STREET LIFE///GRAFFITI’S LOST ARK UPDATE…

January 14, 2008  |  LA, Street Life

From the blog of Supertouch ally and PAPER MAGAZINE publisher DAVID HERSHKOVITZ comes this insightful update care of one SETH TILLETT on the recently uncovered and much buzzed-about mural purportedly painted by Futura 200, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fab 5 Freddy and other late-'80s legends in a newly-renovated NYC building. Much speculation (read: hype) has been swirling about the exact origin of the piece, which was originally painted on a wall in the former apartment of art critic EDIT DEAK and uncovered late last year as the building was being converted to a condo development. READ ON:

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THE EMPEROR HAS NO GRAFFITI
or perhaps
"WRITERS OF THE LOST ARK"

Is anyone really interested in the 'mystery' behind this ugly and hilarious artifact? Because there's no mystery at all. Everyone who scrawled on it is alive and well and willing to talk - but few of us are (or ever were) graffiti artists. The 80's were an era of 'fake it till you make it', so we might give 1 or 2 poseurs a pass here, but the only legitimate exception on the '151 Wooster Street Mural' is Lenny (futura 2000), who got up (note the clean background) well before any of us came over to Edit Deak's and pretended to be 'writers' for an evening or two.

If a legend exists concerning this mess it is one that's been actively hyped by a number of respectable people, no doubt with the best of intentions. Since hype is the dope of today, we might forgive a group halucination, at first. But I know that an email naming each artist and spilling the beans on Jean-Michel's perfect absence was forwarded to Lisa Denisson at the Gugenheim well in time to head off the howlers that are now everywhere in print. What hapened to those beans? And what do we actually have here? Fragment's of a lost Basquiat? Francesco Clemente's only graffiti? The birth of Graffiti itself? Why not the lost Amber Room of Catherine the Great? Certainly the truth will devalue this treasure.

For one thing, Basquiat never touched it. Though he was partially present when it 'happened' over one or two smashed soirées, he wouldn't have laid a finger on any wall in that period. By then he was making 'art' exclusively, and he drew furiously with colored pens on paper, on the floor, ignoring us all. Anything that looks like his letters (and nothing does) was written by Chris Parker, including Bug Out!, Wild Style!, Nesto! (after my pen-name 'S.Neto'), Oh Fab!, and plenty more. In fact 'Little Crispy' created 60 percent of this relic at least. Nobody in their right mind will take credit for the huge and hideous FRED, not even Fab 5. The DJ Johnny Dynel sprayed a giant chicken pox version of his name weeks later, and he's been unfairly blamed for the hideous table and lamp, the only 'piece' whose authorship is in doubt. Even the tiny RAM was not writen by the great RamelZee but by myself, 'representing' a master whose hand was sorely missed that night. Yes, Fred Braithwaite dropped a bomb and a plane, literally and figuratively, on the whole thing because that's what he does, boost himself big time, and we loved him for it, then as now. The rest of us were just immitating our aquaintances and getting wrecked. The black spray attempt at true 'wild style' was an awful group 'toy', duly bombed over by Chris, who went on to counterfeit 'Fabulous 5' over Edit's birthday hat. The pencil scrawling of hearts with bullet holes is again mine and I would never admit to it, but I feel I have to defend Fred from the vile accusation that it is his. Francesco Clemente never breathed on this plaster as was reported in New York Magazine. In short, little history is here beyond a record of Edit's genius for attracting anyone who showed exuberance, and maybe the quality of the drugs we had that week (so, so, judging by the crappy art).

But will this storied 'artifiction' now stand in for actual grafitti history? Could this afterbirth in fact pass as a 'seminal oeuvre' and show up in a museum? Not if we intervene. Why bother? Why spoil such a happy jam for everyone? Because it is lame to say this wall was the birthplace of anything, much less 'all that remains of a great period'. Only an interested party would make such a claim, and only someone blinded by enthusiasm would endorse it. Certainly it will bring ridicule to any institution that shows it as such. The great 'writers' like SEEN, Dash, TAKI, Phase 2, Julio, Stay High, Zeph... had nothing to do with this and had in fact been writing for a decade by then, on trains, where grafitti happens, and not on art critic's walls. They'll have the artifacts worth showing. I realize that those 'sites' are not framed by a loft development so who would spend six figures on their rescue? Perhaps a museum with a reputation for historical integrity and impecable provenance? It would be alot cheaper than buying the 151 Wooster Street Mural. Meanwhile the exact value of this masterpiece will rely, as ever, on the authentication of experts, experts whose pronouncements take wing when they are unencumbered by facts. On the rare occasion when we can balast these flights of fancy, we should. It is a salutory excrcise, beside being a pure goof, to see our respected historians revealed as occasional clowns. On the other hand it's no joke to read Hal Meltzer baldly state that Basquiat's tags 'Wild Style!' Dead or Alive' and Bug Out!' were done in his classic hot pink...etc ". Jean never wrote anything like those words, not anywhere, ever, and I don't recall him using that color either. So who cares? And who benefits? Are the interested parties so hard to find? Once again. No mystery at all.

—Seth Tillett

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