Relive the 1980s downtown New York art scene at Nassau County Museum

Urban Art Evolution transports visitors to the 1980s downtown NYC art/street art scene beginning March 23, 2024, at the Nassau County Museum of Art (One Museum Dr, Roslyn, NY). Urban Art Evolution is a comprehensive exhibition showcasing over 30 artists with approximately 100 total works on view. The presentation shares a diverse range of compositions by creators who were based in the rough and tumble area of New York known as Loisaida/LES/East Village and surrounding neighborhoods.

Period photography, sculpture, paintings, performance works, films, and important ephemera from many influential artists during this pivotal time in art history can be seen through July 7, 2024. Among the artists with work included are Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mike Bidlo, Linus Coraggio, Ronnie Cutrone, Al Diaz, Dondi, Chris “DAZE” Ellis, Judy Glantzman, Rodney Greenblatt, Richard Hambleton, Keith Haring, Eric Haze, Mark Kostabi, Angel Ortiz/LA2, Rick Prol, Judy Rifka, Walter Robinson, James Romberger,  Kenny Scharf, and David Wojnarowicz.

These pioneering visual artists were on the cutting edge of an urban inspired contemporary art movement that took graffiti art and street culture mainstream and into fine art galleries for the first time.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (self-portrait), 1982 (mixed media on paper)
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Untitled (Self-Portrait SAMO), ca. 1982. Mixed media on paper; 8 1/2 x 11 inches.
Private collection

Guest curated by esteemed 1980s art collector and gallerist Christopher Pusey, the catalyst for the exhibition is the major moment the urban art and music scene is currently enjoying within the cultural Zeitgeist like the 50th anniversary of “Birth of Hip-Hop” and the recent 40th anniversary of the release of, Wild Style, a now-iconic documentary film introducing the world to the era.

Wild Style 1980s New York graffiti art documentary

The timeline for the curation goes back to the early 1980’s where Pusey was a young art dealer witnessing the confluence of theses genres with film, music, and art cross pollinating & influencing each other in immeasurable ways. Rounding out the artist roster for the exhibition are Christopher Hart Chambers, Tseng Kwong Chi, Martha Cooper, Jane Dickson, Fab Five Freddy, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Ken Hiratsuka, Stephen Lack, John “CRASH” Matos, Hank O’Neal, Lee Quiñones, and Martin Wong.

Many of the artists in the show tested the limits of the contemporary trends at the time, pushing the boundaries of what was considered “art,” with a primary focus on – but not limited to – urban art (street/graffiti) as the genre is now often referred to. Works on display are by artists considered to be pioneers of the genre through the use of spray painted murals and wall poetry, oil paintings, sculpture, performance art and photography – they used the city as their canvas.

The exhibition’s scope will also cast a broader embrace and be inclusive of other creative residents who worked inside their studios, but still contributed to the rich fabric of the downtown art scene from different vantage points and aesthetics during the period.

RELATED: New York Art Scene in the 1970s.

About the Nassau County Art Museum / Frick “Clayton” Estate

The Nassau County Art Museum is located on the former Frick “Clayton” Estate, a stunning 145-acre property in Roslyn Harbor on Long Island’s Gold Coast. The museum’s outdoor sculpture collection includes over 40 pieces by 30 sculptors spread across fields, woods, ponds, and formal gardens, also known as the William Cullen Bryant Preserve.

Nassau County Museum of Art at Frick "Clayton" Estate on Long Island aerial view.
Nassau County Museum of Art at Frick “Clayton” Estate on Long Island. Image courtesy Nassau County Museum of Art.

In 1919 Henry Clay Frick, co-founder of US Steel Corporation and world famous art collector, purchased the property/land as a gift for his son and daughter-in-law, Childs and Frances Frick. They hired British architect Sir Charles Carrick Allom to redesign the facade as well as the interior of their new home, which they named Clayton (the grounds at Clayton developed by the Fricks were among the foremost landscapes in America).

Childs Frick was also an avid sportsman and lover of the outdoors so the estate also included two tennis courts (one grass and one clay), a polo field, two ponds for skating and canoeing, a shooting range, a swimming pool, bridle paths, and a ski slope with its own snow making machine. The family’s love of animals and the outdoors included a large animal zoo with a bear pit, snakes, and an alligator, an aviary, a monkey house, and otters in a pond.

Frances and Childs Frick lived at Clayton with their children, Adelaide, Frances, Martha and Henry (nicknamed Clay), for almost 50 years. Childs died in 1965 at the age of 81. Four years later the estate was purchased by Nassau County to establish the Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, administered by the county’s Office of Cultural Development.

In 1989, the Museum became a private not-for-profit institution, governed and funded by its own board of trustees. A major exterior restoration of the historic mansion was undertaken some years ago; the mansion was then renamed the Arnold and Joan Saltzman Fine Arts Building.

A sculpture park was also begun in 1989 and became one of the largest publicly-accessible sculpture parks in the Northeast.

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