Imagine my surprise in opening the catalog for “Calligraffiti,” Jeffrey Deitch and Leila Heller’s recently opened graffiti show, to see the front and back inside covers adorned with images of wrongly attributed, graffiti-tagged canvasses that I helped facilitate about 11 years ago.
“Michael Anderson’s Studio Visits by the Writers I, (detail) 1983-84,” reads the incorrect description.
The tags on these canvasses aren’t by graffiti writers who visited Michael Anderson’s studio and the year certainly wasn’t 1983-84. It was 2002 and it happened at Soma NYC, an East Village gallery-retail space I owned and operated from 2001 to about 2005.
And here they are, now on view at the Leila Heller Gallery in Manhattan.
The real name of the series is the Graffiti Compilation Project, a brainchild of NYC graffiti writer and artist Matt Trumino, who at the time, went by the name DSENSE. “I invited over 20 writers from the City, between the ages 16 to 50 (5 different generations) to write on 30 different sized (S, M, L, XL) canvases that I painted with bucket and spray paint,” wrote Trumino in 2002.
COPE2, DSENSE, STAY HIGH 149, EB, CINIK, DORK, WEIRDO, CNOTE, SERF, MINT, VYLES, FNS, ARCHER, MENOZ, FREE5, NATO, TECK, POKE, KECH, TESI, JUST WF, 9 VOLT, NESM, GOAL, NATURE, RUST, SARE, KEYLO and SKID contributed to the Graffiti Compilation Project.
“The idea was to bring a controlled element to an art form that that symbolizes a loss of control,” DSENSE wrote. “I love bringing the rawest form of graffiti, the tags and outlines, to the fine art level.”
Apparently, Jeffrey Deitch and company do too. But one would assume that Deitch, the gallerist who has positioned himself as an authority on graffiti and street art, would at least be able to ID the writers and therefore date the pieces properly.
After all, they are book-ending the gallery guide for the show and hanging prominently in the space.
Plus there was clues, like the 2002 written above DSENSE’s name.
I contacted the Leila Heller Gallery to inquire about the canvasses and was told they are not for sale and are on loan courtesy of James Hammond who apparently bought them from Michael Anderson, an artist who Trumino and I hadn’t even met until a few years later. Trumino recalls Anderson mentioning the name James Hammond and the possible sale, but doesn’t remember any follow through, so he had no idea that the pieces were going to be in this show — a high-profile redux of Deitch and Heller’s “Calligraffiti 1984.”
Anderson maintains it was probably just a misunderstanding by Hammond. “Hammond did not attend the opening to my knowledge,” says Anderson over email. “He wasn’t trying to do anything wrong I’m sure, I imagine he was just mixed up about the situation after all these years.”
Perhaps. But it’s odd that Hammond mustered-up the description he did. As you can imagine, Trumino wasn’t so happy. “Here’s this awesome gallery show, but my name isn’t even on them, even though it literally is” he says in reference to his tags on the canvasses, understandably irked. “Is that not the ultimate slap in the face? The people who are part of this project are going to be like: Who’s Michael Anderson?”
This is not the only error in the catalog. ANIMAL noticed that Ayad Alkadhi’s Hear My Words (2013) was printed upside down. Just yesterday, we noticed that a Keith Haring piece that was clearly spray-painted on wood was captioned in the catalog as “marker on wood.”
Despite the demonstrated limitations of Deitch’s expertise and Calligraffiti’s official catalog including wrongly captioned work on its most prominent pages, we’re amused about having our project curated into the inaugural show. It’s been fun reminiscing.
UPDATE: Ally Mintz, the exhibitions coordinator for Leila Heller Gallery, said they are going to correct the placards at the space and the catalogues that haven’t been given out yet.
(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork, archival photos: Matt Trumino)