‘Hip-Hop Is a Canon’: How the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Major Hip-Hop Show Is Bridging the Divide Between Rap and Art

Miki Hellerbach (Artnet News) reviews “The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century,” on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore, through July 16. As we mentioned in our previous post (The Culture…), participating artists who embrace(d) their Caribbean roots include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Miguel Luciano, Roberto Lugo, José Parlá, Fahama Pecou, and Michael Vasquez.

“Hip-hop is a canon. It’s only 50 years old and it belongs in museums,” Asma Naeem, director at the Baltimore Museum of Art told Artnet News. “It doesn’t just belong in temporary exhibitions; it belongs in the permanent collections of museums.”

To coincide with the 50th anniversary of a genre born in the Bronx at a birthday party hosted by DJ Kool Herc, the institution is presenting its first hip-hop-themed exhibition, titled “The Culture: Hip-Hop & Contemporary Art in the 21st Century,” to consider how the form has shaped all manner of cultural production. The show, which opens today, is not alone in commemorating the movement’s 50th year—Fotografiska and the Museum at FIT are also doing so—but it’s one that’s weaving the overarching culture with works of art in a collage of consequential objects and imagery.

One of the exhibition’s goals, set by Naeem and her team of curators including Gamynne Guillotte, is to dismantle the divide between hip-hop and high art. As Guillotte said in her opening statement before a preview tour of the gallery: “The separation between street and gallery is a fallacy,” with perhaps an unintentional rhyme recalling the wordplay of Biggie Smalls, the rapper who inspired a piece by Mark Bradford draped behind her.

Titled Biggie Biggie Biggie (2002), Bradford’s piece, which is made of gauze “endpapers” used to curl hair, form an abstract rendering of the Brooklyn M.C. in the first section of the exhibition. Within this same room, described by Guillotte as a “tasting menu” of the sections to come, there is also Baltimore transplant Zéh Palito’s hot pink double portrait, It was all a dream (2022), a 1983 Basquiat canvas dedicated to jazz musician Charlie Parker, and a Dapper Dan down jacket from 2018.

This collage of styles offers a positive response to a text-based work by New York artist Shirt, installed in the following section of the exhibition centered on Language, which reads in bold black letters, “CAN A RAP SONG HAVE THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ART.” It’s a statement, less a question, that bears out the exhibition’s thesis, but also emphasizes the timeless messaging that runs throughout hip-hop.

Across its elements, hip-hop has always been a way for Black artists in particular to express the grind of systemic oppression, with rap and fashion offering aspirational counterpoints to reclaim painful narratives and history. The Adornment section of the exhibition offers such a juxtaposition of trauma and beauty. [. . .]

“It’s always been multidisciplinary and it’s always been about the hustle,” said Guillotte about hip-hop. “So it finds a very natural allegiance with the idea of commerce.” [. . .]

[. . .] “Hip-hop conveys different kinds of beauty—other forms of beauty that belong side by side with the Western canon,” said Naeem.

“These worlds have always been in dialogue,” Guillotte added about the coexistence of hip-hop, fashion, and art. “That’s enormously important because there’s power in that. It serves somebody to assume that there is this thing that we call ‘the street’ and there is this thing that we call ‘the gallery.’ How scary would it be if there wasn’t?”

For full article, see https://news.artnet.com/art-world/baltimore-museum-of-art-the-culture-hip-hop-contemporary-art-exhibition-2279460

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