Well, really, the headline here isn’t entirely accurate. The artist and collector Martin Wong saved the seeds of a culture, and then donated his collection the Museum of the City of New York. And then the museum mostly kept those seeds hidden away for about twenty years. But now the museum, with the help of curator Sean Corcoran and others, has brought those seeds back into the spotlight for a new generation to learn from. Of course, I’m talking about City as Canvas, the new show at the Museum of the City of New York, and the seeds I’m talking about are the seeds of modern graffiti.
The back story behind City as Canvas is pretty great. Wong, a painter who lived in NYC’s East Village in the 80’s, was noticing graffiti and as he met some of the men and women behind it, he began supporting the young writers by buying their work. Eventually, that turned into a major collection of work by New York train writers like Sharp, Daze, Lee, Futura and many more. Wong even tried to open his own “Museum of American Graffiti” in 1989, but it didn’t work out. Still, Wong had amassed something special and unique that captured a very important time period for graffiti as artists transitioned from trains to canvases and teenagers to adults, and as graffiti itself spread from New York City to the rest of the world. Eventually, he donated his collection to the Museum of the City of New York. Those are the basics, but really, the story of Wong’s collection has already been told very well and in more detail in the New York Times, so do check out that article.
One of the greatest early supporters of graffiti artists was Martin Wong, a painter who lived in New York City during the city’s Golden Age of graffiti. Wong collected the work of young artists working outdoors like Lee Quinones, Rammellzee and Keith Haring. Wong’s collection is perhaps the best existing set of artworks that together give a sense of modern graffiti’s early days in the city where it (effectively) began. In the mid-90’s, Wong donated the whole thing to the Museum of the City of New York. It’s a collection that early writers often tell me about with a sense of wonder, and they always suggest that I have a look at the collection because I could learn a thing or two from it. Now, works from the are about to be exhibited publicly at the Museum of the City of New York for the first time.
City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection opens next Tuesday the 4th at the Museum of the City of New York. I’m excited to see so much early work (nearly 150 pieces) in person, and to hopefully get a sense of how Wong saw the early graffiti scene. In addition to some early canvas work by artists like Lady Pink and Daze, the collection includes a subset of work that should be particularly interesting for those of us interested in the history of graffiti: perhaps the only collection of blackbook sketches in a museum possession. The show also includes a new short film by Charlie Ahearn and photographs by Ahearn, Martha Cooper, Jack Stewart and Jon Naar. In case it’s not already obvious, let me just state that this sounds like it will be a must-see exhibition for graffiti geeks.
Faile are working on a huge project with the New York City Ballet. It sounds like a bit of a strange collaboration at first, but I’m excited to see the results. It seems like this has given Faile an opportunity to develop new work in a direction that they would have otherwise never gone, and the results that have been teased so far look strong.
I might have asked this question before, but can someone please explain the appeal of Barry McGee’s recent Brooklyn mural to me? The first of the videos here has some info about it, but I need more. McGee has previously stated his objections to painting so-call beautifying murals. The only time in recent memory that I can recall seeing anything similar to the Brooklyn mural is the one he painted a few years ago in Miami, but even that piece included a fair bit of traditional graffiti. Plus, the Brooklyn mural was painted by the billboard painting company Colossal. I’ve got no problem with artist assistants or anything like that, but the whole thing strikes me as McGee just saying “Sure, if Cadillac wants to pay me a bunch of money to license one of my images and hire someone else to paint it on a building, I’ll take that paycheck.” And hey, more power to the guy if he can get Cadillac to pay him for that, but is that all that’s going on here or am I missing something? Has McGee’s philosophy about public art changed?
The work of Rammellzee, one of the late great mysteries and legends of the New York graffiti community, will be on display in New York City starting tonight at The Suzanne Geiss Company. Letter Racers will have two complete sets of Rammellzee’s letter racer creations on display. By this point, you’re probably either in agreement with me that this show is a must-see, or you’re completely lost because you don’t know who Rammellzee is. Well, The New York Times profiled him last week, which is a better introduction than anything I might write about him.
Letter Racers opens on March 8th from 6-8pm and runs through April 21st.
Photo by RJ Rushmore, flyer courtesy of Suzanne Geiss Company
Why haven’t hotels figured out that they should have strong free wifi in all rooms? And, if they make you pay for wifi, the signal and speed had better be amazing? Starbucks has it figured out, and I don’t have to pay a boatload of money to hang out in a Starbucks for a couple of hours (unless I’m drinking their coffee while I’m there). And yet, hotels haven’t seemed to get the message. So that problem, and the general busyness of the last few days in LA, is why I am woefully late covering the opening of Art in the Streets at MOCA in LA, probably the biggest indoor event this year relating to street art or graffiti. And I’m still going to be woefully late with coverage today. Expect a full review in a couple of days, but in the mean time, here’s some of the best reviews and coverage from around the web:
The LA Times reports on an increase in graffiti throughout LA because of the show. A. Umm… duh. B. MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch attributed this increase to “some of the young taggers who are anarchic,” but neglected to mention that some artists in Art in the Streets are involved too. Barry McGee, Amaze, ESPO and friends painted somegraffiti. I saw some McGee stickers around the museum. And Shepard Fairey’s crew has been hitting up electric boxes right out in front of MOCA without permission.
If you’re the Jeffrey Deitch or museum-hating type, the next few weeks are not going to be your favorite weeks, at least not when it comes to Vandalog posts. I’m gonna be talking a lot about this topic. I could hardly be more excited for MOCA‘s upcoming Art In The Streets show, and some substantive information about the show is finally starting to come out:
First of all, what lots of people have been asking for: a solid and confirmed opening date. Art In The Streets opens on April 17th.
The MOCA iteration includes a lot of West Coast stuff like Cholo graffiti and writers like Revok and Saber.
Oh, clarification on the last point: The show movies to The Brooklyn Museum next March. Presumably the show will be refocused a bit NYC graffiti for that iteration.
The show will include some mini-shows within it including a space dedicated to The Fun Gallery, a RAMELLZEE installation and Todd James, Barry McGee, and Steve Powers’ new iteration of their legendary Street Market show.
Because MOCA is looking at skateboarding as art on the streets too, there will be a custom skate ramp in the museum and Nike’s skateboarding team will be skating there throughout the run of the show.
There will be a film festival component to the show.
So yeah. Sounds good. Can’t wait for the opening. If this show succeeds, it could be the American equivalent of Banksy Versus The Bristol Museum in terms of impact.