Martin Wong

Guest curator at Amsterdam Museum for exhibition 'Graffiti. New York meets The Dam'. Sept. 2015 - Jan. 2016

The Amsterdam Museum (Amsterdam Historical Museum) showed a large exhibition about the influence of New York graffiti on Amsterdam in the 70’s and 80’s.

It started when director Paul Spies of the Amsterdam Museum went to see the exhibition City as Canvas in the Museum of the City of New York, the counterpart of the Amsterdam Museum. Vital for the creation of City As Canvas was Sean Corcoran, curator of the NY Museum. For approximately 9 years Sean bonded with the NY graffiti artists, being sincerely interested in graffiti as cultural heritage and their personal stories. Right from the start he knew that he could never create an exhibition without understanding the soul of this cultures and its makers.

Overwhelmed by this incredible exhibition, Paul Spies was determined to bring the rediscovered graffiti collection of Martin Wong (1946 - 1999) to Amsterdam. To link the NY exhibition to Amsterdam in a historical context, he started researching and rediscovered the rich Amsterdam graffiti scene of the 80’s. His quest for a curator brought him to Mick La Rock, who was recommended by the Director of CBK Amsterdam Southeast, the Director of the Amsterdam Street Art Museum and the Director of Imagine IC.

Mick La Rock, dreaming about the City as Canvas exhibition, was honored and gladly accepted the invitation of being guest curator for the Amsterdam Museum.

Together with a production team provided by the Amsterdam Museum and in close collaboration with Sean Corcoran, the exhibition was created. As Mick is part of the graffiti scene since 1983 she knew exactly where to find the right key figures, best protagonists and which important stories had to be told to get an accurate representation of the Amsterdam graffiti scene in these years. Under the guidance of senior Amsterdam Museum curator Annemarie de Wildt the content and story line were directed.

With more material than expected and a slamming story line proposed, Amsterdam Museum decided to expand the exhibition to two floors instead of one, to be able to tell the complete story; both from a city historical and art historical perspective. From then on Mick and the team had twice the space to fill, with only a couple of months before opening.  The whole team was working 24/7 to get the job done.

The big assignment was how to fuse both NY and Dutch graffiti history. (This particular exhibition was not about street art: no Banksy.) The graffiti story was told from hall to hall, each representing its own era.

Hall 1: The story line of the exhibition starts with contemporary Amsterdam street art anno 2015, featuring Laser 3.14, The London Police, stencil art from Pipsqueak was here, works of Hugo Mulder. Also the painted snake head of ‘het Slangenpand’ (‘the Snake building), a former squat and street art hotspot in the center of Amsterdam, was saved from demolishion and put up for display on a 1:1 replica of its façade.

Hall 2: The late70’s/early 80’s: the era of the squatters and punk rockers. Punks spray painted their names or their music bands on walls all over the city of Amsterdam. It was the era of ‘no future, nukes and a dark state of mind’. Writing was freedom. Their style corresponded in some way to the early days of 70’s NY graffiti. Most of these writers and their era have been forgotten, which is a shame: their graffiti had impact and changed the look and feel of Amsterdam. This hall highlites their legacy with an homage to Dr.Rat, parts of an original mural by Hugo Kaagman, poems by Diana Ozon, photo portraits of many ‘up’ writers of that era (Walking Joint, Prikkeldraadje, Dr. Smurrie, Tarantula etc) by punk photographer Max Natkiel and Steye Raviez.

Hall 3: Pictures by Martha Cooper, John Naar and Manny Kirchheimer’s Stations Of The Elevated introduce the visitor to the graffiti in NYC around 1980. Through the Martin Wong collection this hall shows a development towards the high days of NY graffiti art on the subway trains. NY black books with sketches for graffiti writing on trains, on display in glass tables, functioned as a bridge between the 3D (almost) life sized trains with blown up pictures from Henry Chalfant on one wall and the works by New York graffiti artists on canvas/paper on the other wall.

Hall 4: The second hall for the Martin Wong collection. Here the works were presented in a more traditional ‘clean’ museal setting to bring the focus to the artworks. Monumental works by Lee Quinones, Futura, Daze a.o. filled the space, alongside a video about the collector Martin Wong.

Hall 5: Gallerist Yaki Kornblit brought NY graffiti writers to Amsterdam. Some of whose work also is part of the Martin Wong collection. This hall shows their work in the Amsterdam streets and memories to Gallerie Yaki Kornblit.

Hall 6 upstairs: How the NY graffiti style exploded in Amsterdam. The boys room of a 17 year old in 1986 showed all a true graffiti writer needed: a desk full of tags, black books of some the most important writers of those days: Cat22, Shoe, Joker (with drawings by Keith Haring), writing material, sketches, jackets with a graffiti back panel, a tagged wardrobe closet, zines . Graffiti art then knew only 4 books or movies and no internet. Graffiti artists were mainly inspired by rap / hip hop music of the mid 80’s.  One of Mick La Rock’s favorite parts in the exhibition were a selection of framed graffiti record sleeves with a touch screen ‘Jukebox’ underneath with headphones to listen to the associated songs.  For the setting of this boys room, active Amsterdam writers wrote their tags on the wall.

Hall 7: The next hall represented the streets of Amsterdam. A large collage with buildings and bridges completely covered with graffiti. The ‘Leidsche Bosje’, the Amsterdam hangout for writers in those years was the opening subject for this hall, alongside a small insight in other graffiti hotspots like Waterlooplein or the habit of graffiti writers to paint on portable worker’s cabins, all documented with audio-visual material.

Hall 8: The Amsterdam subway tunnel was another very important hot spot. Also the most well preserved permanent graffiti museum of Amsterdam.  It was exhibition designer Floor Wesselink’s idea, to build a life size subway tunnel replica. The GVB (the public transportation authority of the city of Amsterdam) generously provided all necessary material to do a remake. 1:1 sized wall posters, dim lighting, a flickering light and the sound of the tunnel made it complete.

Hall 9: This hall showed the artistic development of two prominent Amsterdam graffiti artists from the early years: Boris ‘Delta’ Tellegen and Niels ‘Shoe’ Meulman from the 90’s to their contemporary work.

The exhibition generated up to 35.000 visitors.

In collaboration with the Dutch Graffiti Library, Mick La Rock published a small catalogue to the exhibition, which went into 3rd print edition in 2016. Still available here.

Subway remake