February 3th 2014, the Museum of the City of New York launched graffiti once again into New York’s collective conscience. The art form half the city hates and most of the world loves once again reminds New Yorkers that “we may be through with the past, but the past may not be through with us.” Indeed, the next morning -as if it were 1985 all over again- the New York Daily News editorial section scolded the Museum for hanging the show! –as if the now-homogenized-excuse-for-a-world-class-city could even get over the irony of its homegrown criminal activity being safely encapsulated in its own museum!
Thankfully, graffiti’s triumphant return to controversy came way via one of its most loving supporters, Martin Wong, and one can see his affections for the art in the collection itself. Martin loved all levels of graffiti art: the tags, sketchbooks (black books), drawings, walls, canvases. He went out of his way to collect pieces he knew were historical and made great pains to collect the work of old school masters. One of the nicest pieces in the show is a wall of old school writers’ tags which I doubt any other museum or gallery for that matter would recognize as important. But it is here in all its glory.
There were tons and tons of graffiti art luminaries at the opening. One such was Daze, a.k.a. Christopher Ellis. One summer I hung out with Martin and Daze, going to gallery openings and such. I mentioned how Martin would have been out-of-his mind excited that so many famous graffiti writers assembled in one place. Daze’s eyes lit up as if Martin were alive once again. Then he remarked how Martin, despite the fact the show was in his name and dedicated to him… would actually be too busy trying to get the writers to piece his black book or napkins or whatever he could get his hands onto to even notice the show! I still laugh about it because I knew it was totally true. Martin’s spirit imbued the opening that night and everyone that knew him even a bit could feel it.
Some highlights of the show for me were the aforementioned wall of tags, Charlie Ahearn’s mini-documentary on the collection, a Futura 2000 wall, the black book collections, and A-1’s canvas. One nice addition was the projection of “Stations of the Elevated” a documentary of old graffiti trains running through NYC.
Sean Corcoran organized the show for the Museum of the City of New York against some initial resistance and the perseverance it seems paid off. Not only is the show delightful in-and-of-itself, but it seems will be a good attractor to the museum’s other exhibits which can only benefit the City of New York. Frankly there is so much stuff jammed into the show it would be exhausting to list all the good pieces. The exhibit runs until August 24, 2014 and the museum will rotate pieces periodically so check out the show a few times during its run.