The Amsterdam Museum hosted a very unique graffiti exhibition last year. The exhibition titled ‘Graffiti New York meets the Dam’ is a collaboration with the Museum of the City of New York. It was the first time ever that an exhibition was dedicated to graffiti in New York and Amsterdam, its connection, its stories and its heroes.
It is around 1970 when graffiti has its origin on the streets of Philadelphia (Cornbread) and New York. At that time youngsters wrote their self chosen graffiti name / tags, on walls, bridges and metros. Around 1975 the city of Amsterdam was working on an urban renewal, a new metro system and a car/pedestrian tunnel at Waterlooplein. That is when graffiti writers in Amsterdam, were going crazy on walls in Amsterdam. They choose graffiti names such as Dr Rat, De Zoot and Vendex. They were the graffiti pioneers of Amsterdam, and still well respected by many graffiti artists.
The exhibition ‘Graffiti. New York meets the Dam’ told the story of how graffiti in New York in the 80s had its heyday. It also told a story about how the Amsterdam based graffiti writers were influenced by what was happening in New York. For example: in Amsterdam it was about just tagging your name on walls in one color. Whilst in New York the artists were experimenting with different colors, huge throw-up pieces and wildstyles. This had a huge influence on Amsterdam graffiti writers, who therefore also started experimenting with their graffiti art.
What was great about this exhibition is that it showed graffiti from New York and Amsterdam, artists such as Shoe, Delta and Cat22, and unique materials from New York artists Keith Haring, Lee Quinones and Lady Pink. The black books with sketches were very impressive and also personal objects such as graffiti bombed jackets. It was a historical journey.
I definitely think that this exhibition was for everyone. If you are a graffiti writer yourself, you found inspiration. If you were there in the 80s, you felt connected.
Nowadays there is a rich street culture in the Netherlands, where graffiti has tremendous influence. A lot of these activities for the younger generation are closely connected to Hip Hop culture, like for instance; Urban Sports, video Gaming and Fashion. Graffiti artists / Amsterdam writers like USA (United Street Artists), TMP, NES crew, 3rd Eye or LF (The Lame Face), Drepie and Lodik (GeenGrap) have been around for several years.
Dutch Graffiti Laws and Regulations
the rules and regulations are very simple – a graffiti artist has to pay for the damage done by the painting. Since the basic cost of a simple graffiti cleaning about € 150,- ($ 220,-) per square meter, whilst cleaning of the bigger surface of the wall may go into hundreds of thousands of euros. When caught, graffiti artists are usually arrested for one night, but they can be kept in detention up to three days. Judges are lenient only at the first apprehension, usually giving an offender a small fine for vandalism and a cleaning task. When caught for the second time, you may end up in jail and pay a big penalty for the damages. That is why many of the graffiti cases end up in a settlement, where graffiti artists pay for and cooperate in removal of the paintings, with 10% paid of the damages paid to the court. No wonder most of the graffiti appear on houses doors, gates and fences – these are the most unproblematic places to renovate.
The Dutch approach
the Dutch have an interesting approach towards the graffiti artists, trying to decriminalize the whole activity by creating legal opportunities and places to paint, by promoting the most interesting graffiti painters to the status of an artist accepted by the society, by sponsoring them, giving them commissions to decorate, trying to convince them to move with their painting to canvas, promoting exhibitions and finally purchasing most interesting works to the museums. Last years several museums of reputation as Noord Brabantsmuseum in s’Hertogenbosch and Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo have exhibited graffiti.
Despite the already mentioned official graffiti activities, the painter’s circles remain largely informal. Some of the artists have their personal websites but if you are a graffiti artist yourself and you would like to get in touch with the people from these circles in Amsterdam, the best way is to visit Henxs Henxs, a small shop with spray paints, and a protection gear of two kinds – masks which you should use not to breath dust of the paint, and balaclavas you ought to wear not to be easily recognized by the police on the CCT security cameras. The shop is located near the Waterlooplein and the Rembrandt house: Henxs Henxs / Montana shop; St Antoniesbreestraat 136 1011HB, Amsterdam; phone: + 31 20 638 94 78; www.henxs.com
You may get the cheapest spray paints with high content of pigment in tens of different colors, directly at a specialized stand on the Waterlooplein market, at € 3,- per can.