Racing for Thunder
The cultural impact of the equation known as The RAMMΣLLZΣΣ (1960-2010)—legendary artist, graff writer, hip-hop pioneer, Gothic Futurist theoretician, and New York cult icon—laid the groundwork for today’s interdisciplinary creative hyphenates. A polymath who emerged from the late 1970’s New York City graffiti and hip hop culture as “King of the A Line,” RAMMΣLLZΣΣ has always been an in-the-know reference. Making striking cameos in works by his contemporaries, he took the stage in Charlie Ahearn’s early hip-hop film classic “Wild Style,” mesmerized in his cameo for director Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise,” and was depicted wearing his signature sunglasses by his one-time collaborator Jean-Michel Basquiat in the painting “Hollywood Africans.” RAMMΣLLZΣΣ’s seminal record “Beat Bop”—produced and first issued by Basquiat—is still widely regarded as one of the foundational tracks of early rap, and has inspired myriad artists such as Parliament Funkadelic, the Beastie Boys and RATKING.
At the height of his career, RAMMΣLLZΣΣ rejected the art world and withdrew from society to his infamous Tribeca loft, the Battlestation, where he would complete his total work, including two iconic bodies of work that would cement his place in history. The first, his Letter Racers, combine the dynamic formalism of Italian Futurism with the dumpster-diving accumulation of plastic pop culture. These assemblages, mounted on skateboards or the chassis of remote-controlled cars, are both futuristic and derelict. The second, his pantheon of Garbage Gods, is a virtuosic army of techno-mythic figures, created from the detritus found strewn in the streets of New York City.
Taking over the entirety of Red Bull Arts New York, this expansive survey examines the evolution of RAMMΣLLZΣΣ’s diverse body of work. From seminal post-graffiti works to his rare but robust formal output throughout the 1980s, and important artworks and sculptural series created primarily in the Battlestation over the last 20 years of his life. The exhibition gathers archival materials and artworks from RAMMΣLLZΣΣ’s estate, collections around the world, and oral histories recently commissioned by Red Bull Arts New York. This historic exhibition aims to introduce a new generation to the artist-prophet from the edge who found himself, again and again, in the center of everything.