Street Art Takes Over at MCA Denver
Fierce street fashion was in full force for the opening celebrations of Basquiat Before Basquiat, Wall Writers: Grafiti in It’s Innocence, and Ryan McGinley’s The Kids Were Alright at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Friday, February 10, 2017.
The theme attire, downtown, an appropriate homage to exhibitions that honor and explore the makings of street art from infancy to modern day and it’s impact. Basquiat Before Basquiat is an archive of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work owned by his one-time girlfriend and embryologist, Alexis Adler. Adler was present for the opening celebrations dressed in an ankle length metallic trench coat streaked with paint that dives towards the hemline. It too is a part of the collection on display.
Adler has said of the time she and Basquiat spent together, “Our apartment was overflowing with art and love.”
According to Adam Lerner, director and chief administrator at MCA Denver, the exhibition focuses on the time period from 1979 to 1980 when Basquiat and Adler shared an apartment on East 12th Street in New York. It consists of paintings, drawings, sculpture, sketches, and photos of found household items like a television that Basquiat painted.
In “Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street 1979-1980” a book published by MCA Denver about the collection, Nora Burnett Abrams (curator at MCA Denver) says, “The work from this period, though deeply connected to his life on the streets of downtown New York, also demonstrates the emergence of his singular approach to art making.”
Found in Wall Writers: Graffiti in It’s Innocence are echoes and reflections of the some of the elements of artistry in Basquiat’s work. The show’s curator Roger Gastman is also an author, publisher and filmmaker. His connection to graffiti and street art was initially as a participant in it’s creation and later on as an urban anthropologist. He began to travel around the cities where graffiti was taking hold and documenting it’s evolution.
“With this show I wanted to examine the true culture the true beginning. Where it was a really simple marker tag almost like you’re in elementary school writing your name out. Then someone adds a crown, someone adds and arrow, someone underlines it, someone goes on with another color. Style is created, rivalries are created, people travel around the city. Without the originators of these cultures in Philadelphia and New York you wouldn’t have graffiti, you wouldn’t have street art. You wouldn’t have everything they are today,” Gastman said during opening remarks for the celebration.
Ryan McGinley’s The Kids Were Alright has a similar documentary style but is extremely personal. It is a body of work that captures the daily activities of McGinley, his friends and people he collaborated with from 1998 to 2003 in Manhattan. The vast majority of the exhibition that currently inhabits the second floor of MCA Denver is a vast collection of polaroids. No detail seems deemed too sensitive for sharing.
“All these amazing people invited me into their lives and I got to photograph their beautiful love affairs. I got to have my first boyfriend and I got to torture him with my camera and photograph every aspect of our lives…It’s just like a blip in New York’s gritty, developing artists at that time. A lot of the people in the polaroids are artists who have become really successful,” McGinley said of his show.
The walls of the second floor are lined with hundreds of candid moments. Coy looks, comedic snapshots, intimate exchanges, even an instance of gastric distress just to name a few. The show is also momentous for McGinley. Just as it was the first time for guestst to view them, McGinley said it is the first time all of the polaroids have been shared “since the moment they were shot.”
On the third floor just beyond the bubble garden, a temporary bar was arranged serving 40 oz. beers, a nod to street culture. The backdrop a full wall of dry erase boards equipped with markers for guests to leave their own personal tag in salute for an immersive experience.
For further detailed information about each of the three exhibitions visit www.mcadenver.org online. For general inquiries call (303)298-7554. Or visit the museum located at 1485 Delgany St. Denver, CO 80202.