Nightly News | August 06, 2011
LESTER HOLT, anchor: Finally tonight, the changing landscape of American graffiti . Modern graffiti has been around for decades on everything from highway signs to dumpsters, but recently, it's become a hot commodity in the art world , hanging in museums and selling for big bucks . That's prompting some to wonder where to draw the line between one man's vandalism and another man's artistic expression. Here's NBC's Lee Cowan.
Detective VICTOR SEGURA: I have an active case on him.
LEE COWAN reporting: When LAPD Detective Victor Segura became a cop, he never thought he'd end up an art critic .
Det. SEGURA: You can see the fresher graffiti .
COWAN: But as a member of LA 's graffiti task force, he now polices the vast canvas that is the inner city .
Det. SEGURA: They have been some cases made out of fingerprints from...
COWAN: Off the cans.
Det. SEGURA: Off the cans, yeah.
COWAN: To him, graffiti is vandalism, even if sometimes, it's a tough call.
Det. SEGURA: It is art, but the difference is permission.
COWAN: Last year alone the city of Los Angeles painted over more than 35 million square feet of graffiti , that's an 8 percent jump over the year before that. As you can see, just keeping up is no easy task. And it's not just Los Angeles . Cities all around the country are seeing a graffiti surge. Places like Florence , Alabama , and the state house in Tennessee .
CARADOC (Maximillian Gallery Owner): When you see it making its way into the important museums, that gives you an idea of how big it is.
COWAN: At this gallery at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood , Graffiti is big business .
CARADOC: That's $9,000.
COWAN: Nine thousand dollars. Cope 2, as the artist is known, started years ago by tagging subway cars in New York City . Now he's an artist known the world over.
COWAN: It's a hit in Hollywood , too. The recent documentary about the elusive graffiti artist Banksy was nominated for an Academy Award . Even the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art has given graffiti a lofty platform.
Mr. STASH MALESKI: Some people say it has to be illegal to be graffiti . I don't really agree with that.
COWAN: Stash Maleski is a curator of the Venice art walls. He offers a legal place for street artists like Cre8 .
CRE8: I was actually told at a young age that this art form would not get you nowhere. But guess what, I travel, I do shows, I sell paintings.
COWAN: Critics say all this attention is just glorifying a crime, but it's the canvas that's the controversy, not the spray strokes themselves. Lee Cowan, NBC News, Venice Beach , California.