Conference Day 1


Presentation by Jacob Kimvall (SE)

Performing Monkeys? Early Graffiti Writers and the Art World


The graffiti art presented in art galleries of the 1980s has been described as a culturally important predecessor of the contemporary relationship between the institutional art world and street art.


The explosion of interest in graffiti and its related subcultural movements in the 80’s has been pejoratively referred to as a ‘short-lived trend’ based on pure commercial speculation. For example, one scholar of the early 80s has commented that a graffiti artist he was following, who was trying to enter the art world, was being treated like a ‘performing monkey’ by an important art collector.


This presentation takes a look at role of assumed and stated class identities at play in art historical and subcultural accounts of graffiti art in this context, and discusses how the lessons learnt from the formative period of the modern day graffiti art movement might inform similar conversations around street art today.


Jacob Kimvall is an art critic, art historian, and amateur graffiti writer, based in Stockholm. He received his PhD in art history with the dissertation The G-Word: Virtuosity and Violation, Negotiating and Transforming Graffiti (2014), which examined the historiography of graffiti and suggests that this subcultural phenomenon should be understood as jointly produced by subcultural and institutional agents. Kimvall was a part of the graffiti-scene in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s. In 1992 he co-founded the international magazine Underground Productions (UP). He is currently working as Senior Lecturer in Art History at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University. He is also an art critic, and a member of the board of Swedish Art Critics Association, the Swedish section of AICA.

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