As kids grow up, they discover that beloved childhood stories are not actually true. Santa? The Tooth Fairy? Unicorns? All confined to the realm of Imaginationland. (Thanks, Matt and Trey). Yet once in a while, legends turn out to be true. Back in January 2007, I made a pilgrimage down to the home of break-dance, graffiti, and hip-hop: New York, the city that makes my heart beat. My mission was to see the long-lost “Wild Style Exhibit” with my own eyes. Standing on the second floor of 151 Wooster Street, I could hardly believe it myself.
The exhibit in question was a large tagged up wall extracted from a Soho loft. Belonging to art critic Edit deAk, the loft was a meeting place for graffiti artists in the 1980s. Over the years, the space changed hands but rumors of hidden art followed it everywhere. In 2004, developers Michael and Izak Namer were shocked when a casual exploration of kitchen cabinets yielded unexpected results. Behind the structure lay a full wall of graffiti by the likes of Fab Five Freddy and Futura 2000. Construction halted immediately as experts from the Guggenheim and Sotheby’s assessed the piece. The wall was removed and placed on display at Gallery 151 in Soho with Keith Haring, Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, Ero and Fab 5. Ultimately, the owners hope to donate the piece to a major gallery.
The wall itself is not stunning by any means. There is no flamboyant style or unusual lettering. Pieces are missing and the sheetrock sags in places. What makes the wall special is the historical context. Fab Five Freddy and Futura 2000 tagged the walls with silver, gold, pink, and red spray paint without knowing that they were pioneers of hip hop culture. “Dead or Alive” is believed to be in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s trademark scrawl. Looking at the wall was like catching a glimpse of their sketchbooks as fledgling artists. The wall serves as a benchmark and shows how far street art has come since its early days.