This summer New York has been crazily, sometimes chaotically overlaid with tons of graffiti, Street Art, and murals – a testament to the enduring passion of a public that wants to see this organic patterning of the city skin, and the unquenchable thirst that artists and writers in New York have for showing their work to the public without intervening forces. Some of it is illegal, some of it is legal – all of it is part of the New York conversation.
Additionally, and in concert with, this ongoing conversation is a private pop-up exhibition called “Beyond the Streets” that pulls back from this moment and looks at pertinent and fundamental slices of the first 50 years of art in the streets from the perspective of a handful of sharp-eyed curators who have done their homework.
Presented in the context of historians defining a view of the scene with an eye toward private collectors of contemporary art, the vast show features paintings, sculpture, photography, site-specific installations, commercially branded environments, a large gift shop, historical ephemera – and a 30th anniversary Shepard Fairey exhibition within the exhibition.
“Beyond the Streets” in Williamsburg, Brooklyn was originally a three-month show that ran through August, it has been extended to September 29th – as they say – by popular demand. In addition, to celebrate and thank the community for their support, BEYOND THE STREETS will host free admission day on Thursday August 29th.
Hammering the display walls, sanding off the plaster bumps, the whirring and popping of construction drills: Two assistants are helping 1970s NYC subway writer Lee Quinones lay out a #2 train-car-length canvas on the floor while you are distracted by the Empire State building puncturing the Manhattan cityscape across the East River, a sweeping vista through the glass walls of this new high-rise in Williamsburg.
Nearby Cornbread’s notebook hangs next to his signature, a potent visual reverberation across five decades from graffiti’s Philly roots.
Elsewhere there are the sounds of woodsaws and metal clanging accompany the one-line drawings of freight-writer buZ blurr as historian Bill Daniel is completing his comprehensive mini-exhibition within this massive exhibition. With trains and photos and modern relics of American rail lore on display, this crucial antecedent of modern-day aerosol “writing” emerges and blows its chimes as well. This is a particular slice of the graffiti story that Mr. Daniel may describe, as he does in The Secret History of Hobo Graffiti, as “the dogged pursuit of the impossibly convoluted story of the heretofore untold history of the century-old folkloric practice of hobo and railworker graffiti.”
It’s an apt descriptor for Beyond The Streets as well. This multi-artist graffiti/Street Art-influenced exhibition directed by the discerning shepherd and seer Roger Gastman that is now mounting over two floors and 100,000 square feet in North Brooklyn tackles an endlessly convoluted evolutionary path. He says the size and composition of the exhibition has slightly changed since its first mounting last year in Los Angeles, and he is acutely aware that its location is in the city that claims a huge part of the graffiti genesis story, carrying perhaps a steep level of expectations.
Not that he has reason to worry: there are more hits here than a blowout at Yankee Stadium.
Like the blast of colors and pieces at a sunny Saturday afternoon Meeting of Styles jam, this show of many writers, photographers, documenters, collectors, painters, vandals, and attitudes won’t disappoint. You can see and construct your own version of a celebratory story that illustrates and reveals surprising ways that the street subculture has left its mark indelibly on the mainstream, yet often stayed separate.
From the Beastie Boys wigs worn in the “Sabotage” music video to the camera Joe Conzo used to shoot the Cold Crush Brothers, to the MDF and cardboard pay phone by pop sculptor Bill Barminski, and Dash Snow’s hi-low societal slumming photographs depicting sex, drugs, rhyming and stealing, visitors easily will have a flood of images and histories to author their own convoluted version of the graffiti and Street Art tale.