‘Beyond the Streets London’ at the Saatchi Gallery is an exploration and celebration of street art, graffiti, hip-hop and punk rock. This extensive exhibition takes over the whole gallery, using the large space to demonstrate the impact of graffiti and street culture through art, photography, installations, fashion and ephemera. Visually overwhelming (in the best way) and packed with content and information, ‘Beyond the Streets’ reveals how graffiti has transformed public spaces, inspired creatives, and permeated global culture and consciousness.
The first immersive installation of the exhibition is an independent record store, decorated with doodles, stickers, posters and flyers, and in which you are allowed and encouraged to play records. From the very beginning of the exhibition, we are made aware of how intertwined music and graffiti culture are. As you continue through the rooms, there are numerous music posters and flyers, including a selection that were designed by anarchist and artist Jamie Reid for the Sex Pistols. Reid’s décollage album and single covers, constructed from letters cut out of newspaper headlines, fragments of pop culture and nationalist imagery, came to define the UK’s punk aesthetic. Reid met the Sex Pistols manager, Malcom McLaren, whilst studying at Croydon Art School. Nearby, there is a section dedicated to McLaren and the legendary shops that he opened with his then-partner, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. As most of these shops were on the King’s Road, it seems especially fitting that this showcase of the pioneers of punk culture is taking place in the Saatchi Gallery, on the King’s Road.
Sex Pistol posters by Jamie Reid
Works by Shepard Fairey, graphic artist and OBEY founder, are displayed adjacent to pieces by FAILE, the Brooklyn-based collaboration between Patrick McNeill and Patrick Miller, highlighting how these artists are united in their transformation of pop iconography, posters, skate graphics and anti-authoritarian messages into fine art. Shepard Fairey and FAILE were instrumental to the emergence of street art in galleries and museums.
Selection of Shepard Fairey artworks
The staircases are not overlooked in this graffiti take-over of the Saatchi Gallery. Whilst one wall is plastered with wallpaper depicting hundred of photographs of graffitied freight trains, another showcases the bas-relief carving technique of VHILS. Alexandre Farto, known as VHILS, creates collaged portraits from billboard materials sourced from around the city in which he is exhibiting.
Street art, like most art, is seen as predominantly male, a fact which is highlighted by a prominently displayed Guerrilla Girls poster. However, ‘Beyond the Streets’ features works by many amazing female artists, including Tokyo-born graffiti artist AIKO, who combines Japanese and Western techniques in her romantic and feminine designs of butterflies and bunnies. The connection between street culture, politics, conceptual art and photography is encapsulated by a link made between three women; neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, documentary photographer Lisa Kahane and graffiti artist LADY PINK. In between a mural by LADY PINK and a wall of Holzer’s ‘Truisms’ is a photograph taken by Kahane of LADY PINK wearing a t-shirt with a Holzer ‘Truism’ across the front – a striking indicator of how different art practices began to feed into one another at the beginning of 1980s.
Lady Pink photographed in Times Square (1983) wearing a t-shirt from Jenny Holzer’s "Truisms" (1978–87) by Lisa Kahane
From photographs and films of the London Underground being graffitied, to Keith Haring ephemera, Kenny Sharf’s trippy ‘Cosmic Cavern’ and KAWS’ adverts for Calvin Klein Jeans and Nicole Miller, all the artworks in ‘Beyond the Streets’ contribute to an understanding of just how influential, varied and undefinable graffiti is. Considering the rebellious nature and sense of fun and play that informs graffiti and street art, it is no wonder that ‘Beyond the Streets’ is such a joy to visit.
RYCA spotted in the gift store