Chris “Daze” Ellis, in front of a site specific painting done for the exhibition
The Museum of City of New York’s upcoming City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection, is the first exhibition of the 1970s and ’80s graffiti art amassed by artist and pioneering collector Martin Wong. The exhibition, which opens Tuesday February 4, features important paintings and “black book” drawings by some of the earliest graffiti artists in New York City, including DONDI, DAZE, FUTURA 2000, Keith Haring, LA2, LADY PINK, LEE, SHARP, ZEPHYR, and many more. We had a chance to preview the exhibit and meet some of the artists.
Jackets by Caine One, Sharp, and Delta 2
What makes this exhibition unique is that Martin Wong befriended, promoted, and was a patron to many of the graffiti artists at a time when there was very little support for the art movement. Made up of 300 objects, including 50 artists’ black books, roughly 100 canvases, and over 150 works on paper, the MCNY’s Wong collection is a window into a period where people still debated graffiti’s lasting impact on American and world culture. As artist Sharp explained in a press conference today, they were young teenagers at the time, but the energy and creativity spawned from the early train movement is present today. Their influence is visible in both the commercial and fine art worlds.
Legendary graffiti artist Lady Pink was one of the only women participating in the writing movement at the time, between 1979 and 1985. She came up in the illegal graffiti scene around the same time she was gaining respect in the fine art world of galleries. Today, she continues to practice her art, as well as mentors and educates young artists in her community.
Christopher “DAZE” Ellis also has had a prolific artistic career. Reflecting on the evolution of his art, he noted that it is interesting to revisit his old pieces that are a part of the Martin Wong collection, which he painted when he was a young teenager. Both his old and contemporary work are included in the exhibition.
Chris “Daze” Ellis in front of one of his paintings from the Wong collection
FUTURA 2000 and ZEPHYR, both pieces 1981, Acrylic on wood.
Caine One, “City of Waste”, 1980, Acrylic on wood.
Wall of spray cans
City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection, opens Tuesday, February 4 and remain on view until Sunday, August 24, 2014. In conjunction with the exhibit, MCNY has two great public programs coming up in February. The first is Graffiti 101: New York Subway Art of the 1970s and 80s on Wednesday, February 12 at 6:30 pm, and the second is The Art of Graffiti: Draw Your Name on February 15 from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm.
Read also an interview with City of Canvas curator Sean Corcoran.
Get in touch with the author at Rachel Fawn Alban