in art we never lose anything

By Aaron ("M27") Ruiz

It change the world!
When the urinal got flipped upside down and tagged the moniker R. Mutt, Marcel Duchamp sent the art world and everything we knew into a new dimension. The Dadaists were the first artists to explore what it meant to be an artist in the vortex of the urban world. They found a home in cities all throughout Europe, and slipping through New York. And from New York their influence splintered all over the US into a variety of different social and artistic movements. Some of these movements might seem highly unlikely, like “The New Negro Movement”, but that’s how culture works. It slips and slides past the censors of good taste and possibility. So nothing you know is new; the past is always present and alive in the future. Since Dada burst on the scene, the young have created social and artistic movement from different cliques and racial backgrounds. These movements rely on the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next, with each generation progressively building on the previous one’s ideas. These movements rely heavily on what is literally the state of cool. But art movements require catalysts. Music, art, fashion, philosophy, aesthetics, and of course drugs, have all served as the markers for new movements; but what they really need is a real person to help drive them. Duchamp was one of these, and I’m going to key you in on a couple more.

The 1980s were hit hard with the rise of Hip-Hop culture and Skateboarding going full mainstream. This clash of cultures created a dynamic for kids of urban and suburban households to take part in creating their own audio and visual language geared for the streets. Near the tail end of the 1980s, a mash-up of rock and rap was starting to take place. This hybrid street style would open the floodgates for the 1990s. Of all the names that pop up during this era, Steve Rocco is one of the most important amongst generation X. Rocco was a freestyle skateboarder in the mid to late 1980s, but as the interest in a niche type of skateboarding (normally executed in the parks and street parking lots and sidewalks) died out, vertical skateboarding dominated the market. However, old surfer money forms the 1960s was still controlling the industry, and was blind to the fact that the future was out of the parks and in the streets. The idea of street skateboarding came of this and so did a slew of new talent.

(L to R: Steve Rocco, Mark Gonzales, and Nata Kaupas)
Of these new talents, Mark Gonzalez was ahead of the pack. His street style was composed of a jazzier approach to riding a board, as well as an avant-garde, do-the-complete-opposite mentality that Rocco held dear. Surprisingly, and without much congratulations from the vert side of things, street skateboarding boomed with the new generation as Rocco and Gonzalez began to define the early 1990s by merging Graffiti, Street, and Rave, ultimately bringing a 180 in terms of a new and dynamic aesthetic. Much like Duchamp, Rocco and Gonzalez can be accredited to as being the cornerstones of 1990s culture.

Rocco is quite possibly the evil the genius behind the 1990s. He had vendettas with the powers that be in the skate world during the 1980s. They essentially pushed him out of the game, as well as street skating pioneer Rodney Mullen (both would team up become the super powers behind World Industries). If there’s a will, there’s a way, and where corporate power had to muscle, Rocco had the will and cool. Some of these culture shaping power moves can be listed as such:

1. Created the first all street skateboarding team.
2. Created the first double kick-tail skateboard.
3. Created the first bootleg image of another existing image in skateboarding for satirical reasons.
4. Created the first low production skate video. (Blind: Video Days)
5. Created the “baggy pants” that is the staple of 90s culture.
6. Created companies based on the choices and appeals of the youth and the team riders.
7. Created the first renegade styled magazine, which would later defunct and morph into VICE.
8. Created the idea of battling and taunting other companies to bring about exposure, whether good or bad.
9. Created the …

The list can go on and on, and it does in great depth in the movie The Man Who Sold the World. Essentially he’s the Thomas Edison of skateboarding. Along with all of these new changes he brought about, he decided to work in close collaboration with a Gonzalez. This artistic and hyperactive skateboarder would later go on to be the first skateboarder to really tie in art with skateboarding, to the point of being showcased at Stadtisches Museum in Germany, skating in all white on the museum walls. This act is essentially the foot in the door for other skateboarders to be featured in major museums (see the film Beautiful Losers) much like the Dadaist before them. The point that I’m trying to get to here is that these skateboarders essentially helped shaped and entire culture. Their impact and how much of the 1990s and our vision of what it is, is connected to this idea of just flipping the norm of the 1980s is astonishing. However, they weren’t the first super groups in urban culture to adopt this idea, because we if we take a step back into the 1980s, we see that Andy Warhol, Jean-Michelle Basquiat, and Keith Haring were beginning to pave the streets for others to cruise on.

