Graffiti first appeared in 1885, but there’s been a big rise and rise as the world has become more urbanized and the cost of a brick or cement-based painting tool has gone down over the years. The most recent resurgence, says Richard B. Rittery, a former New York City police chief, is because we’ve evolved a culture of self-expression and as a result “graffiti is a big thing.” [Editor’s note: This quote was updated after publication to clarify that graffiti appeared first in America.]
“They’re basically self-expression, and the whole point of that is the art is supposed to stand the test of time,” says Rittery, who has written a biography of the man who created the art form. “It’s sort of like self-expression, and it’s supposed to stand the test of time. I think it’s important to remember that graffiti’s never been to look at someone’s face. It’s never been to say ‘I’m that guy’ or whatever—that’s the art. For better or for worse, it’s supposed to stand.”
Graffiti began in New York City because “the streets were full of people trying to get into the city, and they went down to this warehouse in Greenwich Village,” says Daniel DeLong, a professor at the U of Rochester and a writer on graffiti culture.
The warehouse “was the hub for a lot of the people participating in it,” says DeLong, who’s also written on its history. But the city wasn’t the only one creating murals. “Philadelphia at the time was in a very different time frame and context from New York. It was the first place in the eastern U.S. that had a serious effort underway at capturing graffiti and making it more marketable.”
Some pieces have been made and sold, others are hanging on walls and being sold, but most have died. DeLong says graffiti artists are “creating more and more pieces to bring back those things once they’ve died,” but the pieces themselves aren’t getting around. “Graffiti doesn’t become less interesting in New York, it just becomes more interesting in its absence,” says DeLong.
“Farewell, the New Orleans, the Great City,” raps the group’s frontman, Robert Hunter. On its last day, the museum is closed, its last exhibit is closed, the jazz festival is canceled. The museum has been understaffed so much that the museum’s last
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