Culture Watch: Roger Gastman & Caleb Neelon's 'The History of American Graffiti'
(Harper Collins, $40)
Love it, hate it or merely indifferent to it, you can't deny that graffiti (or street) art has been the focus of much notoriety in recent years. Expect attention to accelerate later this month when an international survey exhibition opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Numerous books on the subject have been coming down the pipeline, but so far none seems as comprehensive -- and readable -- as "The History of American Graffiti," which looks at developments in more than 25 U.S. cities and states since the 1970s. Relatively short bursts of informative text, perhaps appropriate to a spray-paint genre originally called "writing," plus hundreds of documentary photographs, cover individual artists, nomenclature, materials, social milieus, civic controversies, legalities, the emergence of a market, media coverage and more.
Graffiti entrepreneurs Roger Gastman, co-curator of MOCA's show, and Caleb Neelon have compiled more of an informal encyclopedia than a formal history, but it's packed with information. Given their common past as urban spray-painters, the authors seem to know whereof they speak.
-- Christopher Knight