Photo Essays

A Classic Bronx Street Art Maze Is Reborn

Installation view of “The Return of City Maze” (2015), Wall Works, Bronx (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless stated otherwise)

Jane Dickson’s City Maze (1980) was one of Fashion Moda’s most celebrated exhibitions. The installation, which consisted of an elaborate cardboard maze adorned with graffiti, was a collaboration between Dickson and the graffiti artists Crash (John Matos) and Noc 167 (Melvin Samuels). Unsurprisingly, the artwork-cum-playground was a huge hit among the neighborhood’s kids.

Preceded a year earlier by John Ahearn’s South Bronx Hall of Fame (1979) (in which Ahearn made casts of local residents) and immediately followed by the enormously influential Graffiti Art Success for America (GAS) (1980) (one of the first exhibitions of graffiti art), City Maze was part of a triumvirate of exhibitions that put Fashion Moda on the map and seized the attention of the New York art scene.

Jane Dickson, poster for “City Maze” (1980), 11 x 17 inches (courtesy Jane Dickson) (click to enlarge)

Now, 35 years later, Dickson and Crash have reunited to create a new iteration of the iconic installation. “This is City Maze 2.0.,” Dickson told Hyperallergic over email. “It’s not a recreation but a new version referencing the first.”

The Return of City Maze is the second of two consecutive exhibitions at Wall Works dedicated to the artists of Fashion Moda (for a review of Session I click here). The newest version of “City Maze” includes facsimiles of historic street art work by artists such as John Fekner, Anton van Dalen, the Guerrilla Girls, and Christy Rupp, as well as new works by artists such as Judith Supine, the TATS CRU, Don Leicht, and Stefan Eins. As with the original installation, visitors are invited to draw or paste their own images on the walls of the maze.

According to Dickson, The Return of City Maze required around six months of planning and a week of preparation and installation. Dickson redesigned the maze’s layout so that it would fit within Wall Works’ space. The new maze is also more robust. The work was built with cardboard sheets instead of used cardboard refrigerator boxes, and the entire structure is held together with zip ties as opposed to staples. “I was afraid of how much work it would be and that I wouldn’t remember how I built the first one,” said Dickson. “Crash assured me he had a crew to help and he bought the materials.”

Visitors at the opening of “The Return of City Maze,” August 12, 2015

The mixing up of historic and contemporary pieces is a key strength of the work. The Return of City Maze appears to preserve the integrity of the original installation without falling prey to reverential nostalgia. Young kids will have endless fun running around the maze and inventing their own games, while adult audiences can appreciate the legacy of New York’s Downtown and graffiti art scenes.

“I included copies of street posters by me and my Downtown friends and collaborators from around 1980 to nod to the history of the original in a mash up with the new graf’ works” Dickson told Hyperallergic. “The energy of that moment came from the cross-pollination of gay/straight, uptown/downtown, sound/image, hip-hop/punk, black/brown/white … I want to celebrate that spectrum again here.”

A work by Nicer of TATS CRU
One of two entrances to the maze
A tinted photocopy of one of Jane Dickson’s paintings
A heart by Bio of TATS CRU
A collage by Judith Supine
A tag by Crash
Photocopies of the original “City Maze” poster
A tag by BG183 of TATS CRU
A work by Ernesto Velasquez
A work by John Paul O’Grodnick
A photocopy of a work by John Fekner
Stencils by John Fekner
A work by Daze (right)
Posters by Anton van Dalen (center), the Guerrilla Girls (bottom left) and a campaign poster by Jane Dickson (center right)
A poster of a stencil by Anton van Dalen (left) and a poster for “Diva’s Song” (right) a recent exhibition at the Mike Weiss gallery. The show was a collaboration between Jerry Kearns and his wife Nora York

Fashion Moda: 35 Years Later. Session II: The Return of City Maze continues at Wall Works (39 Bruckner Blvd, Mott Haven, Bronx) through September 12.

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