Beyond the Streets – SAATCHI Gallery

Jade Denis

An exploration into the worlds of graffiti, street art, hip hop and punk rock and the artists who have preserved its history. The exhibition consists of work from over 100 artists all housed by the entirety of the Saatchi gallery stretching across 3 floors and 13 rooms – Exploring street art from across the globe. From archival photography, large installations, murals, and artefacts – the Beyond the Streets exhibition attempts to contain a snapshot of this world-wide rebellious art form. 

The tone is set upon entry to the exhibition with a large mural covering a wall with images of New York trains covered with graffiti as well as a record shop in the middle of the entry room – the full-size record shop is covered with tags, stickers and is blasting music as you enter. Stocked with classic vinyls and iconic posters the spectator is taken back in time to the late 60s amidst political and cultural turmoil which lead to shift from youth culture leading to artistic rebellion – allowing for the spectator to have an insight into now a niche market. The record store named Trash Records, also sheds light on the use of graffiti for album covers, t-shirts and skateboards all found within trash records. It’s impossible to speak about the growth of graffiti in New York during the 80s without looking at the emergence and growth of Hip Hop the Beyond the Streets exhibition does this while giving spectators an understanding of the hip hop genre and its conception in New York and the visuals that came with it. Featuring work from Fred Brathwaite aka Fab Freddy, a pioneer in early hip hop and the art synonymous with it. 

As you continue throughout the gallery all aspects of this unruly art form have somehow been contained including pieces created specifically for the gallery and culturally significant historical artefacts such as the Guest Book for The Roxy a nightclub in London which served as a cultural hub for the Punk scene in the mid to late 70s. 

Despite the abundance of art within the Exhibition it’s impossible to ignore the lack of two Street Art Giants – Banksy and Basquiat. While we can assume that Banksy – intrinsically anti-establishment – declined the offer to be part of the exhibition. Despite the Beyond the Streets exhibition intention to champion a rebellious art form the Saatchi Gallery is still a beacon of elitist engagement. Though the lack of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work feels odd – a glaring omission within the exhibition which leaves a hole in the history of Street Art that the Saatchi is celebrating.

No part of the gallery has been left untouched – as you walk up the stairs leaving the ground floor the walls of the staircase are covered with images of subway trains covered in graffiti – the most recognisable example of graffiti in the modern day – New York subway trains transporting the work of young, angry, and underprivileged people to the upper echelons of society in the uptown areas of New York. As you reach the upper floors you are greeted with bright pink walls and Adidas tracksuits as the exhibition attempts to explore the fashion and art intersection in regard to graffiti and the time of its rise. With focus placed on the cultural impact of Adidas and it’s iconic three stripes – how the brand was championed in countless subcultures from the 80s to the 90s most notable RUN DMC who were seen within the exhibition a number of times. 

The exhibition also highlights the graffiti art present in the UK despite the popularity being mainly from the US with subtle nods to UK tag artists and the difference in regulation of graffiti in both nations. As there is a focus on the immediate cover up of graffiti in the UK while in the US and most notably New York the graffiti is left to wither away with time. 

As the exhibition continues spectators are shown the more political side of the art form – as an inherently anti-establishment movement graffiti art is bound to touch on the political states of its time and place. The exhibition contains work from the guerrilla girls, an anonymous group of feminist artists who aim to shed light on the misogyny in the art world and the rest of society. As well as traditional paintings which seem to highlight more recent movements such the BLM movement of 2020. 

The Beyond the Streets exhibition features a number of sculptural installations most notably “The streets are in play’ a retail store display featuring a puppet show and art works from various artists as a nod to the playful nature of the art form. 

Though the question still stands, can you contain street art into the walls of a high brow museum – is it contradictory to do so? For many the exhibition has fallen flat, and some argue that institutionalising the art strips it of its essence. Street Art Aficionados may find this exhibition frustrating as it isn’t a true representation of the Culture, however, for those who just want to see a display of some beautiful art and fantastic music this exhibition may be just the ticket. 

The Beyond the Streets Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery is open until the 9th of May 2023 with tickets starting at £15.