In the late 1980's and early 1990's my parter Franco Palazzolo and I edited and published HYPE Magazine in New Yorks East Village
. A money losing labour of love, I am now putting all of the articles from issues one to twelve into the public domain. This interview was originally published in HYPE NYC
, issue number one, April 1990.
Graffiti Shows Take Off on the Lower Eastside
by Baird Jones
The group of important graffiti exhibits curated by Mutant at Skull Space (459-4298), have drawn packed crowds and strong positive reaction. For his next show, Mutant chose to emphasize pizza boxes as a graffiti concept, and this media illustrates Mutant's non-pretentious approach to contemporary art promotion.
The excitement at Skull Space has coexisted with a strong surge in activity on the Lower Eastside, pushing forward in the face of Soho's summer doldrums.
Yet Mutant's choice of the "G word" for his shows, albeit in a "Neo-Graffiti" label, is surprising since so many of the best writers have run from this category. The artists in the first Skull Space show included ACTIVE, AONE, CEZER, EGGS, GIZMO, FA-Q, HARRY and WHITEBOY. The exhibits closing party featured performances by Richie Rish, David Huberman and a reading by the Church of the Subgenius' Wally Weiss.
Could graffiti be posed for a comeback? Historically graffiti took off in the late 70's, nurtured by a more positive (and less racist) European taste, perhaps connected to the rage for Art Provera in Italy, the return to figuration of the 3 C's (Clemente, Cucci, Chia), and the harshly political painting coming out of Germany at that time. Certainly the explosion in ghetto music in the late 70's and its mainstreaming throughout the 80's is connected to the mania for graffiti, and rap has continued to flourish in its current guise of "house music", while graffititsts all over the world have hit hard times (and it is extraordinary just how international graffiti was and is). It is rumored that the Museum of Modern Art is sponsoring a graffiti exhibit soon, and one wonders how many of the premier stylists of this school will react to the G word this time around. In perhaps a related genre, Word Art has hit the big time (e.g., Jenny Holzers success at the Whitney Biennial, the well received "Word Art" show at the Patterson Museum - which included a dozen N.J. graffitists, of the omnipresence of word art in the recent East Village exhibit at the New England Museum For Contemporary Art in Connecticut, which included Holzer, Ed Schlossberg, and a number of graffitists such as Phase II, Daze, Erni Gil and others who are known for disliking the graffiti classification). Both Basquiat and Haring have soared in reputation posthumously, undercutting the taunt that graffiti was so nightclubby that it would never have sustained value.
Yet the other art movement which shares a connection to Word Art, Neo-Geo, seems the antithesis of everything the graffiti movement represents. Graffiti chose to take art directly to the people, typically in a loud, political, young, and fun manner. Neo-Geo is muted, abstract, exclusive, salon-friendly, and the artists seem old even when they are still in their 20's. The conservative forces which recently outsted Tom Armstrong from the Whitney attacked him for his loyalty to art "fads". It's no coincidence that The Whitney had been the biggest supporter of Rennie Molinaar's Black in White in Color Gallery in the South Bronx, itself such a triumph that the loss of Fashion Moda is easy to bear. Yet, the pornography-in-art controversy has veered into NEA funding for primarily white artists, and in many cases in a gay-AIDS domain. The graffitists had already been cut out of the funding porkbarrel, so maybe it's time for a rebound. Perhaps all the pretentious cloning which accompanies any successful art style has faded from graffiti's identity and a rebirth is in the offing. Or perhaps the passage of time has made a historical focus on graffiti acceptable, paving the way for its reinfusing in the museum vista. Whatever the reasons, graffiti looks like its the "phenom" of the summer, and Mutant's Skull Space is a place to watch.