Interview: John CRASH Matos; the history

Flow Exhibition by Remi Rough & John ‘Crash’ Matos

At Dorian Grey

437 East 9th St. (between 1st Ave & Avenue A)

EXTENDED to March 9th, 2014

My interview with CRASH was geared towards the shift occurring in graffiti.  After we covered graffstract, graffuturism, collaborating, and the like, we got to the early days of Fashion Moda.  Like a great storyteller, CRASH had all who were at Dorian Grey wide-eyed with wonderment.  Most intriguing was the scoop on the Brooklyn Museum, and the Jeffrey Deitch LAMOCA group exhibition, which apparently left out… (Why don’t you read for yourself!).

CRASH: If it wasn’t for Jane Dickson, none of this would be going on. One person started the whole thing. No one was painting graf on canvas. Lee and I were doing our own stuff separately, without knowing we were each doing it. Jane comes along and says I’m doing an installation at Fashion Moda. She was doing what they call the human maze, she bought cardboard, and people had to walk through to the middle so that could get cookies. I painted all of the walls, I got Knock to help me paint.

And then Stef Eni, said we want you to do a show at Fashion Moda. And I said no, I want to do a group show, I know a lot of guys that paint. That was it. Once that show hit, then the New Museum did the show the currents show. And then we went to New Orleans and did the art fair there. But one person started all of this, Jane Dickson.

As simple as that. I have a little bit of responsibility with what’s going on. But I insisted on a group show. That was the first abstract painting Futura ever did. I owned it up until three years ago. And then I sold it to Yale University, they now have a big graf collection, and they paid me $150,000. It is their collection, which will go public soon.

They’re looking at crucial years ’79-80, the root. You know at the Fashion Moda show ___ show Lisa showed a painting of a Lion, I think they got that. They have Johnnie Humes sculptures Tom Otterness’ clay things from the 80s. We’re talking about, they right to the seeds. I did that group show and it changed everything, if it were a one person show I don’t think this all would have happened. None of this would have happened, if Jane Dickson hadn’t said ‘Hey do you want to do this?’ The Mud Club show that Keith designed, wouldn’t have happened. Keith wouldn’t be here. Jean-Michel Basquiat would not be here. Straight up!

The Club 57 environment. Patti Astor, that whole Lower East Side front gallery… None of it would have been around—a void this big. You would be hanging out with Jeff Koons. Jeff Koons everywhere, that’s the reality. Stef Eni, gets zero credit. Fashion Moda was his concept, his art form.

You should also read Interview: John CRASH Matos (Part 1 on the future of graffiti)

When they did the big street art show at LAMOCA, they did a timeline. There’s no reference to Fashion Moda. I screamed. You put Patti Astor, ‘Frank and Fern’ and everything came from Fashion Moda, are you crazy? Fashion Moda started at the same time as the Time Square Show downtown. Colab put that together, and the same artists put Fashion Moda together. You had Johnny Ahearn, Rebecca Howland, Jennie Holtzer, Robin Winter, that was all them, Tom Otterness. And they’re the ones that took the money and went to Stef Eni, and said let’s do this. No where in [LAMOCA’s] timeline was Fashion Moda. And I told Jeffrey Deitch, how could you? That had to be a personal thing.

Christopher Pusey: There seemed to be a few cavities in that show.

Big. Let’s go back. When I heard about the show. That LAMOCA was going to do a graf show. I said, what kind of graf show? This was a year before that catalogue came out. So, I emailed Fab 5 Freddy and said, so listen. There’s talk that there is going to be a graf show. He said ‘I’m glad you contact me, because the idea is, we’re going to have five artists from all of the countries around the world; five American, five British, five Japanese, etc. And they wanted me and Lee, and Futura, and two others. And I was honored. But then Jeffrey said, no I don’t want that, I want this. And it became more of, instead becoming a very cerebral, concrete look at graf around the world it became like a ‘Show’. Listen, Kenny Scharf, I’ve known him for thirty something years. But Kenny’s not a graffiti artist, and they had him doing an installation. And he’ll tell you, ‘I’m not a graffiti artist.’ He’s not, he works with spray paint, that’s cool. You know who taught him how to spray paint? Me and Daze. Remember the clock tower? He had a loft there, and we showed him how to spray paint. Because he was doing the walls and all of that. But he wanted to spray paint. Ronnie Cutrone, same thing, we showed him stenciling, we showed him all of this stuff. You share, that’s just the way it is.

