While the New York art world braces for the return of outgoing Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art director Jeffrey Deitch, the former Deitch Projects owner’s first endeavor back on the East Coast will be an update of “Calligraffiti”— the 1984 exhibition at Leila Heller’s Upper East Side gallery that he curated — at Heller’s Chelsea gallery. This time around Deitch served as a “sounding board,” as the New York Times’s Carol Kino puts it, for Heller’s “Calligraffiti 1984-2013,” which juxtaposes Abstract Expressionists, seminal graffiti artists, and contemporary street artists whose work features calligraphy-like markings.
The exhibition, which opens September 5 at Leila Heller Gallery and continues through October 5, will focus especially on artists from the Middle East and the role of street art in the Arab Spring uprisings.
“Just as the graffiti movement emerged from the economic and social turmoil of the 1970s in New York, it is now no surprise that some of the most groundbreaking street art is burgeoning all across the Middle East,” Heller writes in the exhibition description. “Calligraphy as an art form is part of a Middle Eastern collective memory and as it continues to evolve, we are now witnessing a kinetic dialogue between these movements that will no doubt leave their mark on history.”
The show will include more than 50 works by everyone from Lee Krasner, Shirin Neshat, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, to Niels Meulman and LA2. Of particular interest to Deitch is the French-Tunisian street artist eL Seed, who was recently tapped by the Qatar Museums Authority to create murals in a series of tunnels in Doha.
“He is in a very genuine way working in this fusion between a calligraphic technique coming out of Arabic script,” Deitch told the Times, “and an awareness of international graffiti language. When we did the show originally in 1984, there wasn’t anyone like this.”
While Deitch is still finishing up his tenure at MOCA, he confirmed that his next slate of projects will all take place in New York.
“Calligraffiti 1984-2013” opens at Leila Heller Gallery on September 5.
— Benjamin Sutton
(Image: Niels “Shoe” Meulman, “Unruly (Emerald),” 2013. Courtesy the artist, Leila Heller Gallery.)