On a recent visit to the museum, I was introduced to the man behind the show, the effervescent Alain-Dominique Gallizia, as he gave an energetic curator’s tour of the exhibit. Towards the end of the tour, he was asked to whom the art collection belonged, to which he answered “the collection is mine but the story is theirs!”
Afterwards, I met with Alain to find out more about what he meant by this. Alain shared with me that the collection, which he amassed in under ten years, actually had humble beginnings. Stumbling upon graffiti art through his charity work, the accomplished architect was giving out sleeping bags in Paris when he met a group of graffiti artists living on the streets.
As they shared their sketches and stories, Alain asked them why they continued to create ephemeral art. To him, fine art works were usually on canvas and not on public property that risked erasure. To his surprise, the artists told him that they also painted art on canvas with spray paint as a medium. They sketched to pen concepts and then painted on canvas to master the art of spray painting. He learnt how street art had started as a ‘tag’ in the 70s on the streets of Manhattan but then developed to become a platform for artists to ‘battle’ or show off their spray painting skills to each other. The artists also introduced Alain to Bando, a French graffiti artist who also happened to be one of the heirs to the Lehman Brothers fortune, displacing the stereotype that graffiti artists are all hooligans.
Puzzled by why this art movement was so displaced and not displayed in museums, Alain continued to learn about the medium, becoming friends with Rammellzee – the only graffiti artist whose work is collected by MoMa museum.
When asked why graffiti art is so misunderstood, he said, “It was difficult for the art world to accept graffiti artists because these artists generally did not want to be priced or to sign contracts. They didn’t want to pay for gallery space or to allow a gallery to have creative control over their work. This caused nervousness, which led to the discrediting of graffiti as a form of art. Imagine something so important to the development of art history yet no one knows about this 40-year-old art movement. It is not simply not studied how these artists have developed over decades, mastering the art of spray painting.”
Determined to help his new friends in their mission to educate, Alain set up a studio called The Tag Hive and issued an open call to artists to create a single, same-sized work based on their interpretation of love and unity on canvas. United by place, theme and size, each work measured 60cm x 30cm, with the signature of the artist on the left and their vision of love on the right. Designed to showcase a common goal shared by the artists, the Love Collection continues to grow and currently has 178 artists representing various countries and generations.
One of three series, under Collections Gallizia, the collection is normally housed in “La Ruche du Tag” or The Tag Hive – a studio that Alain converted from a locksmith shop in Boulogne Billan in France.
Keeping true to his promise to put graffiti in the history books, Alain has curated and collaborated on several important exhibitions of graffiti art in Paris and New York – from Tag au Grand Palais (2009) at the Grand Palais in Paris, TAG Les Lettres de Noblesse (2010) at Palais de Tokyo, Empreintes Urbanise (2011) at Palais d’Iéna, L’art du Graffiti (2011) at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco to Tableaux de Maîtres (2013) at Palais de Tokyo once more.
Alain told me that after the first exhibition in Palais de Tokyo, his artist friends began to “pull from under their beds” their most treasured sketch books and vintage pieces. This added a new dimension for Alain as he began work to preserve and catalogue the works as part of the Vintage Series. The collection has about thirty American and European precursors from the 70s and 80s such as Ali, Fab Five Freddy, Bando and Futura 2000.
Upon the death of painter and musician Ramellzee in 2010, Alain paid tribute to the artist by forming the Ramellzee Series. This comprised fifteen works, preserved and documented, reflecting the diversity of the late artist’s style, ranging from his collage works to his spray paint pieces.
On his accomplishments for graffiti, Alain emphasises that they are born purely out of the need to promote the important work done by graffiti artists.
“I keep to my promise and have not sold a single artwork from the collection. These exhibitions are aimed at showcasing the heart of the art. I may be the voice that speaks for them but this is their story. Which is also why I am happy to be able to take some time from work and be here. Singapore is the first step in the internationalisation of the collection. Each step is important to find a new public, as well as discovering new artists.”
Comprising the Love and Vintage series from Collections Gallizia, the exhibition Pressionism was a rare chance to see works by graffiti artists from the 1970s to the present day and was probably the best kept art secret of 2016. The exhibition runs until 25 June 2016 at Singapore Pinacothèque de Paris at Fort Canning Arts Centre.
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