Beyond the Streets

New York City

About this Section

The muse and the marketplace met thanks to a conflux of events in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Alternative galleries and spaces appeared all over Manhattan. Between 1981 and 1983, more than 70 new galleries opened in the Lower East Side alone. Places like Fashion MODA in the Bronx, PS1, the Mudd Club, FUN Gallery and the downtown group Collaborative Projects (Colab) were pivotal in the gallery explosion, thrusting artists coming out of graffiti and street art under fluorescent spotlights and promoting them with handmade flyers and postcards that cost pennies to produce, in contrast to the glossy catalogs printed by the Soho galleries. The East Village’s affordable rents and the experimental aesthetic of nearby CBGB informed the overall attitude, with the downtown scene showing found objects, painted subway panels and colorful interactive installations almost as a rebellion against white-walled galleries. Without the financial backing that Soho galleries enjoyed, however, the atmosphere was short-lived, and the stock market crash in October 1987 seemed a turning point for the artists, collectors and galleries alike — with many such spaces closing down overnight.

The works created and shown at these galleries in the 1980s were pivotal to the movement and were the root of the culture’s growth from the street. While the mingling of the gallery world and the street scene slowed down, it never came to a halt, and by the mid-1990s galleries around the world began to embrace and celebrate graffiti once again. A whole new group of artists who had been inspired by the works of the early NYC pioneers started to take the spotlight and continued to inspire the street, bringing the greatness and power of the outdoor works indoors.

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