Graffiti, now: Guerrero Gallery shows USDA prime street writers


There was no wine and cheese at the opening of "Leave the Beef on the BBQ." There were massive slabs of meat though, onto which Guerrero Gallery owner Andres Guerrero slathered sauce and tried to look inconspicuous.

The crowd, which spilled out onto the sunny Saturday streets of San Francisco on August 25, was mainly there to see art anyhow. The exhibit was the most diverse graffiti-themed assemblage Guerrero had shown to date, and the graff heads in attendance had a lot to look at -- not to mention reflect on. Graffiti, if the works inside were anything to judge by, is at the junction of, about 70 different artistic directions. 

"We've got your standard graffiti piecers, you also have guys that focus on tag style, we also have real, true bombers," Guerrero told me on the phone a few days later. The walls of the ex-White Walls gallerist's vast, skylit gallery held clusters of works: some framed, some on canvas, some pieces seemingly translated direct from the side of a Muni bus, some a bit harder to connect to the underground art legacy that birthed them. To name all the artists assembled would take up a lot of space here (see the gallery's website for a full list, obviously), but a few stand-outs include: Richard Simmons and Lil' Kim album covers, artfully bubble-lettered by Pez, looping tentacles straight out of the TWS style book by Estria, and a carefully-drawn urban jumblescape by Gorey. 

The mishmash highlighted graffiti's progression into the fine art world -- and its complicated, give-and-take relationship with the rest of contemporary art, Guerrero says. A dog smokes a cigarrette in an otherwise classically-themed piece. This would be the work of Kuma, who you can also find tagging over animal portraiture street art in Brooklyn. Complicated, no?

If it all seemed of somewhat dissimilar provenance on the walls, that was the point. Guerrero culled "Beef" participants from across the country, across the world -- and across generations. "We have 1970 pioneers, the leaders and originators of this format," he said. "Then there's the current graff guys who are really taking it to another level." Some have been showing in galleries for years, for others, Saturday marked the first time their work had popped up indoors. 

It was challenging to pull it all together, Guerrero says. For chrissakes, there's over 70 artists represented in the show. But the work was a labor of love. 

"What prompted [the show], or really moved me to do it is that I really want to have fun," he reflects. "I felt out of touch with the culture." He reverts back to shout-out mode. "It was more to honor these guys. They're the ones who lead the way right now in terms of a lot of contemporary works and influence."

"Leave the Beef on the BBQ"

Through Sept. 3

Guerrero Gallery 

2700 19th St., SF

(415) 400-5168


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