City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection

When 4 Feb 2014 - 24 Aug 2014
Where Museum of the City of New York
James G. Dinan and Elizabeth R. Miller Gallery, 1220 Fifth Avenue,
New York, NY 10029
United States
Cost Adults: $10; Seniors (65+): $6; Students (with valid ID): $6; Families: $20 (max. 2 adults); Children 12 and under: free; Members: free
Enquiry (212) 534-1672

The Museum of the City of New York presents City As Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection, the first exhibition of the treasure trove of 1970s and ’80s graffiti art amassed by artist and pioneering collector Martin Wong, who donated the entire collection to the Museum in 1994. The exhibition features seminal paintings and “black book” sketches by CEY (Cey Adams), DAZE (Chris Ellis), DONDI (Donald White), FUTURA 2000 (Leonard McGurr), Keith Haring, LADY PINK (Sandra Fabara), LEE (Lee Quiñones), RAMMELLZEE, SHARP (Aaron Goodstone), TRACY 168 (Michael Tracy), ZEPHYR (Andrew Witten), and many more New York graffiti artists, as well as photographs by Charlie Ahearn, Henry Chalfant, Martha Cooper, and Jon Naar that show the era’s graffiti-covered subways and buildings. City as Canvas opens Tuesday, February 4 and will remain on view until Sunday, August 24, 2014.

City as Canvas explores the cultural phenomenon of New York City graffiti art, beginning with historical photographs of graffiti long erased from subways and buildings, and delving into paintings and sketchbooks collected by Martin Wong (1946–1999). Graffiti emerged as a powerful form of self-expression in New York City in the 1970s. With Wong and his friends at its epicenter, the movement evolved from illicit expressions on subway cars and station walls to colorful paintings embraced as valuable works of art by collectors and patrons from the Downtown scene of the 1980s.

“Graffiti art is now widely admired, but many questioned its merits during the movement’s development in the 1970s. Martin Wong had the foresight to collect graffiti art and advocate for young ‘writers,’ just as New York City’s street art scene was on the cusp of gaining international prominence,” said Susan Henshaw Jones, the Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York. “Understanding the importance of graffiti as an urban statement, the City Museum embraced the opportunity to acquire Martin Wong’s collection, which included many works by artists living just blocks away. We’re thrilled to show this rare collection for the first time since Wong donated it 20 years ago.”

Wong was drawn to the ubiquitous graffiti writing he saw all over New York City when he moved from San Francisco in 1978. While working at Pearl Paint, an art supply store on Canal Street in Manhattan, he befriended New York City graffiti writers, many of whom were teenagers. While others saw graffiti as an urban blight, Wong recognized the artistic and cultural value of his friends’ work, which he began collecting through purchase or trade. The resulting collection features 55 sketchbooks—called “black books”—and more than 300 mixed media paintings on canvas, cardboard, paper, and plywood, many of which were permutations of spray-painted works on subways and buildings that were later erased or painted over. Interested in keeping the entire collection intact, Wong donated it to the City Museum in 1994 before returning to San Francisco, where he remained an active artist and friend of graffiti artists until his death from AIDS in 1999.

With nearly 150 works from Wong’s collection on display, many restored for this exhibition, City As Canvas highlights the vibrant colors, varying techniques, and personal styles that vividly reflect the culture and social pressures of the era. The exhibition also traces the evolution of New York graffiti at a moment when street art has emerged as an important part of the dialogue about art in public space. As revealed by the intense public reaction to Banksy’s month-long New York “residency” in October 2013 and the sudden whitewashing of Long Island City’s legendary 5Pointz facade one month later, graffiti continues to elicit passionate emotions—both positive and negative—while fascinating New Yorkers and visitors from around the world.
City as Canvas was curated by Sean Corcoran, Curator of Prints & Photographs at the Museum of the City of New York.

