New York Graffiti

Last night I attended a panel about New York graffiti called “Writing on the Wall,” co-hosted by Knoll and the Wooster Collective. It was a fascinating evening – in part, because I’m fascinated by street art, period; in part, because of the lineup – classic New York graffiti artists Mike 171 and Snake, alongside Massimo Vignelli, the world-renowned designer who created the New York subway map and considers graffiti “uncivilized”; and in part, because of the mixture of high and low, street culture and commercial culture.

Entering the Knoll officesMarc Schiller, one of the founders of the Wooster Collective, moderated the panel, and he alone is an enigma to me — someone who seems to be friends with street artists like Banksy worldwide, but who also runs an advertising company. Wha?! To me, the power and appeal of street art comes when it reclaims public space from commercial messages — how do you celebrate the transgression while perpetuating that which needs to be subverted?

I’ve written about this in the past, and friends who work in advertising have said that the common link is appreciation of powerful imagery – but how can you consider images outside of their meaning and context?

Of course, it’s possible that many of the street artists who strike me as subversive are not attempting to make any kind of political statement – but then, why create your art on public property? Is it just an ego-trip?

Mike171 spoke about the power of tagging his name on public property — seeing an A train pass with his tag proudly displayed. Listening to him talk, I was reminded of bloggers, or really anyone who posts to Facebook or Twitter — aren’t many of us driven by the same need to declare ourselves publicly?

 Here’s the full list of panelists:

Crappy cell phone photo of panel

Jon Naar
Photographer, The Faith of Graffiti

Massimo Vignelli

Mike171 and Snake
1970s graffiti artists featured in The Faith…

Dr. James Dickenson
Professor of Sociology, Rider University

Sara and Marc Schiller
Wooster Collective

About Faith of Graffiti – published in 1973, it’s apparently a/the seminal work on graffiti as an art form, pairing Naar’s photography with an essay by Norman Mailer that I’m very curious to read. The book has just been re-issued with additional photos and an afterword by Naar. Based on his performance during the panel last night – I’m sure he has no shortage of opinions to share 😉



One thought on “New York Graffiti

  1. I don't know if all graffiti is "political," but if we buy into the propositionthat the medium really is the message, then certainly affixing your art to a public wall means something very different than hanging it inside a gallery. As for an "appreciation of powerful imagery," I don't believe that links advertisers to artists any more than it does propagandists to poets.


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