Graffiti took hold in New York in the early 1970s, starting in Washington Heights and the Bronx before spreading throughout the city. Artist Martin Wong moved to New York in 1978, and he saw the seeds of a major art movement popping up on the streets around him. In the 1970s and 1980s, Wong collected about 300 pieces from graffiti artists around New York, and now about half of the collection is on display at the City Museum in an exhibition called City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection.
Graffiti is a democratic form of art that has given artistic and cultural legitimacy to artists such as Basquiat, Keith Haring, Fab 5 Freddy, and Lee Quiñones, in addition to providing an outlet for young artists around the world. Although it is a contentious form of art, graffiti continues to thrill and impassion people today (see: Banksy’s residency in New York and the erasure of 5 Pointz).
City as Canvas features Wong’s collection, which includes paintings and sketchbook drawings by graffiti artists, as well as photographs from notables such as Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, and a short documentary entitled Graf Obssession made by Charlie Ahearn (director of the seminal film Wild Style). The exhibtion encapsulates a period of early hip hop culture that has since become integrated into the spirit of the city, and highlights the graffiti movement’s cultural importance and its place in New York City history.
The exhibition opens Tuesday, February 4, and runs through Sunday, August 24.