On Thursday I was invited to the New Musuem for the screening of “Graffiti – PostGraffiti” documentary and panel discussion.
Your usual suspects were there. Besides the panelist (Pattie Astor, Fab Five Freddy, Lady Pink, and Lee Quinones), there were many old glories and a couple of aspiring bomber kids in the audience that I am sure were tagging walls late that night.
What started as a celebration, a remembrance, and a comunion, as the liturgy advanced ended up becoming a hurtful vindication and even a flat out purist attack. And that is exactly how “high culture” (market and marketing, generating artificial scarcity) assimilates art and expression forms.
It was beautilful to hear from the very people that were there and made it happen how the ’77 NY BlackOut allowed kids to “borrow” musical equipment that they would not have had access to any other way, which in turn sparked a wave of wild and pure self expression from kids that did not have the influence of traditional art education, which led to rap/hip-hop, break dance, and graffiti. It was empowerment from an accidental redistribution of artistic production means. Forced expression socialism.
The voyage went throught the highs (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Futura2000, Keith Haring…) and lows (the LA show, threats, stigmatization…). It could have ended there if those were scholars talking about art history. But they were not. They were the alive and active protagonist of a movement that is very present today. It was a great opportunity to talk about the present and future after the past had been cheerfully celebrated with endogamic enthusiasm.
So I asked Freddy, Lee and Lady Pink about their opinion about it. “How graffiti, street-art, posters, stickers, stencils, LED throwies, etc incluence one another, and where is it going?”
Pattie took the microphone with her worn-out trucker voice and started ranting about how Graffiti was a style, a movement, that had nothig to do with stencils, posters, and all that. She explained how those sitting there were all Post-Graffiti Artist (I heard her capitalize the “A”, which sent goosebumps down my spine) with studios, not “street-artist” (again a chilling reaction to her despective tone).
Jumping on her angry bandwagon the rest affirmed her views. “It has been many years since I painted on a wall”, “I have a studio, I exhibit around the world, my paintings are in many museums”… It was SO sad to see them react. Still feeling the pain, still feeling they needed to defend themselves and their expression means from others (even though that same panel met at that same museum in ’98, ’02, and ’04). That was understandable. What was unbereable was to see how The System, embodied by The Art World, had yet again, once more, engulfed and prevailed, not just assimilating art, expression, freedom, rebellion, and spontaneity, but also being assimilated by those very same people that once laughed at it.
And they fell with full force, with enclosing reductionist force. Up to the point that when Banksy was mentioned, Lee said “sorry Banksy, we beat you to it”.
So, heroes of the past, I salute you for your bravery and contribution of the past. But that does not earn my respect for the present, nor my enthusiasm for the future. I’ll keep on looking, and more convinced than ever that the energy of the present and the light of the future might be anywhere, come from anywhere, but definitely not a Museum.
PS: I do take a wonderful inspiration from the event, and some recent conversations and messages I’ve had to endure. Finally an art definition that leaves me satisfied. Mine. To me:
Art is a unidirectional expression of reality
[Update: check out this great infographic
about the origins of Street Art]