NEW YORK – Walking into City Lore’s new gallery space on East First Street was like walking into 1988.
There’s an entire wall covered in images of train cars covered in murals and tags, ranging from Warhol-like Campbell’s soup cans to men who resemble the Grinch, bubble letters and colorful (and off-color) names of all kinds. Another wall features portraits of the creators at work, with paint cans and backpacks, and occasionally, identity-covering bandanas and masks. I mention 1988, but that’s not to say it feels dated – not a bit. The photographs feel fresh, as if the trains are riding by in front of you, as if the riders are currently running through the tunnels and away from the law.
The exhibit, “Moving Murals: Henry Chalfant & Martha Cooper’s All-City Graffiti Archive,” showcases the important work of Chalfant and Cooper, photographers who have documented New York City’s graffiti scene since the late 1970s. Their pictures are not only impressive in their framing and content, but also in their ability to capture an art form that is inherently ephemeral. In many cases, the works Chalfant and Cooper captured were either tagged over by competing artists, or painted over by city officials in a campaign against vandalism.
To add context to the images, the show also offers an interactive component by Chalfrant, on an Ipad, where visitors can search an extensive online archive of even more pictures, essays and my favorite part, interviews with the graffiti writers featured on the gallery walls. They’re all great storytellers.
The show is the first for City Lore’s gallery. The organization has been chronicling New York’s grassroots cultures for 28 years, with countless exhibitions and public programs. It’s nice to see them get a space of their own. The “Moving Murals” exhibit runs through July 10. The City Lore Gallery is located at 56 E. First St. and open Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.
ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE