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In the 21st century, graffiti and its evolutionary sister, street art, have permanently staked their claim in cultures around the world. From art at auction to its use as a global democratic protest tool, the art form has become a fixture in visual culture that continues to cultivate a rich and vibrant underground. We reached out to Alan Ket, co-founder of the Museum of Graffiti to check in on the museum’s first year; their COVID-19 pivot to an Instagram Art Talks series; Ket’s personal archive of photographs of the culture that predates the internet; and the need to institutionalize street art within the art world and history.
Interior installation view of Museum of Graffiti featuring a selection of Henry Chalfant’s train images from 1980-81. Some are part of the permanent collection, and others are on loan.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: The Museum of Graffiti opened its doors in Miami in the fall of 2019. As the world's first museum exclusively dedicated to the evolution of the graffiti art form, what were some of the challenges and triumphs of those first few months?
KET: The challenges were many, including locating the right building to house the museum. When we were looking at locations, we knew we wanted to be in Wynwood, but Wynwood is a very hot and expensive area of Miami. It is trendy and a huge tourist attraction with murals, restaurants, bars and other venues all driving up commercial leasing prices. It took many months to find the right location and secure a lease.
I believe we have a great location and see room for growth here. The biggest triumph was opening our doors and being well received by the local community and artists. There were lots of naysayers, but we were focused and met our deadline and opened on time. I am amazed by what we pulled together in under a year.
Photograph of artwork by Lee (Lee Quiñones) taken in 1977 by Don1.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, you launched the Museum of Graffiti Instagram Art Talks, which are a huge success. How did the idea for these online conversations take shape? Are there any unexpected outcomes, silver linings, or blessings in disguise due to the museum’s growing presence in the virtual world?
KET: Every day that the museum is open, we greet visitors and are actively engaged in celebrating and teaching about the artists that make this art movement and culture great. Being closed, we lost this opportunity, which is part of our overall mission. Internally, we brainstormed around achieving our mission and being relevant in this time of the coronavirus.
The Art Talks series is something we saw happening early on with a few other institutions and we thought it would make sense for us. We decided to have an aggressive daily schedule in order to attract an audience and grow our social media following. The silver lining is that we get to engage with artists daily in a deep and public way that we were not thinking of before. We record the talks and add them to our archive. At the same time, we are learning about all of these wonderful men and women that make up our community. We are thankful that so many artists are willing to open up their homes and share in such an open way.
Museum of Graffiti Instagram Art Talks with artist REDS.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: You and your community have deep roots in the world of graffiti, especially in New York City. Can you tell us about some of the old school, legendary writers you’ve been able to feature in the IG Art Talks?
KET: We have been able to reach out to our friends, peers and elders in this community because of our deep roots and our curator, Carlos Mare. Some of the legendary writers that we have featured from New York are Futura 2000, Lady Pink, Bio, BG183, Crash, Daze, and Part One. Each one has such a unique history and taught us many things about their artistic journeys.
Interior installation view of Museum of Graffiti featuring artwork from pioneers in the field of graffiti.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: An old snapshot, circa 1985, of the museum’s curator, Carlos Rodriguez a.k.a. Mare139, with Lady Pink was recently featured in the museum’s Instagram feed. A true gem of a photograph. You have an extensive archive of photographic documentation of the culture of graffiti? Can you tell us a bit about that?
KET: I started photographing the walls and the trains in New York City when I was in high school in the late 1980s. Since then, I have never stopped and have amassed quite a photo archive. During those same early years, my friends and I (who were all taking photos) would trade photos among each other to ensure that we all had a full record of graffiti history. This trading and collecting grew and grew for me over the years. I have acquired collections from other photographers and artists in order to preserve this history and allow for it to be told one day. The museum is an extension of my passion and that work.
Photograph of artwork by Dime 2 taken in 1973 by Robert Browning.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Lastly, what is the core mission of the museum and what are your hopes for its future?
KET: Our mission is to exhibit, educate and stimulate appreciation for graffiti art. Our hopes for the future are to continue to develop programming that supports our mission, to reach greater audiences and to present more compelling and historically important exhibitions. We are here to fill in the story of this art movement that has been overlooked by other institutions and celebrate some of the most dedicated and important artists of the past 50 years. We have a lot of work to do.
Exterior wall of Museum of Graffiti featuring work by artist Slick.
Tune in to the Museum of Graffiti Art Talks on Instagram here: @museumofgraffiti
Visit the website here: www.museumofgraffiti.com