Wynwood has been a mecca for Miami graffiti artists and muralists for many years and the galleries have taken note. The latest show featuring street art in the gallery space is “Rigid” at NOW Contemporary Art in Wynwood, which was curated by Brandon Opalka.
NOW, a gallery known for sculpture, installations and conceptual work, has chosen to exhibit paintings for the first time, but in an unconventional way. “Rigid” pushes boundaries and blurs the lines between fine art and street art.
Director Pablo Dona explains “I was always fascinated with the art in the streets. When I moved to Wynwood with the gallery I saw the whole process and the writers getting involved. I think it is undervalued and it does not have the appreciation that it deserves. A lot of collectors that I know, they walk on the street, see a piece and ignore it. You take it off the street and you put it inside a context like a gallery it is seen a different way.”
Miami has a history of graffiti dating back to the early 1980s with the rise of the popularity of breakdance. The crews were the first to pick up graffiti, initially through hip hop culture, which then gave way to a more inclusive scene in the 90s. In the 2000s the worldwide phenomenon of graffiti has taken yet another step into the mainstream by making its way into museums and galleries.
The difference between graffiti and graffiti-inspired art in galleries is the level of rebellion. A defining aspect of graffiti is its illegality, with writers searching out walls in the middle of the night. Once the space is redefined, so are some of the characteristics. In the gallery it becomes art with a distinct urban derivation but the artists with the street experience are no less authentic. Fine art has long been influenced by street art and graffiti artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat have made it into the art world in the 80s.
“Rigid” is a history of Miami graffiti featuring artists who started painting between 1984 and 2012. To add authenticity, a group of invited artists bombed and defaced the gallery front at night. Most of the works in the exhibit range from recreations of street graffiti, with artists using the canvas as a wall, to sculpture, installations and graffiti-inspired paintings.
“I feel like graffiti is the essence of street art. It is the beginning of it. The letters, the forms, the bombing, the tagging… I find it to be an art form,” explains Opalka and adds, “I grew up with graffiti and I always thought maybe it wasn’t art because I never saw it in museums and galleries but it is. It took me a while to make my own decision. Graffiti is art.”
Opalka chose artists who are trendsetters, who have been at the genre’s forefront throughout their careers. Artists like Hek, Sae or Rage are recognized pioneers and young prolific artists like Tko and Quake represent for Wynwood in 2012.
The works in “Rigid” cover quite a range of styles and some go beyond the literal, exploring graffiti and surrounding culture in new ways, often by merging it with contemporary art. Jel explores concepts of erasure, removal of graffiti, wall texture and the beauty created by buffing while Hest and Abstrk use graffiti as the basis for their sculptures.
Fubar and Puncho show examples of street bombing, throw ups and tags, capturing graffiti at its most elemental while 131 takes a more conceptual approach. His installation features photographs taken in Wynwood of names etched into cement, exploring people’s need to be remembered.
Adding to a complete picture of Miami graffiti are the abstract work of Hox, also known for the façade at Panther Coffee, and Atomick‘s signature oranges, which have already reached iconic status. Keeping it current Seahawk created a commentary on the controversy surrounding his recent tagging of the Britto warehouse.
Style’s graffiti inspired painting captures the essence of “Rigid,” as he explains, “That collision of fine art and street art, coming to work in a sort of harmonious balance is something I am simply there to record in my work and I always look forward to it. I am always in search for the next thing of elevating my craft, my graff, my art. I never abandon one without the other. They always have to work together.”
Style has experienced the changes in the graffiti culture in Wynwood over the years and has observed a newfound respect for graffiti, also from within the culture. He says that the life span of an average graffiti has increased from a day to over a year and intricate murals are seen as public art for everyone to enjoy. Culture evolves, art evolves and graffiti is no exception. Nowadays the art form has found its way into the galleries and is here to stay.
“Rigid” is on view until October 31 at NOW Contemporary Art, 175 NW 25th Street, Miami 33127