cover image The Wide World of Graffiti

The Wide World of Graffiti

Alan Ket. Monacelli, $60 (384p) ISBN 978-1-5809-3601-9

Ket (Graffiti Tattoo), cofounder of the Museum of Graffiti, in Miami, delivers a knockout in this all-encompassing survey of graffiti culture. The art form has a history that stretches back thousands of years—including lewd jokes found in ancient Pompeii and names that were scrawled in the catacombs in Paris—and has been controversial almost as long, he writes, leading to “hundreds of millions of dollars spent on graffiti eradication” and antivandalism campaigns driven by politicians who framed the practice as a “sign of a crumbling society.” Ket’s work, though, is primarily a celebration, and he emphasizes how graffiti historically served as a vital creative outlet for people with few resources, and helped democratize notions of art by offering it to “the public and not just wealthy museum patrons.” Ket also has enlightening conversations with such influential graffiti artists as SaneSmith, brothers who were sued for $3 million for tagging the Brooklyn Bridge in 1988 (though charges were eventually dropped); Zurik, a Colombian artist who paints graffiti words made of geometric shapes; and Nani Chacon, a Diné and Chicana artist known for her large-scale murals. Through detailed essays, in depth interviews, and stunning photographs, Ket’s account makes palpable the vibrant, dynamic culture of an underappreciated art form. This impresses. Photos. (June)