BY AMANDA MOSES
Think back to the 1970s, the days of bell bottoms, platform shoes, over saturated hairspray, thick afros, and long bangs. A time when disco pervaded the radio air waves, but—more importantly—when New York gave birth to hip-hop music and break dancing. A gritty era of New York that saw the streets and trains etched with flamboyant graffiti tags.
The graffiti that once covered the interior and exterior of trains was considered a crime committed by teenage degenerates. Flash forward to 2019, these rebel rousers are considered pioneers to an artistic movement that transformed every facet of the art industry. In honor of their contributions, Beyond the Streets is exhibiting vandalism as contemporary art.
This premier exhibition takes place Thursdays through Sundays from 11 am to 8 pm (until August 25th) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (25 Kent Avenue). Curated by graffiti historian and urban anthropologist, Roger Gastman, this limited-run exhibit features graffiti, street art, sculptures, and other artistic mediums from over 150 artists from around the world spanning across 100,000 square feet of space.
On June 19th, the press was given an exclusive first look at the showcase and access to the artists themselves. The press preview was kicked off by renowned actress, Rosie Perez who was very much a big part of the 1970s and 1980s hip-hop scene with her legendary dance moves on Soul Train.
The Spring Creek Sun spoke with Perez, who said she was proud to be involved in the introduction of the exhibit in her hometown of Brooklyn.
“It is New York and the world at its best. So, to celebrate what a bunch of kids created in the 70s and here we are in the 21st century is just extraordinary. What Roger Gastman has put together is crazy! It gives me goosebumps! The icing on the cake is that my husband, Eric Hayes, is one of the original graffiti writers. He is a contemporary artist now, but he was a part of this. He’s here and it’s the first time that I was asked to speak on his behalf. It’s just a really wonderful morning,” Perez said.
The show boasts two floors of immersive installations transporting attendees back to a time when the Beastie Boys could be heard blaring through a boombox that was once slung over the shoulder of a b-boy, dressed in high top converse sneakers, a nylon track suit, and oversized gold chains preparing to breakdance atop a flattened cardboard box on a street corner. One of the shows many partners, Adidas Skateboarding, cultivated an entire Beastie Boys display with hand-written lyrics, ticket stubs, show flyers, and other paraphernalia.
There were original framed sketches from Jean-Michel Basquiat, who wrote enigmatic axioms that explored structural racism and systematic power struggles between the poor and wealthy. The spontaneous subway art from Keith Haring was showcased, as well as a leather jacket with his famed theme of a white drawing on a black background.
Infamous photographer, Martha Cooper was also present at the press preview. Cooper is one of the few people who recognized the significance of graffiti in the art world when it first emerged in the 1970s. She worked as a staff photographer for the New York Post, and during her time covering New York City communities she met young artists who took risks just to have their graffiti tags seen. Her photos were on display, documenting the humanity behind the vandalism and the lengths taken to climb trains so that their tags could be viewed by all.
Chris Pape, who went by the tag name FREEDOM and Gen2, in the 1970s and 1980s, proudly stood in front of a gigantic replica of his painting (which was found in a train tunnel in Riverside Park): American Myth. This piece is one of the depictions of art activism with the words,”No Way Like the American Way,” to provoke an introspection of how our society functions.
Pape began exploring the world of graffiti art when he was 14 years old within train tunnels, which he says began when his friends goaded him on to do it. “At first you get friends to egg you on to it, and push you forward until eventually it becomes easier [going into train tunnels]. To me growing up in 1974 New York, when we didn’t have any art programs, I felt like I could compete on this level. It was such a great boost, taking my art to the subways and competing made me feel like I had a good shot,” he told the Spring Creek Sun. One of Pape’s famed works was a 20-foot-high mural of the “Mona Lisa” in an abandoned freight tunnel under Riverside Park.
The essence of graffiti culture from the past was like haunting visages from the artists, whose passion and creativity could be felt along every corner. A Trash Record instillation covered in tags, vinyl records, stickers, and skateboard bodies, allowed viewers to visualize the artists’ outlets. Both the past and present were showcased, including life-sized pop-art from Bill Barminski that allowed guests to take photos with cardboard furniture, spray-paint, and other items. There was even a tattoo instillation where an artist sat atop of a stage designed to look like an East Los Angeles porch, creating real-time tattoos.
If you are an art enthusiast or just want to reminisce about 1970s New York, than Beyond the Streets is an exhibit you don’t want to miss.
Photos by Dean Moses