Tag Archives: graffiti

LET’S PAINT THIS CITY

If you want to see graffiti, you’d normally go and roam the streets. This time you’d better go to the Museum of the City of New York. It brings the exceptional collection of Martin Wong.

Wong was an American artist who lived in San Francisco and New York. His visionary realism renders the legendary street scene of the Lower East Side in the seventies and eighties. But his interests went beyond his own artistic activity. He had a degree in ceramics and was an expert in Asian art and antiques.

But what the art world is particularly grateful for is Martin Wong’s outstanding collection of graffiti. Legendary graffiti artists, like Lady Pink and Keith Haring, were his friends. He received their work as gifts or he sometimes traded with his own paintings. The result is an extraordinary document of graffiti. But also a time document of New York.

Per definition graffiti is the ephemeral art that pops up overnight on urban walls. It’s not associated, not at all back in those days, with art that can be collected. Because of its temporary character for one. But also because of the fact that it’s simply not very practical to collect walls of public buildings or subway stations. We should neither forget the illegal aspect of graffiti!

Hence, Martin Wong’s collection consists of work on paper and canvas and photo (or any other support that is not a wall, for example a fridge door). And maybe this is why this collection is such an important document. Most of the sketches in the scrap books are preparatory studies for larger “on the wall” pieces. Very often we think (or thought) that spray painters were just a bunch of kids hanging out on the streets and who happened to have a can or two on them and inevitably started spraying the walls.

The exhibition shows how graffiti shifted from vandalism to the socially accepted art form that has earned its place in galleries and museums. Where one day it was frowned upon as offensive ventilating of adolescent frustration, it has now become an art form in its own right.

Still, even today, some find graffiti unacceptable and an eyesore. They should see how it was back then in those decades in New York City! The streets of (mostly Lower) Manhattan were literally covered in spray paint. There was hardly any inch left uncovered in the subway, that is in the stations, but also inside the trains. It almost made the word gritty synonymous to NYC. Compared to those times, New York has become a ‘clean and safe’ place. And some would say a ‘gray, dull and boring’ place.

 

CITY AS CANVAS – Museum of the City of New York – through August 24, 2014

 

 

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5POINTZ – THE END

Bound to happen, now it is happening.

From the first day of its existence, 5POINTZ, the graffiti mecca of Queens, was doomed to disappear The owner of the empty warehouse has always welcomed artists from all over the world to spray-paint on them.

But an era is coming to an end, and maybe even as soon as December.

5POINTZ is to be demolished and will make room for two brand new residential towers with 1,000 apartments.

Money rules.

Or maybe what is happening here is just what was meant to be. After all, isn’t graffiti ephemeral in se?

Even Banksy, the evasive street artist, knows all about it. He has become so famous that his walls are highly sought after and worth lots of cash. This month of October he is doing a one-a-day stunt in NYC. Every morning, somewhere, one of his works pops up on a wall, as by magic. But, in spite of their extreme street value, his walls too, get painted over already.

The artists at 5POINTZ should maybe do the same: take to the streets again and surprise us around the corner in the morning. That’s how graffiti started, that’s what graffiti is.

But, one must admit, 5POINTZ is a great place and will be missed. Hurry hurry while it’s still standing!

 

See also post of February 11, 2013 :

5POINTZ: CONFINED EXPRESSION?

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5POINTZ : confined expression?

Normally, to see the guys do what they do so well, you’d have to stay up late and go wandering the streets. And even then, the chance that you would catch them “in flagrante delicto” is small, their actions being as furtive as the very creatures of the night.

Graffiti is still an illegal activity in New York, so the art pops up overnight on a given street corner.

The reason why “wild spray painting” is illegal, can sometimes be very obvious. Who wants  to wake up to find his freshly painted garage clad in streaks of electrifying spray paint? If the NY subway looks better with or without the graffiti, is food for discussion.

But I think everybody must at least have been wowed once when coming across a vast piece of graffiti.

45-46 Davis Street in Long Island City, Queens is the mecca for graffiti artists. Here, aerosol artists, as they prefer to call themselves, don’t have to be constantly on the look out for police cars patrolling the neighborhood. Here, they don’t have to trespass old decrepit warehouses and risk stepping on rusty nails. And here, they can do their thing in broad daylight. It also gives us, the onlookers, the chance to see them at work, without having to go out there in the wee hours with a torch.

This block, called 5Pointz, is a meeting place for aerosol artists from the five boroughs of New York City.

Since 2002, Jonathan Cohen, alias Meres One, has been running and organizing the 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center, Inc.

Artists have to apply and get permission to work on a wall. And all this under the watchful eye of the owner of the warehouse, Jerry Wolkoff. At no charge. An accident inside the building in 2002 has led to its closure. The place is old and not in good shape. For some time now, it is said that the warehouse is to make place for new developments. The latest rumor says this would happen this summer!

Organizers and artists are raising their voice to preserve this shrine for underground art. It’s a very special and unique place indeed. Well informed people (like you), come from far to see for themselves. But is that enough to keep the bulldozers from pulling up one day and tear the place down? Money rules the world, and I guess 5Pointz is not to become the exception.

Basquiat started out painting on walls and doors, till one day someone gave him old doors from demolished houses and canvases to paint on. Now he hangs in the world’s most prestigious museums. That’s the undeniable proof graffiti is rightfully accepted in the realm of art forms.

That graffiti has made it to galleries and our living rooms, is a great thing. But we must never forget where it comes from: the streets…with that wonderful and exciting illegal edge.

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