"One Planet under a Groove: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art," Oct. 26-May 26, 2002, at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx, N.Y. 10456.
"This is art; this is fantasy," declared the legendary DJ and graffiti artist Fab 5 Freddy, who brought old school flavor to the October opening of "One Planet Under a Groove: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art" at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. It's been a long 30-year journey for hip-hop since its block party beginnings in the South Bronx, and who would have guessed that the turntable magic of original pioneers Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash would become a global phenomenon that would energize the art world?
To celebrate and investigate hip-hop's infiltration into contemporary culture, Bronx Museum curator Lydia Yee and guest curator Franklin Sirmans brought together 30 established and emerging artists from four continents to show off their videos, drawings, paintings, photographs, sculptures and installations. Rather than going the obvious route and presenting hip-hop-inspired pop paraphernalia, Yee and Sirmans prove hip-hop's enduring power by tracing its influence on artists from the early 1980s to the present.
For instance, the exhibition highlights Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of a handful of African-American artists to be granted mass recognition in the 20th century. Basquiat hooked into the raw, anti-establishment energy of hip-hop's early days with his searing, graffiti-inspired painting, Untitled (Defacement) (1984), which portrays the fatal beating of black graffiti writer Michael Stewart by New York City transit police. Similarly, the show includes Keith Haring's DJ 84, a tribute to the uptown DJs whose scratching and cutting techniques inspired the twisting, spinning figures of breakdancing -- figures that echo the iconic images of Haring's own work.
While the exhibition acknowledges hip-hop's history by including such art world veterans as Renee Green, Adrian Piper, Martin Wong and David Hammons, what makes it so successful is Yee and Sirman's awareness that hip-hop culture is both fluid and forceful, affecting artists anew in every generation.
For example, Kori Newkirk's installation, Hip-hop from Home (Fake That Floss), reflects on the current ghetto-fab hip-hop lifestyle celebrated in the media. A teacher in South Central Los Angeles, Newkirk was inspired by his students' low-fi emulation of must-have, high-end hip-hop commodities. His "emergency kit," in which improvised versions of tooth caps, rocks and gold chains pass for the real thing, performs a type of cultural anthropology of contemporary inner-city life.
Two other emerging artists, Nikki S. Lee and Erik Parker, also explore the meaning of race and identity, this time from the outside looking in. The Korean-born Lee has made herself something of a cultural chameleon, taking snapshot-style photographs that document her assimilation into different subcultures and racial groups. For instance, in "The Hip-hop Project," she hangs out with New York City rappers, graffiti writers and breakdancers, transforming herself into a homegirl by imitating gestures, dress, facial expressions and attitude.
Also from New York, self-proclaimed whiteboy Erik Parker pays homage to hip-hop history by layering rhymes, styles, beats, 'hoods, MCs and shout-outs in paintings that "look the way a hip-hop song sounds." Both artists cross over by embracing and emulating hip-hop while remaining aware of their own distinct backgrounds.
The world was a different place when Herc, Bam and Flash launched the hip-hop revolution by blending tricks and technique with an eclectic mix of musical styles to keep the Bronx rocking through the night. But by bringing hip-hop home to where it all began, the Bronx Museum of the Arts kicks off its year-long 30th anniversary celebration with a strong message -- its homegrown culture has a rich past, a powerful present and a certain future.