Ten’s To See: ‘Beyond The Streets’ At Saatchi Gallery

Mark makers, rule breakers, agitators and instigators: that’s the ethos behind Beyond The Streets, a colossal new street art exhibition on display at Saatchi Gallery. From defiant train writers to massive muralists, there are large-scale installations, original ephemera and even fresh, made-on-the-spot artworks for you to chew on. (FUTURA2000’s legendary 30 ft. painting – made live on stage with The Clash as they performed in 1981 – being just one of the strokes of genius you’ll see.) Together with the sporty-luxe clothes that crop-up between digs, it’s the most comprehensive graffiti and street art exhibition to ever open in the UK. 

Curated by graffiti historian Roger Gastman, producer of the 2010 Academy Award-nominated film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, the London expo follows in the mega successful footsteps of earlier exhibits in Los Angeles and New York. Adapted accordingly from city to city, it’s a hybrid celebration of underground culture, with support from Adidas Originals, that bids to examine the fundamentally human desire for public self-expression. “The amount of stories and historical moments – some of which may have been forgotten and arguably unknown until now – are what will make our Saatchi Gallery show such a spectacle,” said Gastman. To put it plainly, the pure magnitude of the tri-floor set up is enough to bring you to your knees – but in a good way, where you’re completely spellbound and everything outside the gallery fades to black.

When you first enter through Saatchi’s magnificent French doors, The Vandal’s Bedroom by American artist Todd James, throws you headfirst into a patchwork of untethered creativity. No surface is left untouched – the walls decorated by a cornucopia of more than 100 extraordinary talents oozing from all walks of life; from Beastie Boys, Guerrilla Girls, Jamie Reid and Shepard Fairey, to Blondie, Broken Fingaz, Pat Phillips, Malcolm McLaren and dozens more. “A collection of pioneers like these in one place is rare,” said Mister Cartoon, a featured artist renowned for his tattoo work and Los Angeles murals.

Split, room by room into comprehensive chapters, each new berth explores different exceptional moments from the emergence of punk to the birth of hip-hop and everything in between; forging future concepts too. 

Chapter one is where Music and Art Converge; a plunge into the underground world of freight train graffiti culture sparked by the socio-political turmoil of the late 70s and 80s, where the decline of cities met artistic resistance. Chapter two charts the spread of graffiti culture around the world and is entitled Dream Galleries. Next up is Legends, spotlighting a compendium of icons including Eric Haze, José Parlá, Kaws and Keith Haring, and is followed closely by Blockbusters, which compiles works commissioned specifically for the exhibition by trailblazers like Faile. Larger Than Life arrives next, an intoxicating blacklight room by Kenny Scharf called Cosmic Cavern ornamented by Paul Insect’s wacky puppets. Psychedelic colour and texture loiter, shifting and melting into constantly evolving, hypnotic forms that seamlessly blend reality and fantasy. An effigy of Wilma Flintstone becomes the centrepiece amongst cars with faces, sporadic tires, Santa Clause’s and boomboxes galore. Then Timeline takes a deep dive into street culture history through archival photography, ephemera and fashion.

As Beyond The Streets breezes toward its swaggering end, chapters consist of Social Commentary: Graffiti as a message; Art With Conscience and; Consideration Into Innovation. The final room is named The Next Phase, and is overflowing with new works by Valencia-based artist Felipe Pantone, whose op-art patterns warp perspectives, resulting in a distinctive aesthetic of the digital age. 

At the press viewing, Kenny Scharf scaled a two-storey extension ladder, aerosol cans in hand, to paint a new Tondo – straight onto Saatchi’s white walls. Mesmerised, over a period of about five minutes we watched as Scharf whisked through arcing stroke after over coat, eventually bringing the goofy character to life.

To really sink your teeth into the meatiest murals and most flavourful fashions of the exhibition, you’ll need a couple hours. An hour and a half left us itching to go back and really read the plinths, learn the history and plunge in the art; but it was Thursday, and Ten Towers – somewhat to our dismay – called us home. 

Photography courtesy of Saatchi Gallery. Beyond The Streets is on view from February 17 to May 9. Book tickets here. 


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