All photographs: © Olivier Ouadah
Graffiti edges its way further into the mainstream art canon with this large-scale exhibition at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris….
The show brings together a number of new works by artists who began working on the streets alongside an excellent look at the history of graffiti art, particularly its beginnings in early 1970s New York. Works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, who crossed firmly over into the contemporary art scene during their lifetimes, are shown alongside pieces by Futura and Fab Five Freddy, who remained on the periphery.
The artworks are also set in context with the other cultural movements of the time, particularly punk rock, and there are fascinating films and photographs of the graf artists at work, as well displays of the tools of their trade, including spray cans and pens as well as some of the outfits that were worn to gain access to the subway car depots, where they worked directly on the train cars.
A programme of films takes this documentary aspect of the exhibition into the present day, with visitors given an insight into how Swedish artist Nug and Brazilian artist Stephan Doitschinoff, amongst others, create their works. New York graffiti artist Katsu also shows off a new innovation in the field – the use of a paint-filled fire extinguisher to create his giant, if basic, tags that are causing dismay in the city.
Another compelling film (a clip of which is shown here) documents the work of the pixadores who cause mayhem across São Paulo, including tagging all over the walls of art museums, protesting at how street art is represented in the gallery space.
Like the recent Street Art show at the Tate Modern, the Fondation Cartier has let the artists loose on the building itself, with Jean Nouvel’s glass walls almost entirely obscured, and visiting kids are also encouraged to have a go themselves on a section of wall outside. Thankfully, unlike Tate, the artists are also invited inside though the new works created for the exhibition perhaps inevitably lack the drama and energy of the graffiti art shown in the films, where the more dangerous aspects of the job are all too clearly spelt out. This tension around where street art should lie, and also when a ‘street artist’ may simply become an ‘artist’, continues to infiltrate the genre. Rather than ignore this though, Fondation Cartier has created a rich exhibition that will hopefully open up these questions to new audiences.