Smart Crew, the underground graffiti group that came out of Queens in 1997, is teaming up with Adidas to put on its first public exhibition. But that doesn’t mean its members are revealing their identities. In the above cartoon portrait, even the familiar face of rapper Action Bronson is pixelated. And in the below video teaser for “Smart Fools,” opening tomorrow at Fool’s Gold in Williamsburg, there’s some serious cloak-and-dagger action going on.
Still, a Smart Crew artist who goes by Pierre Hefner said the show represents a shift in the group’s development from truck tagging to mixed media. “Everyone is doing different things,” said Hefner, who did a watercolor, #nofilter, for the show. “Everyone, as a whole, is taking this as an opportunity to get more serious about art.”
The exhibit is organized by Klughaus, a firm run by Victor Fung dedicated to getting graffiti artists into fine art. Now 30, Fung has painted since he was a teenager. After college, he took an e-mail marketing job and bombed people’s inboxes by day and actual mailboxes by night. “It was kind of Clark Kent-like,” he said.
Earlier this year, Fung helped MTV with its graffiti-themed Video Music Awards in Brooklyn, then helped DKNY with a graffiti-themed presentation during Fashion Week. At about this time, he quit the e-mail marketing gig and, a la Jay-Z, focused on his work representing artists, including Smart Crew, and organizing pop-up shows like this one. Klughaus is currently scouting locations for a permanent gallery of its own.
Hefner, who has been painting since 1996, thinks this exhibit, which precedes a large graffiti exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York opening in February, represents a broader move to take the artistic abilities of New York City graffiti writers more seriously.
“In the mid-nineties, it was different, the laws were different,” he said, adding that the Internet and social media (#smartcrew on Instagram) has propelled global interest in New York City as a playground for graffiti writers. Well beyond Banksy, the British artist who barnstormed the city in October, Hefner was referring more to artists from California and Tokyo. “In the last 10 years, people not from New York have been doing graffiti in New York. Now it’s more international and that’s cool — that opens the doors to do different things.”
“Smart Fools,” Dec. 12 to Jan. 12 at Fool’s Gold, 536 Metropolitan Ave.; opening reception Dec. 12, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.