No need to name this quartet.
New York urban culture began to spread its roots in the late 70s and early 80s when a group of kids decided to gather their parent’s turntables, records, and host parties in impoverished and abandoned buildings throughout the city. And from there Hop-Hop was born. This lower-class created artfom/party would develop and establish entirely new forms of communication in music, written poetry, graphic arts, and performing arts; otherwise known as Hip Hop, Lyricism, Graff Art, and Break Dancing. With an overarching sense of style and fashion, Hip-Hop threaded disparate cultures together.

Taking place in New York on the other end of the spectrum, (both financially and socially) was the boom of the art gallery scene in the early 1980s. With an emergence of the Pop Art scene of the late 1950s, the New York fine art scene ascended to all-time highs, with some pieces being sold in the millions. Pop Artist extraordinaire, Andy Warhol, was at the height of his esteem as a gallery artist, and unfortunately, also nearing the end of his life. Seeking to stay relevant, he sought out fresh new work, and eventually hooked up with graffiti artist SAMO, or Basquiat. He appropriated the energy of graffiti into the gallery setting and upset many of the conventions of fine art practice. To add to the situation, this world was so deeply connected that they accidentally held a revolution together without knowing, and this was punk!

You gotta get with it!
“Hey Punk!!! That’s Illegal!!!”, screams the voice of an older man passing by as a graffiti artist scrawls their moniker on a subway wall. Whether this person is a kid from the streets, or a high level artist, the message is it doesn’t matter, and that’s exactly what Keith Haring brought to the table when he tagged his way onto the scene. Moving from Pittsburgh to New York to study art at the School of Visual arts proved to be a life altering decision. Much like the hippies of 2 decades prior, with their excursion from suburban and rural households, straight towards San Francisco, Haring decided this would be the path for him, except it wasn’t Psychedelia or San Francisco he was chasing after. Adopting graffiti culture that was dominant at the time, he was best able to merge Hip Hop aesthetics with the Pop Art world, catching the attention of Warhol. This decision would prove to be smart on both ends, leading to a new success in one, and an updated aesthetic in another. Haring’s tags on subway cars and stations would eventually be highly prized pieces amongst many a high-brow art collector. But there was a rhythm riding through these subways during that period that resonated from a time further back.

Graffiti is the art form of Hip Hop, and Hip Hop has become the soundtrack of the nation. But where does Hip Hop influence come from? Deep within its genetic coding as an art form, its birthplace is in the New Negro Movement. During the New Negro Movement, Jazz was the soundtrack for which the writers, artists, musicians, and entertainers pulled their inspiration from. Literally, the sounds of the city, Jazz music, born from New York, resonated through high art circles. Its heavy percussive element, giving way to the rhythm for which musical and artistic freestyles solos roam, would provide the tempo and vibe of the modern metropolis. In the lyrics of jazz is an expression, created to state that African Americans are people for which they have a culture of their own. When impoverished kids in the 1980s created Hip Hop, they were tapping into the Jazz of the past. By using a heavy percussive section within the music that were being spun, these innovators of the ghetto were able build upon their aesthetic; through words, represented in audio, visual, and performance.

Everything comes back again.
The New Negro movement is ever presented in today’s culture, and will continue to pop up as we go through time. By taking a step back and looking at the trends we have experienced in the past 100 years since the creation of Dada, we can see that we are heading into a more updated form of this. Just load up any modern skate video, and you’ll see the mash up of all these cultures. The streets and the cities have always been the epicenters of cool and hip, and the youth continue to shape this constantly. But who will be the next Andy Warhol, or the next Basquiat? My money is on Mark Gonzalez and Keith Hardy, but if you’ve been following the New York skate scene over the past year, you would know this already; and oh yeah…baggy pants are back in.

©Aaron Ruiz and the CCA Arts Review

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