Victoria & Albert do graffiti
An exhibition on “Black British Style” at the V&A has a page that allows you to make your own graffiti. This means, of course, that graffiti are irredeemably not cool.
(Strange to think that the graffiti phenomenon is to my younger students roughly what bebop & abstract expressionism were to me: something whose heyday occurred before you were old enough to know, but not so long past that you couldn’t regret your belatedness. If only my parents had been hip enough to buy all the Blue Note albums and a first edition of Howl…)
Anyone who lived in New York in the 70s will remember the ubiquitous Taki 183. Though not the first (credit is given to Julio 204 and others for inventing the “tag” style), he was one of the most well-known taggers, partly by way of an interview given to the New York Times in 1971. The 1985 movie Turk 182 was a celebration of sorts, squeaky clean, of the graffiti artist (Timothy Hutton fights City Hall on behalf of big brother Robert Urich). I saw it on an airplane without the sound & can testify that it did help pass the time (↓). A 1989 interview in the Daily News finds Taki, real name Demetrius, at 35, owner of a foreign car repair shop and himself a victim of graffiti. “As soon as I got into something more productive in my life, I stopped. Eventually I got into business, got married, bought a house, had a kid.
Didn't buy a station wagon, but I grew up, you could say that” (Joel Siegel, “When TAKI Ruled Magik Kingdom”, Daily News 9 April 1989, via Zephyrgraffiti).
By ’89 all the graffiti had been removed from the subway. A few years I used to see some fine, though aging, examples in the industrial wastelands beside the Amtrak route from Baltimore to Philadelphia or New York. The practice and styles have spread around the world (↓). But talent, let alone genius, is no more common among graffitists than among artists generally, and tags by themselves, en masse, register as noise. Yet another tragedy of the commons took place, as all the available spaces came to be occupied (↓). A few Taki 183s attract notice; a few hundred are just background. The fate of graffiti has been to become a mere signifier of urbanness.
(↑) The classic of the period seems to be the low-budget film Wild Style. Not to be confused with Wild Style, Inc., designer of “freeform architecture for the adventuresome and free spirited”.
(↑). See Art Crimes for current examples from Belgium, Japan, and Nicaragua. See also the probably short-lived offshoot giraffiti, or graffiti on structures high off the ground,
of which the recurrent “Surrender Dorothy” inscribed on a railroad bridge over the DC Beltway seems to be the exemplar.
(↑) See Kevin Kelm’s Abandoned Missile Base Tour: the empty silos of the Cold War are filled with asbestos and graffiti. My Dad spent four years in North & South Dakota as an engineer for Boeing, one of the major contractors for the Minuteman installations: thousands of workers, millions (or was it billions) of dollars—all for what are now just holes.