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Andrea Nelli. Graffiti A New York

GRAFFITI A NEW YORK - Andrea Nelli, 2012

The origin for the worldwide graffiti, street art and urban art movement lies in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. As a local event, within a few years, what started out as simple name-dropping in the streets and backyards of the boroughs evolved into elaborate typefaces that rolled all over the city on Subway trains.


When the phenomenon, at its peak in the mid-1980s, went around the world as "Subway Art" through Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant and found imitators globally, academia belatedly began to take an interest in the form of expression. The standard work "Getting Up" by Craig Castleman, which was not published until 1982, has always been considered the first scientific examination of the subject.

But as early as 1978, Andrea Nelli published "Graffiti a New York," an extensive essay, after he had already been confronted with the name prints in the cityscape six years earlier during his first trip to the city. For his research he interviews actors, gallery owners, collects newspaper reports and analyzes the rapidly changing movement. Due to the bankruptcy of the publishing house only a few weeks after the publication of his dissertation in 1978, the work receives little attention from researchers and only becomes a coveted collector's item in scene circles.

But forty years after Nelli's first visit to New York, "Graffiti a New York" was rediscovered, translated into English, and reissued in 2012 by the Italian publisher Wholetrain Press. In addition to the original text, there are over 100 historical photographs by the author, showing arguably the most important phase of the evolution towards classic graffiti. Both the original and the new edition are part of the holdings of the Martha Cooper Library.

Fotos: Steffen Köhler     Text: Sascha Blasche