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Vandalism at the Fondation Cartier

August 13, 2009
Courtesy the Fondation Cartier, Stalingrad, Paris © Henry Chalfant

Courtesy the Fondation Cartier, Stalingrad, Paris © Henry Chalfant

The other day, I went to the Fondation Cartier (which is, as far as I can tell, from the same organism that makes these), and to my shock and surprise, I discovered the walls covered in spray paint, tags written on the wall and a cartoonish character grimacing out at me.

Ok, so I was actually expecting this. In fact, it was what I had come to see. The Fondation Cartier is currently holding “Né dans la rue” (“Born in the streets”), an exposition about graffiti. It including information about its history as well as work and interviews from some of today’s most interesting artists. For the occasion, Cartier had every surface of the place painted, right down to the snack stand in the back yard. Even the glass façade of the building was painted over in red and silver letters.

Courtesy the Fondation Cartier, Redbird in the Bronx, 1973 Photo by Jon Naar © Jon Naar, 2009.

Courtesy the Fondation Cartier, Redbird in the Bronx, 1973 Photo by Jon Naar © Jon Naar, 2009.

The reason this exposition is worth my letting you know about it is because graffiti challenges some definitions of art (and let’s face it; there are about as many definitions of art as there are people who exist). In many of the taped interviews, artists or “writers” expressed admiration at others who could paint a whole subway car before the cops came. One artist said that now he’s become well-known and no longer goes on midnight painting sprees, he misses one of the fundamental elements of tagging: It is illegal.

One document displayed at the Fondation named young taggers who had died at a young age, one because he’d been smashed by a subway train while tagging another stopped car; one was shot while in the process of a robbery. It’s clear that these artists were not the from the upper class. Their art is clandestine and even fame-seeking. It is a hard urban art that was developed by 14-year-olds looking for a way to make their voices heard. In fact, it’s an art that pushes so far past art’s safe boundaries that some people call it vandalism.

And sometimes, I admit that I’d have to agree. There were moments as I looked at the exposition when I wondered if I could consider a small tag as art. After all, if I owned the shop it had been written on, I might not be so thrilled by “Tiki 141” sitting smack dab in the center of my clean window. But the movement’s undeniable force has brought it up to Cartier’s polished establishment at Raspail, and there is no question that the exposition has breathed colorful, vibrant life into the building. Consider the envelope pushed, punctured and unsealed. Graffiti has invaded Paris.

Courtesy the Fondation Cartier, art by Seen, Hand of Doom,  New York, 1980.  Photo Henry Chalfant. Exhibition Born in the streets - Graffiti  Fondation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain, Paris,  july 7 –  november 29, 2009

Courtesy the Fondation Cartier, art by Seen, Hand of Doom, New York, 1980. Photo Henry Chalfant. Exhibition Born in the streets - Graffiti Fondation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain, Paris, july 7 – november 29, 2009

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