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STRAAT pays homage: Fab 5 Freddy & Lee @ La Medusa

STRAAT is proud to continue the efforts of our predecessors when it comes to showcasing graffiti and street art as a gallery-worthy and museal artform. Which is why we will revisit several exhibitions from the past that laid the foundation for what we are able to do today, in a series of articles called STRAAT pays homage. Remember: if you don’t know where you’re coming from, you don't know where you’re going...


Fab 5 Freddy and Lee Quiñones at Galleria La Medusa, Rome, 1979


Although our friends at Dutch Graffiti Library rediscovered a very interesting graffiti related exhibition at an Amsterdam gallery from 1975 earlier this year, the La Medusa exhibition is the very first showcasing of graffiti art in Europe - or at least the first showcasing of graffiti framed as art.


So how did graffiti icons Fab 5 Freddy and Lee end up showcasing their art in a Roman gallery in the late ‘70s? It should come as no surprise that this story starts in New York City. This is where a young Fred realized that ‘graffiti art in many instances was on a par with any work in any museum of modern art’. Through his friend Glenn O´Brien, Fred managed to be featured in an article by Howard Smith for the Village Voice. Fred seized this opportunity to build a bridge between graffiti and the downtown art scene:


“I think it’s time everyone realized graffiti is the purest form of New York art. What else has evolved from the streets? … As you can see, we’ve obviously been influenced by Warhol, Crumb, and Lichtenstein.”

Fab 5 Lee
Fab 5 by Lee


To further strengthen his claim of being an offspring of pop art, Fred painted his iconic Campbell soup train shortly after the Village Voice article was published. While this article on the one hand nicely showed Fred’s knowledge of art history, his entrepreneurial spirit also shined brightly. In an attempt ‘to find new ways of taking our work from the streets to another level and find a new audience’, Fred made his graffiti art available per square foot.


One of the many people that contacted Fred - his number was listed in the Village Voice article - was Claudio Bruni, the owner of Galleria La Medusa who also managed Giorgio de Chirico's estate. He directly purchased Fred and Lee’s graffiti art, and as soon as he saw the works, he offered them a duo show at La Medusa in November 1979. And that’s how Fred and Lee ended up in Rome in the late ‘70s.


The show did not only turn out to be a huge success - in hindsight it turned out to be a prequel to the graffiti art explosion of the early ‘80s, which we’ll discuss further in our upcoming STRAAT pays homage articles.


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Article by: Alex Pope

Pictures via ArtNews.com / Fab5Freddy.com