BRONX, NY.- Vanguard artists have long looked to the street for inspiration, subject matter, a stage, and even the raw materials of their art making.
From September 14, 2008 to January 25, 2009, the Bronx Museum of the Arts examines this fascination in Street Art, Street Life: From the 1950s to Now. The far ranging exhibition, one of the largest to consider the subject, has been organized by guest curator Lydia Yee, curator at the Barbican Art Gallery, London. Yee identifies the street as a pervasive and cohesive thread binding todays vanguard artists and photographers to those of preceding generations.
Robert Frank, William Klein, Jacques de la Villeglé, Yoko Ono, Vito Acconci, Martha Rosler, Sophie Calle, Nikki S. Lee and Francis Alÿs are among those represented by street photography, documentation of performances and ephemeral actions, videos, and art objects fashioned from found materials. New works by Xaviera Simmons and Fatimah Tuggar, cocommissioned by the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Public Art Fund, will spill out onto the Bronxs widely featured boulevard, the Grand Concourse, and with a special commission, Blank Noise Project from India will make its U.S. debut.
One of my key aims is to situate compelling new art by a diverse group of younger artists in a rich historical context. The exhibition presents many intersecting pathsdocumentary photography, performance, conceptualism, activism, and street culture, says Yee, who conceived of the exhibition while a senior curator at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, where she organized several other exhibitions on urban topics including Urban Mythologies (1999) and One Planet under a Groove (2001).
The vitality of the Bronx flows from its street culture, the connections people make on the corner, front stoop, or public park, says Holly Block, director, Bronx Museum of the Arts. During the period of this exhibition, the museum will draw both from these roots and the global conversation to present a series of concerts, talks, and panel discussions.
A giant street fair in front of the Museum will happen on the Grand Concourse on the afternoon of Sunday, September 14, to celebrate the opening of the exhibition.
Street Art, Street Life begins in the late 1950s and early 1960s, at the end of the classic age of photojournalism. Brash, motion-filled black and white photographs by William Klein and the sly photojournalism of Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander reflect a new, de-skilled and post-aesthetic approach to photography. Grainy offset posters publicizing Free Flux-Tours, photographs of the Fluxus performances on Canal Street, and other Fluxus ephemera, show how George Maciunas, Nam June Paik, Dick Higgins, Ben Vautier, Alison Knowles, and fellow Fluxus artists began to devise ways to spontaneously encounter the public.
Other artists will be seen to have transformed cast-offs found in the streets into art materials, whether it be the torn poster on view by the affichiste Jacques de la Villeglé or the newspaper/ink/watercolor collage that a young Claes Oldenburg fashioned for a solo show at the Reuben Gallery in New York in 1960.
By the end of that decade, works of art were beginning to straddle the line between street photography, photojournalism, and conceptualism, as artists began to employ photography to document actions. Gritty photographs from Vito Acconcis Following Piece (1969) show the artist randomly following a person on the street as part of a month-long action in which he followed a different person until he or she entered a private space . VALIE EXPORTs Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit (From the Portfolio of Doggedness) (1968) documents another performance that required the unscripted stage of the street for realization and the medium of photography for immortalization: in the photographs, she is seen walking Peter Weibel on a leash, on all fours, through the streets of Vienna.
The exhibition continues through the 1970s and 1980s with Martha Roslers groundbreaking text/image panels of derelict storefronts along the Bowery from 1974/75 and performance artist Tehching Hsiehs photographs of the year he spent in New York City (1981/82) without ever entering an enclosed space, except for a night he spent in jail. Martin Wongs painting of a fenced and chained Pentecostal church on the Lower East Side (1986), and photographs of street fashion and culture by Jamel Shabazz demonstrate other ways in which artists and photographers responded to anomie, homelessness, urban decay, and gentrification during these decades.
Photographs by Nikki S. Lee suggest that street personas are as constructed and questionable as is the reading of a photograph, and Allan Sekulas slide projection documenting a demonstration during the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle (1999) are among the works on view from the decade that followed, the 90s.
The impulse of the artist to capture the life of the street as archivist is evident in Street Art, Street Life: From the 1950s to Now. As part of Francis Alÿs Instantáneas (1994-present), some 140 snapshots taken from the 1940s to the 60s will be featured, all purchased by the artist in flea markets and vendors in Mexico City.
Daniel Guzmán, Kimsooja, Sze Tsung Leong, and Robin Rhode are among the other contemporary artists represented in the exhibition, all of whom have emerged in the 1990s against the backdrop of the rapid development and growth of mega cities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Street Art, Street Life illustrates how from the 50s onward artists have used the street to critique the institution of art. But as the visitor will see, their different approaches suggest that groundthe streetwas itself unstable and shifting, says Frazer Ward, assistant professor, Department of Art, Smith College, and a contributor to the catalogue. He continues, Perhaps thats what explains the continuing lure of the street.