AMM Spotlight: Albert Diaz; Basquiat beginnings

Al Diaz, doing his famed SAMO tag, that he created with Basquiat

Albert Diaz- Selected works at 57 Great Jones street is both an exuberant celebration of the friendship and collaboration that Diaz had with Jean Micheal Basquiat who lived and died at that location and a clear demarcation that Diaz should not be defined by the long shadow of his famous early collaborator. This show can once and for all put an end to any critics who accuse him of riding on Basquiat’s coattails. The love of collaboration that Basquiat had can be traced to Diaz, who was Basquiat’s earliest collaborator. It is Diaz who understood then, still understands and embodies the essential need that Graffiti artists have to cover each other, to “have my back’ to playfully compete and to wow each other with their artistic prowess. In other words to collaborate with each other and the environment. Graffiti and street art is performative, site specific, deeply personal and totally public.

Diaz invited members of the graffiti community, practitioners young and old and of all genders to tag the back room of the gallery and many obliged, creating a vibrant backdrop for the historical part of the show. Covering the early days of SAMO and the role it played in helping Basquiat gain the attention of the Art World. Photos taken of Basquiat by Diaz and archival material dating back to 1978 tell that story vividly. 

The front part of the gallery is devoted to recent work. Diaz shows his mastery of word play, anagrams and the revival of SAMO in recent years. The social commentary the eye catching graphics are all here. The deep connection that Diaz has to the subway and to street art is felt in his choice of materials. Metal sheets mounted on frames, tile board, skate boards form the substrate for his works. Each object, including a delightful series of alters, are strong in their own right but the space itself can also be taken in its entirety; curated, installed and embellished by Diaz over a number of days it is a work of art in itself. 

The Same Old Gallery is a triumph of collaboration between Bohemian restaurant , the owner of the space, the Lazy Susan Gallery and the eclectic vandal/prankster Adrian Wilson who has collaborated with Diaz and others in well planned but often anonymous street art interventions. Including the 30th anniversary tribute of Basquiat’s death created on the front of the building in August. That collaboration led to Wilsons inquiry about using the empty space for this purpose.

Successful artistic collaboration is no easy thing, an atmosphere of respect, encouragement and play has to be created and many logistical moving parts pulled together. Diaz who has been invited nationally and internationally in recent years to create on the spot art, is singular in his ability to bring out the best of other artists, students and observers. 

The guest book, larger then average is worth leafing through before signing as many practicing street artists have signed or rather tagged it.

review by 

Kate Barrell Prendergast.

Born in the New York downtown art world (aka art brat). Kate went to City-as-School with Diaz and Basquiat. After a career as a midwife Kate now does legacy work for her mother, the artist Marcia Marcus. In her spare time she makes observations about art and other cultural artifacts.