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Born in the Streets

7 July - 29 November 2009
Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris

The Fondation Cartier in Paris exhibits the art of graffiti from the 60ies/70ies through photographs of Jon Naar, Henry Chalfant, Martha Cooper etc. or Coco 144’s unseen interviews with graffiti pioneers, and numerous films from the period. Three of the period’s significant pioneers P.H.A.S.E. 2, Part One, and Seen created monumental, large-scale wall pieces within the Fondation Cartier gallery space. Additionally, ten contemporary artists who are active in changing the landscape of the cities from different countries have created special works for the gallery space and the glass facade: Basco Vazko, Cripta, JonOne, Olivier Kosta-Théfaine, Barry McGee, Nug, Evan Roth, Boris Tellegen/Delta, Vitché, and Gérard Zlotykamien.

All began with a 'tag' in the 60ies

In times of internet, a 'tag' is known from the program language of websites (such as meta tags or keyword tags). In street art it means a signature consisting of a writer’s pseudonym, often accompanied by the number of his or her street address. With these 'tags' on the walls, graffiti art was born in the streets of the working-class Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, and later in the Bronx and Brooklyn, New York during the 60ies and early 70ies.

fig.: New York, 1973. Photo by Jon Naar © Jon Naar, 2009. The first street artists were mostly between the ages of 14 and 16, and belonged to the Hispanic and African-American communities. In order to distinguish themselves from one another, writers began to develop individual styles using original calligraphies for which they gained recognition. The simple tag soon evolved into a large outline that was later filled with patterns such as polka dots, stars, and arrows.

Graffiti becomes art

Soon, the artists increased their visibility by choosing the subway and later - more effective - the train’s exterior. The school of thought 'Fluxus' with its ideas about the function of art in our society, high and low culture, and the 'open museum' on the street, has prepared the development that graffiti became art from the streets that found exhibition space in galleries in the late 70ies. The Austrian artist Stefan Eins founded one of the only galleries located in the Bronx 'Stefan Eins’ Fashion Moda' in 1978. He is named one of the pioneers in featuring graffiti art. Alongside to graffiti, Stefan Eins' Fashion Moda spotlighted artists like Keith Haring or Jenny Holzer.

In the early 80ies another gallery in New York was a center of graffiti art: Patti Astor’s Fun Gallery in the Lower East Side exhibited the first canvases of Lee, Dondi, Fab Five Freddy, Futura, Lady Pink, Crash, Daze, and many others.

Collaborations with other media

Graffiti artists collaborated and influenced other media such as painters (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring), or musicians (especially hip-hop and punk) or breakdancing. The film 'Wild Style' (1982) and the documentary 'Style Wars' (1983) shows the relationships between graffiti, breakdancing, and hip-hop. Blondie, The Clash, or Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols, invited Lee, Dondi (view the interview on the video below), Fab Five Freddy, or Futura to participate in their music videos.

Get interactive!

The exhibition is accompanied by a book (distributed by Thames & Hudson) and an extensive event program with interactive events for children such as the 'Tag Textile Workshop' where they will learn to customize an item of clothing using street art-style tags, or ' Sociological Walks' with the philosopher Alain Milon and the artist around Paris’ 11th and 20th arrondissements where you can follow the footsteps of urban artists and question the nature of illicit writing. On the website of the Fondation Cartier you will find a visual dictionary of some tags

Watch out the video: Style Wars Outtakes: DONDI (1961 – 1998) CIA. Deleted scene from Style Wars DVD. Style Wars (1983) Public Art Films Tony Silver/ Henry Chalfant. "The only way to destroy a symbol is with a symbol." Dondi

Source: Original article with image and video on


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