When “City as Studio” opens today in Hong Kong, it will mark the arrival of the biggest exhibition of graffiti art the city has ever seen. Arrayed across the shopping complex of K11 Musea are more than 100 works that track graffiti’s stunning trajectory, springing off the subways cars of New York and highways of Los Angeles to emerge as a global art and market force.
The show has as its curator Jeffrey Deitch, the artist, writer, and gallerist who isn’t just the latest guy to bring graffiti art to Hong Kong, but is quite likely the first.
Deitch, who grew tight with the genre’s leading artists in the mid 1970s when he moved to New York, had accompanied Dondi, Futura, and Zephyr to Hong Kong in 1982. The artists painted a parking garage, which eventually became the I Club, marking the Wild Style pioneers’s first-ever visit to Asia.
In curating “City as Studio,” Deitch told Artnet News, “I wanted to focus on artistic innovators and include artists whose influence continues to be felt.”
Hence the inclusion of downtown New York practitioners such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Rammellzee, and Kenny Scharf, Wild Style innovators including Futura and Lady Pink, and Los Angeles leading lights such as Chaz Bojórquez and Mister Cartoon. Today’s street art scene is also represented by works from Kaws, Aiko, JR, and Osgemeos.
Deitch himself is excited to present a number of paintings by Martin Wong, the Chinese-American artist who documented New York street life with poetic realism, and an avid collector of graffiti sketchbooks.
While the exhibition launches in time to coincide with Art Basel Hong Kong, it also marks the 50th anniversary of hip hop, of which graffiti forms a key element. Alongside the artworks, “City as Studio” has gathered historic photographs by the likes of Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper to situate the art form within the then-burgeoning movement. Its curator, too, has had the opportunity to reflect on graffiti’s, and in turn hip hop’s, continued influence.
“I start my catalog essay with the observation that the Wild Style graffiti that was invented by teenagers in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Lower Manhattan might be the most influential art movement since Pop art,” Deitch said. “You see street art around the world influenced by these innovations. The three linked creative forms: hip hop, Wild Style graffiti, and breakdancing defined a remarkable cultural moment and they continue to resonate.”
See more artworks from the exhibition below.
“City as Studio” is on view at K11 Musea, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, through May 14, 2023.