“City As Canvas provides a window into the origins of the graffiti movement, which began as an illicit activity and evolved into an art form that spawned a worldwide phenomenon. Both notorious and celebrated, the style that New York teenagers pioneered and Martin Wong collected transformed the way we see the city and defined a genre that forever altered music, fashion, and popular visual culture,” said Corcoran.

Among the public programs that the Museum will present to accompany the exhibition are:
•    GRAFFITI 101: NEW YORK SUBWAY ART OF THE 1970s AND ’80s on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. Artist and author Chris Pape will present a lively overview of the New York City subway graffiti movement between 1969 and 1989, and provide an insider’s account of what it was like to paint subway trains.

•    THE ART OF GRAFFITI: DRAW YOUR NAME on Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. Get an introduction to the stylized writing that grew out of the graffiti art movement, and learn to draw your own tag under the guidance of New York graffiti artist and teacher SEN One (George Morillo).
•    LITTLE BLACK BOOKS: LEARN THE ART OF WRITING GRAFFITI on Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 11:00 a.m. Out of the subway cars of the 1970s and ’80s came black books—sketchbooks where writers practiced drawing and drafted murals. Explore the stylized writing and tags found in these elusive books with New York graffiti artist and teacher DAZE.

•    WILD STYLE: A FILM SCREENING AND TALK-BACK on Thursday, March 20 at 6:00 p.m. First released just over 30 years ago, Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style (1983) was the world’s first hip hop motion picture, a heady evocation of the early days of spray-can art and hip-hop in New York City. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Charlie Ahearn and two of the legendary artists featured in the film, ZEPHYR and SHARP.

•    OLD’S KOOL: ROOTS OF NEW YORK GRAFFITI on Thursday, April 17 at 6:30 p.m. In the 1970s, New York City teens claimed the city’s walls and mass transit system as their canvases—and in the process invented a new art form. J.SON (Jay Edlin)—a veteran graffiti artist, historian, and author of Graffiti 365 (Harry N. Abrams, 2011)—will lead a panel discussion about graffiti with four revolutionary yet unsung graffiti writers of the ’70s: COCO 144, JESTER ONE, LSD OM, and Al Diaz, a.k.a. BOMB ONE and later SAMO (in collaboration with Jean Michel Basquiat).

•    STYLE WARS: A FILM SCREENING AND DISCUSSION on Monday, May 12 at 6:30 p.m. Winner of a 1984 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, Style Wars (1983) was the first documentary to investigate Hip Hop culture. The film screening will be followed by a discussion and Q&A with producer and cinematographer Henry Chalfant, as well as two artists featured in the film: breakdancer MR. FREEZE and graffiti artist CRASH.

•    DON1, THE KING FROM QUEENS: PANEL DISCUSSION AND BOOK LAUNCH on Wednesday, May 28 at 6:30 p.m. LEE and DAZE talk with author, musician, and filmmaker Sacha Jenkins and KR.ONE (Louie Gasparro) about the impact of DON1, an influential graffiti writer who is the subject of Gasparro’s new book, DON1, The King From Queens: The Life and Photos of a NYC Transit Graffiti Master (January, 2014).

About Martin Wong
“Born in Portland, Oregon, and raised in San Francisco, California, Chinese-American artist Martin Wong is best known for his elegiac realist paintings of Lower East Side tenements and their inhabitants. Wong moved from the West Coast to New York City in 1978. Trained as a ceramicist, the colors that Wong used were culled from the paint hues in his ceramics from iron oxides to gold, accenting the decaying brick walls of abandoned Lower East Side tenements. Wong would come to be an influential artist within the Downtown scene and a mentor to a league of young artists, including LADY PINK, DAZE, and LEE, among others. In 1998, Dan Cameron, then curator at the New Museum, and Barry Blinderman, who had been Wong’s art dealer and had become the director at the Illinois State University Galleries at Normal, organized a major retrospective for Wong at the New Museum.
Wong’s work is also in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among other collections. After his death on August 12, 1999, his mother Florence Wong Fie established The Martin Wong Foundation, which continues to support artists and educational programs in the arts.”

Photo courtesy of the organiser/s

For more information, please click here