Art nowadays is all too often an assault on civic values.

The new show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles is the latest example of this sad phenomenon. 

The show is on graffiti-you know, the defacing of somebody else’s property. City Journal’s Heather Mac Donald says that the museum’s new director Jeffrey Deitch “hopes to stamp himself on L.A.’s art scene as a fearless exponent of edgy, anarchist art, just as his gallery installations and anti-establishment performance pieces sealed his reputation in New York.”

The works on display are commissioned-not genuine street graffiti. But they still glorify graffiti as an art form and show no recognition of the profoundly anti-social nature of such “art.” Anti-social art, of course, is nothing new:

Little distinguishes this assembly from your average contemporary art show. To be sure, many photos feature vandalized property, as well as the loathsome punks (including the late Dash Snow) who perpetrate such vandalism, caught on camera here in various states of undress, inebriation, sexual availability, and mutilation. But such enactments of wistfully hopeful depravity have been the staple of cutting-edge galleries for years. …

Graffiti is rarely beautiful and almost always harmful to neighborhoods:

 Over the last three decades an uncontested body of knowledge has evolved regarding the poisonous effect of graffiti on neighborhood cohesion and safety. You cannot responsibly present a show on graffiti without engaging with this body of knowledge, if only to reject it. Even Banksy mentioned the Broken Windows theory of public disorder in his book Wall and Piece (he predictably mocked the theory). And his publisher, Random House, at least wanly tried to distance itself from crime, with the ineffectual disclaimer: “This book contains the creative/artistic element of graffiti art and is not meant to encourage or induce graffiti where it is illegal or inappropriate.”

But Art in the Streets has no response to the argument that graffiti is a scourge on cities, because it simply chooses to ignore any idea that contravenes its simplistic celebration of property defacement. I found only three highly oblique acknowledgments in the show of graffiti’s illegal and destructive nature.

Sounds like really ugly art.