Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saturday Night in Greenpoint: "The Legends of Style" Show at Alphabeta

(Exhibit photos courtesy of BH-The Boys; please see his Flickr album of the show plus comments)

We've just walked back to Dumbo Books HQ from The Legends of Style exhibition and opening reception at Alphabeta, Greenpoint's suddenly-famous street gallery. Dawdling around McCarren Park, we managed to hear quite clearly the last 25 minutes of the Sonic Youth show at the pool as we watched a desultory kids' soccer game and Latino families enjoying some Labor Day weekend barbecue and the view of the Empire State Building, tonight done up in blue and white. Goodbye, pool, for now!

We very much enjoyed the time we spent at our first time at Alphabeta and were quite impressed with the store and the artworks. Although Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), called Alphabeta "the equivalent of creating a criminal supply shop," we can report that strict adherence to government regulations caused them to ask even doddering old men for their ID's before anyone entered.

Luckily, our Arizona driver's license having proven that we were past the legal age to drink and buy spray cans - not that we do either - we got a scarlet "OK 21" graffiti'd on our right hand, allowing us to enter the world of Alphabeta. (When we start tagging in 2014, we plan to be known be known as 3X OK 21.)

Legends of Style, presented by Joshua Ivory, featured the work of old school writers such as STAY HIGH 149, FUZZ ONE, RIFF170, BUTCH2 TFP, PART TDS, PESO 131, KOOL 131, NIC 707, CHAIN 3, NOC 167, MIN ONE, DUSTER UA, TACK FBA, and DEZ who were ubiquitous to all of straphangers who endured the horror that was the subway system back in the bankrupt Beame administration.

DJ Kay Slay (formerly DEZ as featured in the 1982 documentary Style Wars and also formerly our cuz Keith Grayson) and The Fearless Four ("Rocking It") deftly provided the beats for a nice-sized diverse crowd, many of whom were taking pics.

It made us quite nostalgic to see the artful stylings of the legendary FUZZ ONE, for example, well-lit and hanging in on an art gallery wall more than thirty years after we first encountered it riding the IRT from the Junction to Manhattan back in the day when the 3 and 4 trains went to Flatbush Avenue/Brooklyn College. In the '70s, when we were both a lot younger, FUZZ ONE did his tagging on the Bronx end of the line with crews like The Ebony Dukes and The Fantastic Partners.

And among the many works of aerosol art hanging in both Alphabeta's roomy back gallery and the pleasant huge outdoor space, was one by our old friend STAY HIGH 149, sometimes called the Godfather of Graffiti, who was singled out by Norman Mailer in his brilliant book The Faith of Graffiti for his top-to-bottom tags.

One writer has called STAY HIGH 149
one of the most famous, influential and admired writers in the history of New York City aerosol art. Most notably admired for his unique tag. He drew a smoking joint as the cross bar for his "H". Each tag was accompanied by a stick figure from the television series The Saint. He also frequently wrote the phrase "Voice of the Ghetto". His logo/name came to define "street cool" for many subsequent generations of writers.

And his work's still cool, even when not in the street.

It was a really nice gathering last night. The music was good, the people were friendly, and the art was exhilarating. Since moving back to New York two years ago we've developed a number of allergies, but thankfully Krylon isn't one of them.

(Photo of Legends of Style courtesy Art Jones; please see his album on Flickr for more)

Alphabeta, Brooklyn’s only spot to buy cans (they are displayed in locked metal cages), is a wonderful addition to the neighborhood, not the menace portrayed by Councilmember Vallone. As Margot Adler's NPR report we heard a while back said about the view that equates aerosol art with vandalism:
But recently, the Tate Modern Museum in London had graffiti artists paint the building.

Andrew Michael Ford, the director of the Ad Hoc Art Gallery in Brooklyn, says he knows street art has come of age when there are art shows like the one at the Tate:

"It sent a wave around the world that it's legitimate, relevant and people need to pay attention to it," says Ford, who adds that he believes graffiti art and other forms of street art will be appearing in more museums in the future.

The people who run Alphabeta want to ensure that the store is a success by riding that wave. Its founders hope that it will be as much an art space and event space as it is a store.

We understand where Councilmember Vallone is coming from (besides Astoria). We're older than he is and remember that the tagging on trains and everywhere back in the bad old days of the '70s seemed to be another sign that New York City was falling apart and in chaos. But it wasn't.

As Norman Mailer, the Brooklyn Heights-based genius we had the pleasure of meeting a number of times and whom we read with pleasure from adolescence on, wrote:
. . . we do not know with what instruments we will draw in years to come nor by which materials. Will it be by the laser of a laser up on the canvas of a bubble cloud chamber that gangs of artists will shift the patterns of the atom, and do we have a clue to the beauties of growth and malignancy we will yet create and in which arenas? . . .

Perhaps that is the unheard echo of graffiti, the vibration of that profound discomfort it arouses, as if the unheard music of its proclamation and/or its mess, the rapt intent seething of its foliage, is the herald of some oncoming apocalypse less and less far away. Graffiti lingers on our subway door as a memento of what it may well have been, our first art of karma, as if indeed all the lives ever lived are sounding now like the bugles of gathering armies across the unseen ridge.

(Storefront photo courtesy of the divine Miss Heather, Greenpoint's premier blogger)

You can see the Legends of Style show at Alphabeta through September 26. Check out the store and see for yourself what Charlie Halsey, Leif McIlwaine and their crew have done with it. And check out the work of some amazing street artists. We're grateful for all of them. Isn't life wonderful!

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