Jeffrey had an idea, and an agenda and he wanted to do it his way. He wanted the history of ‘his way.’ And a lot of people will tell you that the catalogue is a lot better than the show. The catalog is on point on a lot of things that were left out of the show. Daze wasn’t in the show, there was nothing of Dondi’s… What? It doesn’t make any sense. And nothing about Fashion Moda.

What the Bronx Museum did, is they recreated the front of Fashion Moda, and I had painted the facade in 1980, and they asked me to redo it They had all of the Colab stuff in there, because that went hand and hand with graf.

So why did the Brooklyn Museum back out of it?

When they did the show in 2002, that wasn’t supposed to happen. A lot of people, like Janis family. They donate paintings, under the agreement that they would have to show it eventually. And the time frame was coming up for them to show the work. So they decided they were going to put together a group show of some of the painting belonged Sydney Janis and Carol Janis. So then they decided to do a big show. But, because they didn’t want anything to go wrong in terms of funding, because at the time there was so much negativity. ‘Why is a museum showing graffiti?’ Because of the politics. People who sat on the board of trustees, also sit on the board of the MTA. That’s a fact. ‘So you’re telling me that we can spend $100 million to erase the work from the trains, and all the damage that was caused… no we’re not going to allow that to happen.’

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So the Brooklyn Museum did it very independently, very quietly without any funding from anyone. That didn’t have an opening, they didn’t have invitations printed, nothing. And it was done on the 4th of July weekend. Why? Because everyone goes away on that weekend. But dig it. Two or three weeks before, a New York Times writer finds out about it, and calls me. I blasted the museum. There was an article that came out, three quarter page. I said, ‘I thank the Brooklyn Museum for the opportunity, but its a backhanded compliment.’ It was like, ‘Yes, welcome, and let me show you out the door.’

It backfired! The opening, they had one of the biggest opening attendance weekends. And then New Yorker, they all did stuff about it. And they got hit. Some of the funding got rescinded. Yes, which is what their fear was. But you know what? Have some balls and do the show right! I bet you some people will come privately and give you some money. So went down with that was, I’m pretty sure Jeffrey went to the museum and was like no. But I told Freddy, and he called Jeffrey then Jeffrey emailed me, and I told him ‘you’re telling me, that you can’t find someone to give you a million dollars, and you rent some place near the water. All the warehouses were still vacant. (Christopher: The Chelsea Museum was available.) Not even, you got all of these empty warehouses in the South Bronx, just rent them. Get the city to give you one for free. Gets some sheetrock and labor from the neighborhood, they’ll love you forever. Get somebody in there to put in climate control for about six months, you got the money. Get the stuff and there, and just do it. It will blow everybody in the world away. That’s what I told Jeffrey, you do it, that could stay up forever, the people would love you, that’s what the Olympics do. We had this conversation, but they just don’t want to do it. Not ‘they can’t’ they wont. Please, Jeffrey use to work for CitiBank, he can get the money. That’s how I met him. When I met him he was the head buyer for CitiBank. He would go from gallery to gallery and buy art work. As long as it was under $500,000, he didn’t have to get approval. So he’s got connections; the Rubells in Florida. They were buying from him, and you see what they did in Florida. Not can’t, won’t, big difference.

When I was a kid they used to sell fish there, it was a market. Up until recently it was abandoned, over on Essex and Delancey. Someone came to me, and the Tags crew about actually taking space and we’ll paint the entire exterior, and they’ll pay us. And inside was still grim, but they would put up lights and do sculpture shows, and all of that. That would have been genius, but you know what happened? That’s privately owned, and they said no. Now their fixing it up. It’s a million dollars, but your name, the owner of the building, the persons associated with the projected will be spoken about for fifty years. The ego factor will be satisfied then.


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