Redbird (Stay High 149) photograph by Jon Naar, 1973. ©Jon Naar. Photographer Jon Naar documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s including landscape images of graffiti-covered subway trains rumbling through the city. This particular photograph is of a train painted by STAY HIGH 149, a pioneer in the writing movement.

Redbird (Stay High 149) photograph by Jon Naar, 1973. ©Jon Naar. Photographer Jon Naar documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s including landscape images of graffiti-covered subway trains rumbling through the city. This particular photograph is of a train painted by STAY HIGH 149, a pioneer in the writing movement.

Graffiti Kids, photograph by Jon Naar, 1973. © Jon Naar. Photographer Jon Naar documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s including artists, such as the pictured kids, posing with their work.

Graffiti Kids, photograph by Jon Naar, 1973. © Jon Naar. Photographer Jon Naar documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s including artists, such as the pictured kids, posing with their work.

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It began in the stacks. Sean Corcoran, Curator of Prints and Photographs at the Museum of the City of New York, came across a collection of black books Martin Wong had donated to the Museum in 1994, just five years before he would die from AIDS in San Francisco. The black books were the site of sketches and drawings, works on paper that were passed from head to head, giving writers a look at what their contemporaries were doing with marker in hand and giving them a space to contribute to the conversation.

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In total, Martin Wong (1946-1999) donated 55 black books and more than 300 mixed media paintings on canvas, cardboard, paper, and plywood. The work Wong collected includes early permutations of designs that would later appear on trains and buildings throughout New York City. And though those paintings are long gone, their legacy lives on.

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Now at the Museum of the City of New York, “City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection” presents 105 works by legendary writers DAZE. DONDI, FUTURA 200, Keith Haring, LADY PINK, LEE, and SHARP among others, alongside historical photographs by Charlie Ahearn, Henry Chalfant, Martha Cooper, Jon Naar, and Jack Stewart. Paired together, the paintings, drawings, and photographs take us back to a time and a place that, though not far away at all, no longer exists in our daily lives.

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L’OEIL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

The Death of Graffiti by LADY PINK, 1982, acrylic on masonite, 19x22.” Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York. LADY PINK painted The Death of Graffiti just as New York City Mayor Ed Koch and officials of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reinvigorated their campaign to rid the subway system of graffiti. LADY PINK depicts herself nude on a pile of aerosol spray cans. She points to a “clean train” emerging from the right edge of the painting that signifies the city’s effort to give all of the trains in service a fresh coat of white paint.

The Death of Graffiti by LADY PINK, 1982, acrylic on masonite, 19×22.” Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York. LADY PINK painted The Death of Graffiti just as New York City Mayor Ed Koch and officials of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reinvigorated their campaign to rid the subway system of graffiti. LADY PINK depicts herself nude on a pile of aerosol spray cans. She points to a “clean train” emerging from the right edge of the painting that signifies the city’s effort to give all of the trains in service a fresh coat of white paint.