It is somewhat ironic for an exhibition like Beyond The Streets to take place in a private gallery like the Saatchi. At the show’s core is rebellion, the art a product of the energy and unpredictable nature of its original setting – a world removed from, and often shunned by, up-market art spaces.
There is simply no chance, however, that something so impressive could have been curated anywhere other than places like Saatchi Gallery, which succeeds in bringing together such a vast array of work and allowing it to shine. No expense has been spared. Curator Roger Gatsman and his team have seemingly been able to carry out their every indulgence without a watchful monetary eye as they inevitably would have operated under in the public sector. Because these installations are grand – concrete walls, record stores, toy shops and even a knock-off Ralph Lauren boutique, all come to physical life within the walls of the Saatchi’s various exhibition spaces, Beyond The Streets taking over the entirety of the Chelsea building.
It would be unfair to reduce Beyond The Streets to street art. The show’s description examines “the fundamental human need for public self-expression, highlighting artists with roots in graffiti and street art whose work has evolved into highly disciplined studio practices, alongside important cultural figures inspired by this art scene.”
One of the interesting aspects of Beyond The Streets is seeing how quickly time flies. The 80s and 90s are now absolutely ripe for nostalgia. We’ve witnessed the proliferation of everything Jean-Michel Basquiat ever touched, and his influence of him and particularly his SAMO© graffiti, is implicit in Beyond The Streets. Still, it’s interesting to see work from lesser-known artists of that era and those directly influenced by US art in the mid-to-late 20th century. Rather than seeing Warhol and Haring and Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg, Beyond The Streets shows their descendants, who, it turns out, are a very talented bunch.
Todd James’ work is a standout. His ‘The Vandal’s Bedroom’ installation greets you upon entry before you’ve really begun the exhibition, but it is a trio of his canvases that particularly impressed me. Two typically meh Kaws prints are included, but then again – say what you will about him – his influence is undeniable, and it’s only fitting that he features in a show this comprehensive.
There is a very American feel to the exhibition. There’s the colour and bustle of Spike Lee’s New York but also a distinct Californian ease. Shepard Fairey features, and there is a Los Angeles, Exit Through The Gift Shop air to large parts of it. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that Beyond The Streets has already gone on display on both of America’s coasts, now given a dose of Britishness for the London event.
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But it’s not all stateside. Over 100 international artists feature in total, many of them British. Among more standouts are a trio of beautiful paintings by Mode 2 and Swedish-French artist André Saraiva’s famous ‘Mr. A’ character lining the hallways on the first floor. In general, the spaces between rooms are almost as impressive as the rooms themselves, Gatsman upholding his promise that “no area of Saatchi Gallery will be left untouched; visitors will be immersed by works and ephemera on view across hallways, tunnels and staircases and will enter rooms exploring the birth of graffiti like never seen before.”
British punk music also gets an extensive showing. One of the exhibition’s chapters focuses on the emergence of punk in the UK. Another chapter examines hip-hop’s growth, marking its 50th anniversary this year.
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On the whole, Beyond The Streets moves chronologically, culminating in a wonderfully weird final chapter, ‘The Next Phase’. The penultimate room is the trippy work of Valencia-based artist Felipe Pantone. His pixelated, geometric view of the world takes you through to a fake, pop-up Ralph Lauren shop, where photos of polo-clad Princess Diana and Katie Price sit side by side in what might be a world first.
There’s so much to take in at Beyond The Streets. I’ve only scratched the surface. It opens tomorrow (17 February) and runs until 9 May. See it for yourself.