what was interesting about that time. You really had a wave. You always have it. But it just happened that there were all these magical things at that time.
Jeffrey Deitch is the Director of the Museum of Contemporary art in Los Angeles.
kateboarding exists in the documentation of an act. you didn’t do the trick unless somebody got a photo. . . . In the same way, graffiti doesn’t exist unless someone got a photo, because it’s gone immediately. —Aaron Rose