Sublimal Projects takes on street art from 1975-1985

Christy Rupp, Reagan Rat 2/19/81 NY Times

The next show at Shepard and Amanda Fairey’s Subliminal Projects promises to be one of my personal favorites there. Curated by Peter Frank and Lisa Kahane, Art, Access & Decay: New York 1975 – 1985 looks at one of my favorite periods of street art, one that I think is consistently underrated in favor of the graffiti from that time (or else solely represented by Haring and Basquiat, like representing today’s street art solely with Shepard Fairey and Banksy). The show draws heavily from CoLab, Fashion Moda and the East Village artists of the time.

Artists include: John Ahearn, Liza Bear, Andrea Callard, Thom Corn, CRASH, Jody Culkin, DAZE, Jane Dickson, Stefan Eins, Coleen Fitzgibbon, Mike Glier, Robert Goldman, Ilona Granet, Keith Haring, Julie Harrison, Jenny Holzer, GH Hovagimyan, Becky Howland, Lisa Kahane, Christof Kohlhofer, KOOR, Joe Lewis, Michael McClard, Ann Messner, Richard Miller, Joseph Nechvatal, Tom Otterness, Cara Perlman, Virge Piersol, Walter Robinson, Judy Ross, Christy Rupp, Teri Slotkin, David Wojnarowicz and Martin Wong.  I don’t know everyone on that list, but it seems to me to be pretty comprehensive and catch most of the major names (minus Basquiat, John Fekner, Don Leicht and Richard Hambleton). Especially cool is the inclusion of Wojnarowicz. Most people don’t realize that he did street art. And I guess the same could probably be said of Jenny Holzer.

I’m excited to see that someone has put this show together, especially at a space like Subliminal Projects. Street art history does not go: Haring to Blek to Beautiful Losers to Banksy, and this early period is well worth a closer look.

And of course, the timing for this show is very intentional. Art, Access & Decay opens on April 2nd and runs through the end of the month. That mean that LA MOCA’s street art show will open dead smack in the middle of Art, Access & Decay‘s run. I will definitely be making my way over to Subliminal while I’m in town for MOCA’s exhibition.

Photo courtesy of Subliminal Projects

Classic street art – Christy Rupp’s rats from 1979

A lot of people were first introduced to street art through Banksy and his rats. Then, you learn that Blek le Rat was painting stencils of rats back in the 1980’s. What people don’t often realize that one of street art’s early pioneers beat both of those artists to stenciled black rats. The Rat Patrol project by Christy Rupp, from 1979, consisted of wheatpasting images of rats all around New York City. Street Art, a book from 1985, is the invaluable resource that first introduced me to Rupp’s artwork, but since then, I don’t think she has been acknowledged for her work as one of the first street artists, and possibly the first street artist to use rats extensively, a character that has become iconic within the movement.

Here’s how Rupp describes the project:

Life size image of a rat placed amongst accumulated garbage. I started pasting these up during the 3 week garbage strike in May of 1979. Never intending to defend rats, I wanted to point out how we had created a habitat for them, and they would naturally occupy it. The city has it’s own ecosystem with a delicate balance. Rats were very visible in those days where I lived in the Wall St. area. Especially around dusk when the human traffic would abruptly taper off leaving all the days harvest for the first rats to discover. During this time I studied rat behavior and found them to be similar to people in many ways, not least of which was the ability to work together as a community, making them possibly better suited to living in NYC at times. Also it has been said that rats possess a culture- if you define culture as the ability to pass information through generations without direct experience- such as a fear of predators and pesticides. Humans are the only other species that can do that.

Also, there were even Rubble Rats, which took the form of sculptures:

Rupp’s artwork is a piece of street art history that should be longer be ignored. Certainly something that should be kept in mind with LA MOCA‘s upcoming street art show.

On her website, you can purchase a print of the 2nd photo in this post.

Also, I was looking around the rest of Rupp’s website and there are a number of other cool artworks worth checking out.

Photos by Christy Rupp