Art and Seeking founder Lizy Dastin finds diamonds in the rough in Venice street art
It’s not every day that you find diamonds in the street. Yet that’s what happened to Lizy Dastin — well, sort of. She was rushing down Abbot Kinney Boulevard one day, heading to teach a spin class, when she saw something glittering in the gutter.
“I noticed this drainpipe that seemed to have something interesting and sparkly inside, and I looked down and I saw these beautiful paper geodes. And I was incredibly intrigued. Who made this work? Is it a work at all? Why is it in a drainpipe? What was the intention behind it? And there was just such a lovely collision of extremes between the built urban environment of Abbot Kinney and then the evocation of the natural of the world of the geode,” muses Dastin, a university art history teacher and founder of Art and Seeking, a web-based company that offers both private and pre-recorded guided tours of street art throughout Los Angeles, including Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
Finding those urban gems was kind of like striking gold for Dastin, 31, whose Eureka moment inspired her to take her interest in street art first to the classroom, then to the business world. Around the same time, she was teaching a course at Chapman University on the subject and decided to include her latest find — those glistening and intricately folded bits of metallic paper by street artist Paige Smith — into her lecture material.
From there, the idea for Art and Seeking unfolded. If she could take street art to the classroom, why not take a bit of the classroom to the street?
So Dastin combined her training in art history from Wellesley, Christie’s Education and the CUNY Graduate Center in New York with her budding scholarly interest in street art, conducted one-on-one interviews with street artists, and generated her own analysis of their artworks to develop original content for her website and guided tours.
Going on a tour with Lizy Dastin, whether in-person or by iPhone, (pre-recorded audio tours are available on her website) is part city walking tour, part art history seminar. As she guides you through the streets, Dastin sprinkles in colorful anecdotes about the work or the artist with her own insightful analysis, putting the artwork into context historically, critically and environmentally.
For instance, on her audio tour of Abbot Kinney, Dastin discusses a piece by the anonymous French artist and TED prize-winner JR that hangs above the restaurant Gjelina. It’s a giant eye that peers down at you from the second story above. Dastin animatedly describes the work, part of JR’s “Wrinkles of the City” series and its implications:
“It reminds us of all the seeing and being seen that happens when we’re outside and in a public space. When you visit Abbot Kinney, you’re there to admire luxury goods, beautiful people, fearless fashion and site-specific art. … So JR’s eye can be read as celebrating this urban phenomenon. … Second of all, I feel that the eye serves as a quiet protector. … We might even read the eye as a symbol of the benevolent man [Abbot Kinney] who happily watches without needing to be noticed.
While the work itself may be physically lofty, Dastin poetically brings its meaning down to eye-level, so to speak, where we can contemplate the work through her eyes and our own. Her enthusiastic yet sophisticated take on art that uses the city as its canvas forces us to recognize hidden gems that we might not have noticed before — even if that means chasing down secretive street artists for interviews and checking up regularly on her art tour routes to make sure that a mural on a street corner one day isn’t gone the next.
Dastin explains that the fate of street art, unlike art in a museum, is in the hands of business and building owners who can choose to commission new works, erase or preserve preexisting ones on their buildings’ walls. Much of that decision-making depends on the whims and personal tastes of the business owner, or if the building changes hands, meaning that Dastin is constantly updating her tours with the latest additions to the street art world, as well as documenting its departures.
“Street art is temporary, it’s fleeting, it’s ephemeral, and there’s no guarantee that any given work is going to exist in its space for any amount of time, so if I can record the artist talking about it and show still images then that’s my contribution to the zeitgeist,” says Dastin. “What I really want to do is to be a docent of the street.”
Pre-recorded audio tours of Abbot Kinney Boulevard ($12.99) and other neighborhoods are available at artandseeking.com, and private tours (starting from $175) can be booked online.