The new installation Aerosol: Graffiti | Street Art | New Jersey | Now opened at the Morris Museum
on September 19, 2019. This is the first U.S. museum exhibition to showcase the work of contemporary graffiti writers and street artists painted directly on the gallery walls―from floor to ceiling―to capture the scale and site-specific nature of this artistic practice. Ranging from quick name tags and throw-ups to mural-sized pieces and a monumental tribute wall, the artworks on view illustrate current trends in New Jersey aerosol art. It features newly created work by twelve artists, including: 4sakn, Acet TM7, Dave Mek One Klama, Dean Ras Innocenzi, Demerock, Distort, Elan, Felipe Prox One Rivas, Jonathan Conner (LANK), Leon Rainbow, Maliq Griffin, and Will Kasso Condry. The show will be on view through March 15, 2020.
New Jersey plays a vital role in the ever-evolving aerosol-art narrative. The state is a melting pot of graffiti writing and street art activity, with pockets of concentration in Newark, Trenton, Jersey City, and Elizabeth. While the roots of contemporary graffiti and street art may be traced to the urban centers of Philadelphia and New York City in the 1960s and 70s, New Jerseys unique geographical location connects the two cities, providing a fertile opportunity for artistic expansion since the 1980s. The artists featured in this exhibition represent a selection of practitioners who contribute to the energy and vitality of this ongoing urban art scene. Some were born, live, and work in New Jersey; others have moved here from out of state; and still others established their reputation in the state but have relocated elsewhere, returning periodically to produce new work. These various influxes reflect the diversity of styles that characterizes New Jersey's aerosol art landscape. Uniting them is the medium of spray paint presented in a public venue.
With influences from all parts of the country, New Jersey is a hotbed of hybrid styles," explains exhibition co-curator Will Kasso Condry. "Aerosol artists of this caliber have come together to adorn a museum gallery in a way thats never been conceived before. The same energy thats used on the street has been harnessed to create another world within a space thats relatively exclusive. Graffiti and street art are art forms that are gaining wider acceptance in the museum and gallery arena. This exhibition demonstrates that.
Although graffiti and street art are interrelated, the general distinction between the two is that graffiti writing is letter-based, and street art is figurative or representational. Oftentimes hybrid works combine these two practices, as seen in this exhibition. The installations on view portray the different approaches explored by aerosol artists today and provide insight into graffiti writing and street art subculture. The exhibition begins in the South Gallery with a title wall covered with artists tags, which are simple, stylized signatures in one color, executed in a matter of seconds. Crown motifs identify the writers as kings or queens―aerosol artists of the highest accomplishment. The proliferation of tags by inner-city youth as an outlet for expression in the late 1960s and early 1970s launched a visual landscape that engendered the graffiti writing subculture. These early acts of unsanctioned activity perpetuated the association of graffiti art with vandalisma stigma that persists today, even as urban art has grown into an international popular-culture phenomenon with increasing recognition by the fine-art establishment. Contributing to the complexity of this issue is the element of youthful rebellion that remains a part of the subculture.
In the Main Gallery a 14' x 65' collaborative tribute wall features throw-ups (also called throwies) and memorials. Throw-ups are larger, abbreviated artists' names painted in two-color, bubble letters with shadowing to suggest dimension and movement, executed in a matter of minutes. Acronyms integrated into the designs of the throw-up indicate the crews, or groups of writers who paint together, to which the artists belong. The tribute wall also depicts portraits and throw-ups in honor of fellow artists who have recently passed away, referred to as angels and represented with halos, usually painted very high up at locations of respect that are sometimes called heavens due to the precariousness of the act.
In the competitive world of urban art, 'the name of the game is fame'," says exhibition co-curator Ronald T. Labaco, "as practitioners strive to achieve greater notoriety by choosing highly-visible public sites to display their talents. This museum exhibition affords the artists who use the street as their canvas an opportunity to even further expand their visibility to new, uninitiated audiences. Just as one encounters dynamic and unrestrained expressions of graffiti and street art across the state, so were the artists in this exhibition encouraged to paint freely on the gallery walls."
Eleven individual large-scale paintings, referred to as pieces (short for masterpieces) and murals complete the installation. Created over several hours or several days, pieces are elaborate, aestheticized works that depict the artists' names in three or more colors, abstracted letter styles, and sophisticated transitions that convey dimensionality and motion. Pieces may be further delineated as burnersvery colorful, elaborate, and masterfully executedor wildstyle―highly abstracted with complex color transitions and interwoven, overlapped, and layered lettering and shapes such as arrows, curves, and spikes. Murals are works that are primarily figurative or representational. Together, the tags, throw-ups, pieces, and murals illustrate the range of types and styles of graffiti writing and street art that may be encountered in urban New Jersey today.
Graffiti writing and street art occupy an under-acknowledged public space in the fine art world, somewhere between museums, galleries, and private collections, states Cleveland Johnson, Executive Director of the Morris Museum. In full, public view to anyone passing by, it is a style that is immediately recognizable, and as an international pop-culture phenomenon, it has been successfully embraced by studio artists and consumer culture. Through this exhibition the Morris Museum gives credit to these urban artists who contribute to New Jersey's vibrant visual arts landscape."
Exhibition highlights include:
Homage to Jerry Gant, a 14' x 27' tribute painting by Will Kasso Condry, in honor of the visual artist and educatorconsidered by many to be the godfather of the Newark street art scenewho passed away in 2018.
Five intricate wildstyle pieces, illustrating the diversity of signature painting styles: Close Encounters by 4sakn, Big Drip by Acet TM7, Untitled by Dave Mek One Klama, Viscious Styles by Demerock, and Prox by Felipe Prox One Rivas.
Two burners, including Untitled Burner by Dean Ras Innocenzi, and Eyes at Work by Leon Rainbow, a humorous commentary on graffiti art censorship in which one eyeball character writes graffiti as another simultaneously buffs or erases it by painting it out.
Three production pieces: Train Tunnel Temple with deep perspective by Distort; mixed media Out of Place by Elan portraying the Elizabeth, New Jersey skyline; and The Second Coming, an old-school classic-style piece by Maliq Griffin reflecting the influence of comic book culture.
A Study of Age (Gordon & Avery 2017-2018) mural by Jonathan Conner (LANK) in stencil style, portraying his two children against a background of stylized "moral compass" and owl motifs.
The exhibition features one 11' x 22-1/2' title wall tagged by the artists, one 14' x 65' tribute wall, one 13-1/2' x 19' painting installation, and ten 13-1/2' x 16 ' painting installations.