18. October 2015

In New York, curator Martina Weinhart comes face to face with a vast variety of Street Art. Some of it winds up in museums. And yet, it’s best discovered in the streets.

By Martina Weinhart

Out and about in New York to visit a Pop Art veteran little known in Germany, Peter Saul – we are both currently working on an exhibition that is being planned for the SCHIRN. In the late 1950s and early ‘60s Pop Art was a revolution, something young people did. And it was incredibly provocative to suddenly carry everyday life into the sublime world of art. Something Peter Saul also did; he designed an entirely different cosmos in which refrigerators, Superman and Kandor, Saigon and the Vietnam War formed a world immersed in gaudy colors. And there was suddenly a logical connection between Pop Art, political messages and knocking American society.  This garish Pop emblazoned the somewhat difficult topics of the student movement generation on canvases.

Wherever I look I seem to see today’s Pop Art, it follows me everywhere. With my mind full of Peter Saul’s Pop imagery I develop something like a sounding board, a kind of tunnel vision for Pop. So I seem surrounded by echoes of the revolutionary 1960s: Doesn’t that picture on the truck look as if Roy Lichtenstein himself did it?  Elsewhere a version of superwoman with a message critical of Capitalism alternates with abstract patterns. Comic figures, bright colors, large formats, poster motifs – it’s all there. Pop has really arrived on the street. Welcome to the world’s largest museum.

New York is the mecca of Street Art. You find it wherever you go: on buildings in the traditional manner, but also on fences, barriers, on the pavement, on doors, junction boxes, hydrants, and so on. On subway tunnels, in entrances, sometimes colossal, other times tiny.  In Brooklyn and in Manhattan, on the Lower East Side and in Williamsburg. In hip Bushwick or in Queens. The large format ones are mostly sprayed, but also applied using stencils, cut outs, paper templates or other stickers. People spray, affix posters, make collages, stamp over them, stick things over, take them off and spray again.  Stars like Brazilian brothers Os Gemeos are commissioned to bring their art to large areas. But illegal graffiti is also flourishing. Thwarted only by the cleaning brigade, whose trucks bear the slogan “Graffiti Free NYC”. Everything seems to be in flux. And the scene adapts accordingly – caught between vandalism on the one hand and city marketing on the other.

And finally you encounter some (Street Art) again in the accustomed location for art, namely the museum. For some time now, after all, we have seen Street Art and graffiti moving into the gallery, so it is hardly surprising that in the foyer of the Brooklyn Art Museum you encounter the gigantic figures by KAWS, the New York artist, who started his career as a graffiti sprayer. Evidently, this generation of artists feels very drawn to Peter Saul. KAWS himself has a large collection of his drawings and paintings. One of the many questions you always ask yourself as a curator is what impact (older) art has on our contemporary world, society, life – however you wish to see it.  In other words, the relevance of an artist’s work seen with the eyes of another time. You don’t need to brood long about that here.