[3 December 2009]
PopMatters Senior Editor
Coast to coast, your connoisseur of street art is covered in these two very smart books on the species’ timeless, irrepressible urge to ridicule, shock, provoke, entertain, mock, render beautiful or simply tag I WAS HERE (and if you saw this, you were, too). Graffiti New York claims this is the city where graffiti began. The Romans might say otherwise (heck, cave dwellers might contest the Romans), but in these times, the elevation of simple tagging to a complex art form as represented in New York is respected (by fellow graffiti artists, anyway) worldwide. Graffiti artists themselves, from the streets and from the galleries, lend word to the approximately 1,000 images here, giving context and critique to this most primal of art forms rendered gorgeous.
San Francisco’s Mission District boasts a greater concentration of street art than any other neighborhood in the world. You’ll get a glimpse of this here in over 500 archival and contemporary photographs. Neighborhood native and ‘mural aficionado’, Carlos Santana, provides the introduction to this colorful and at times, moving tour of cultural commentary You’ll see R. Crumb and Diego Rivera depicted here, along with a range of other talented street artists. Last time I was in the Mission District, I stayed in a crappy, pink stucco, roach infested hotel and slept, barely, to the sounds of fighting outside my window. This book makes me want to go back to that neighborhood and stay awhile and walk those streets again, but slowly, as if walking through a museum. Really.