Graffiti : Born in the streets
Graffiti
Born in the streets
Linda Chenit, June 29, 2009
Born in the Streets—Graffiti brings to light the extraordinary expansion of an artistic movement that developed in the streets of New York in the early 1970s to rapidly become a worldwide phenomenon.

Today, graffiti has entered the cultural mainstream, crossing over to the realms of studio art, design and advertising. Yet, despite its immense popularity, this essentially illegal activity continues to evolve at the periphery of the contemporary art world, its origins and history little-known to the general public. This exhibition attempts to sketch the general contours of a subject that is vast and complex, a form of expression that has come to embrace many different techniques, ideas and movements.


Flip One Spraying his name in New York City’s underground subway system, 1974_Flint Gennari
Flip One Spraying his name in New York City’s underground subway system, 1974_Flint Gennari


Born in the Streets—Graffiti pays tribute to the early days in New York with pioneers such as P.H.A.S.E. 2, Part 1 and Seen, who, along with many others, ushered the movement into the halls of contemporary art as its influence spread across the globe. It also pays tribute to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring who were both, in their own way, born in the streets, but whose careers would ultimately take a different path. Finally, the exhibition will present some of the most brilliant figures on the contemporary scene, including Vitché, Nug, Evan Roth and Barry McGee, reflecting the diversity and complexity of a movement that, somewhere between writing and painting, continues to reinvent itself.

Gérard Zlotykamien_Adagp, Paris, 2009_Thierry Lefébure
Gérard Zlotykamien_Adagp, Paris, 2009_Thierry Lefébure


In the first part of the exhibition, a presentation of photographs, films and sketches will explore the birth of graffiti in New York City, from its beginnings in the early 1970s to its entry into the art market and the media world in the 1980s. The Fondation Cartier has invited three of the movement’s most significant pioneers—P.H.A.S.E. 2, Part 1 and Seen— to create original large-scale wall paintings within the gallery space. Focusing on the importance of documentation in the development of the movement, the exhibition will show how graffiti artists appropriated public space and dynamically transformed their urban environment. Alan Ket (Ket One), a major graffiti artist from New York who has coordinated many publications and shows dedicated to the subject, has served as a consultant for the historical section of the exhibition.

Joâo Wainer Sao Paulo, 2009
Joâo Wainer Sao Paulo, 2009


Enjaulado, 2008 Independencia, Santiago, Chilie Enjaulado, 2008 Independencia, Santiago, Chilie Enjaulado, 2008 Independencia, Santiago, Chilie Enjaulado, 2008_Independencia, Santiago, Chile_Basco-Vazko
Enjaulado, 2008 Independencia, Santiago, Chilie Enjaulado, 2008 Independencia, Santiago, Chilie Enjaulado, 2008 Independencia, Santiago, Chilie Enjaulado, 2008_Independencia, Santiago, Chile_Basco-Vazko


The second part of the exhibition demonstrates the ongoing vitality of the movement through site-specific works created by a selection of artists from around the world: Basco Vazko (Santiago, Chile), Cripta (São Paulo), JonOne (Paris), Olivier Kosta-Théfaine (Paris), Barry McGee (San Francisco), Nug (Stockholm), Evan Roth (American living in Honk Kong), Boris Tellegen / Delta (Amsterdam), Vitché (São Paulo) and Gérard Zlotykamien (Paris).

Barry McGee
Barry McGee


Origins

It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that audacious youth from Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn began to radically alter the ageold tradition of writing on public walls. Influenced by billboard advertising and comics, they created a new form of expression, which they called “writing”, built around elaborately designed names and initials displayed on city walls, vehicles and subways. The graffiti movement in New York began with the tag, which represents the signature of the writer’s chosen nickname, often accompanied by the number of his or her street address : Taki 183, Stay High 149, Barbara 62. In order to distinguish themselves, writers competed to develop highly original calligraphic styles, adding flourishes, stars and other designs to make their tags unique.


Allemagne_Vitche
Allemagne_Vitche


Action Writing

In order to emblazon their tags across the city, beyond the limited boundaries of their neighborhoods, writers chose subways as their primary canvases. They gradually increased the scale of their tags until they covered the cars from top to bottom. The writers studied mainstream popular culture, eventually introducing comic book characters and complex lettering into their pieces in order to increase the visual impact of their work. Distinctiveness of line, shape, and pattern became important in the minds of the writers as they prepared their subway masterpieces in their sketchbooks. Producing pieces under difficult conditions compelled writers to hone their skills and turn the act of writing into a veritable art. The photographs of Jon Naar, Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper presented in the exhibition, as well as seminal films such as Style Wars and Stations of the Elevated, are some of the only remaining traces of an art form that is by nature ephemeral.

By the late 1970s, these bold and passionate works captured the attention of visual artists, galleries and the media. Galleries in New York began to exhibit the works of writers, thus inviting them to switch to canvas. At the same time, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, who were not yet celebrated artists, were working in the subways and on the streets, connecting the gestural energy of graffiti writing.


Evan Roth in collaboration with KATSU, Graffiti Analysis, 2006, New York
Evan Roth in collaboration with KATSU, Graffiti Analysis, 2006, New York


Cross-overs

The number of artists making art in the streets has multiplied as the phenomenon has spread across the globe. Moreover, graffiti is currently cross-fertilizing with other forms of urban art such as fly posting, stickers and stenciling, opening up new possibilities for art in the urban environment. Although much of this work may not be considered graffiti in the purest sense of the term, the use of letters, illustrations, or aerosol paint make it clear that many of the artists working in the streets today have developed their art in a dialogue with the aesthetics of graffiti.

Chosen for the singularity of their work and the force of their artistic vision, the artists invited to participate in the exhibition reflect the diversity of forms, styles, and influences in contemporary graffiti. For example, Boris Tellegen, one of the movement’s pioneers in the Netherlands, uses his background in industrial design to create three-dimensional works. Swedish writer, Nug uses video to bring out the performative aspect of graffiti art, whereas JonOne, an American residing in Paris, has developed an abstract form of painting he calls freestyle, inspired by the gestural movement of the signature. Though not a writer himself, Evan Roth uses computer technology to analyze and classify graffiti writing and its aesthetics. Using painting and sculpture, Vitché draws from his Brazilian roots as well as from Indian and Aztec traditions. Tatoo art, punk culture, and the work of Joan Miró are some of the diverse sources of inspiration for the work of Basco Vazko. Hailing from São Paolo, the artist Cripta will represent Brazil’s Pixação movement, which has developed a radically new way of writing graffiti and incorporating it into the city’s architecture. Co-produced by the Fondation Cartier, a film capturing this unique phenomenon will be highlighted in the exhibition.


Henry Chalfant_Stanligrad, 1985
Henry Chalfant_Stanligrad, 1985


Lastly, for an exciting project in collabor collaboration with the Association Le M.U.R., two French artists will be invited each month to create large-scale works in the gardens of the Fondation Cartier. These works will be presented in the foundation’s gallery space before being moved to the billboard of the Association Le M.U.R, located at the intersection of the Saint-Maur and Oberkampf streets in the city of Paris. Born in the Streets—Graffiti traces the origins of the graffiti movement while offering a panorama of the diversity of contemporary writing. It will provide the public with the opportunity to rediscover an art both ubiquitous and continually evolving, and thus relate to the city in a new way.

Gérard Zlotykamien - Adagp, Paris, 2009
Gérard Zlotykamien - Adagp, Paris, 2009


fondation.cartier.com