70s & 80s graffiti exhibit opens at Newfields

Andrew (Zephyr) Witten, Untitled, 1984, acrylic on canvas, 20 × 40 in.

Traveling to Newfields aka Indianapolis Museum of Art from the Museum of the City of New York, City as Canvas features more than 100 works from the renowned Martin Wong Collection, and chronicles the origins of graffiti and its evolution from a creative outlet—viewed by many at the time as a public nuisance—to an accepted form of art.

Wong moved to New York City from San Francisco in 1978 and quickly became a part of the downtown art scene. A gifted painter himself, he was also enthusiastic about collecting the work of others, especially graffiti artists, many of whom he met while working at an art supply store Pearl Paint. One of those artists was Cey Adams, who is in town for the opening of the exhibit tonight. Adams recalls 80s NYC artist community as a tight-knit group that often traded art, or bought pieces from one another. That is how Wang came to have two of his pieces which are both displayed at the exhibit – he bought one and traded for the other.

George Lee Quiñones, Howard the Duck, 1988, oil on canvas, 58 × 88 in.

Over time, Wong amassed a large collection of pieces.

He donated his graffiti collection to the MCNY after he was diagnosed with HIV and before moving back to the West Coast to live with his family.

With intricate drawings, colorful works on canvas and photographs of graffiti writing that has long since been erased, this exhibition includes a variety of works by pioneering graffiti artists such as Keith Haring, Lee Quiñones, Lady Pink and Futura 2000. In spite of the movement’s beginnings on the streets and subways of New York—as well as the city’s attempts to eradicate it—graffiti art quickly proliferated, forever impacting music, fashion and visual culture. In the decades that followed, graffiti became heralded as an important new form of artistic expression and an international phenomenon.

Stash Two, Diamond Style, 1991, acrylic paint and ink on canvas, 42 × 40 in.

This exhibition also highlights local Indiana artists such as FAB Crew, Malcolm Mobutu Smith, Samuel E. Vazquez, Nicholas Smith and Nathan Storm. Together, these individuals represent a community of Indiana artists who carry on the legacy of their New York City counterparts.

Part One, TDS (The Death Squad), 1989, ink on board, 10 × 7 in.

Adams got to preview the exhibit last night, and was highly enthused by the design of the show and the ample space that each piece of art had to “breathe.” According to him the exhibit space at MCNY was “really tight”. Adams also appreciated the additional personalization for many of the pieces and the extra work put into educating the viewer about graffiti culture and the artists themselves.

“The idea that Indianapolis – a place not necessarily known for graffiti or street art –  would have a show like this says a lot about the arts community here,” Adams mused.

The show will be up through January 28, 2018, and is well worth a visit!

Anthony (A-One) Clark, The Spirit of the Soul, 1989, ink on paper, 14 × 17 in.
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