Equal parts disruptor as he is a historian, Rogen Gastman has dedicated his life and career to educating, entertaining and solidifying the importance of a multitude of cultural movements to a worldwide audience using a tireless passion for his work, the ability to connect communities and a continued thirst for knowledge. Although he had many passions as a teenager growing up in Bethesda, Maryland in the early ‘90s, his life defining moment occurred when he felt the surge of electricity after pressing the valve on a spray paint can for the first time. Unbeknownst to him, this simple act— and the ensuing sense of accomplishment he experienced seeing his name painted around the city — inspired him to begin traveling the country painting, taking photos and selling specialized nozzles for spray paint to other likeminded artists. This pre-internet business was — and remains — the foundation for the vast network of artists that he still works with today.
Among his many accomplishments, Gastman founded and co-published Swindle Magazine which remains a cornerstone in graphic design today. He co-authored The History of American Graffiti (along with 50 other books), one of the preeminent sources on the subject. He has been involved with critical pieces of cinema like Infamy, Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop (which earned an Academy Award nomination for best documentary), The Legend of COOL “DISCO” DAN, and WALL WRITERS. Gastman was also instrumental in bringing graffiti and street art inside major American museums. The record breaking attendance at the MoCA Los Angeles’ Art in the Streets exhibit, Corcoran Gallery of Art’s PUMP ME UP: D.C. subculture of the 1980s, and Denver MCA’s Wall Writers can all be directly attributed to Gastman’s ability to turn the past into memorable contemporary experiences.
Despite these past successes, Gastman has never relied on a one-size-fits-all approach to culture. When he identified that the contemporary museum experience wasn’t able to meet modern demands, he saw an opportunity to redefine what an art show looked and felt like.
For BEYOND THE STREETS Los Angeles (2018), he built out a 40,000 square foot space inside a converted Chinatown warehouse — with highlights including half of a police car, an interactive temple, a handball court, and a recreation of a Venice skatepark. When BEYOND THE STREETS moved to Brooklyn in 2019, the space more than doubled to 100,000 square feet — drawing acclaim from The New York Times — who admired varied elements like an ephemera-laden retrospective to Beastie Boys, a vandal’s bedroom, and a fully-functional tattoo shop meant to resemble a Queens porch. Gastman’s vision wasn’t simply a love letter to graffiti, it was a postcard to every person, place and facet of culture that it touched since beginning in Philadelphia in the late 1960s.
Gastman’s start in graffiti — with something as small as a specialized nozzle — to where his career is today — capable of mixing grandiose museum-quality curation with the fun of a Bethesda carnival — solidifies the notion that his attention to detail knows no bounds.