This is the story of two Dutch twin brothers, Richard and Marcel van Tiggelen, who turned their private collection of graffiti related items, such as analog photos, blackbooks with original sketches, books, magazines, prints, silkscreens, posters, paintings and last-but-not-least Denim Jackets, into a foundation called Dutch Graffiti Library.
Let’s go back in time to 1985 when two 14-year-old kids living in the Dutch harbour village IJmuiden (close to Amsterdam and Haarlem) were exposed to the graffiti-virus coming from New York. The brothers fully embraced this new thing called Hip Hop and the incorporated art form ‘Graffiti’. Apart from only a few examples of ‘how to do the do’ in the form of some newspaper articles snatched from the public library around the corner of their house the boys didn’t have much to work with.
The mentality and the unwritten rules
Step by step they created a network of friends also interested in this new subculture. Due to their network, it became easier to collect the sparsely available graffiti items such as photocopied sketches, photos of pieces and early graffiti books and zines. Trading graffiti related materials by mail became a thing the brothers were good at. Over the years their urge to collect turned into a full-blown passion 35 years later resulting in a unique collection.
Marcel: “Everything we do nowadays is based upon the mentality and the unwritten rules defined by the ‘graffiti culture’ in the years between 1985 and 1989. The passion, joy and attitude in which we operate are directly linked to that certain time period. The dynamics of those ‘early days’ paved the way for the foundation of the Dutch Graffiti Library.”
Post Graffiti is the definition were the brothers feels most comfortable with when asked how to label their collection. This term dates back to 1983 when a legendary exhibition titled ‘Post Graffiti’ was organized in the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York.
In 1993 Dutch graffiti pioneers Shoe, Delta, Angel and Zender organized the first Dutch ‘Post Graffiti’ exhibition in the Total Art Gallery in Amsterdam. A first of its kind show in Holland with artworks that crossed boundaries between traditional graffiti, illustration, comic drawing and graphic design.
Watching my name go by
Marcel: “Most items in our collection were not created with the intention to be looked upon as art or high-level publications. They’re merely a side product of a subculture. Besides collecting these kind of graffiti items our main focus is ‘Post Graffiti Art’. In all cases this is done by artists, designers, illustrators or cartoonists with a name writing background. Their artwork is made with the same attitude, energy and intention as their (illegal) graffiti in the streets. They all participated in this game called ‘Watching my name go by’.”
Don’t ask for permission
Returning words in our conversation with the brothers are ‘mentality’ and ‘attitude’. If you want something done, make it happen! Don’t ask for permission or wait for someone else to give you the green light. A streetwise way of handling things that makes a lot of ex-graffiti writers very successful in conducting their business in normal life.
Richard: “We still operate with the mentality of a graffiti writer. Take for example the 2015 graffiti exhibition Graffiti. New York meets The Dam in the Amsterdam Museum. We heard there was no budget to create and publish a catalog of the show. In our opinion, this was a missed opportunity so we decided to put in our own money and make the catalog ourselves in an edition of 550. With the help of the curator of the Dutch part of the show, Mick La Rock (Aileen Middel), we made sure we had complete creative freedom over the content. We didn’t want any outsider interference. The guy from the museum gift shop was a bit sceptic at first so he told us: “Just give me 40 catalogs. During a normal exhibition over 3 months, I sell around 75 in total.” Within the first week of the show the complete run of 550 catalogs was sold out so we had to do a reprint.”
Richard: “When we talk about graffiti to outsiders, we frequently get a first reaction like: “It’s vandalizing public property!”. We think it is very important to tell the stories of the writers. What is the driving force and how did they manage to get from ‘Watching my name go by’ to the world of galleries? We receive a lot of questions from all kinds of researchers from universities and museums from all over the world. We supply them with background information; We provide items from our collection or information that will help them find answers. We also give items on loan for exhibitions and for use in publications about the (graffiti) culture.”
Always looking for new material
Richard: “The collection is steadily growing. We are always looking for new material to expand it. We’re building something important for a lot of people. It feels like it’s our responsibility to do something good with this stuff. As PHASE 2 (RIP) put it to words:
“This is our community, this is our nation, our contribution to the world, it’s our job to preserve it, insure it and nurture it – not someone else’s.” (Vibe Magazine #10, 1994)
In 2018, the brothers founded the Dutch Graffiti Library Foundation together with Sanne van Doorn. The foundation aims to make the Dutch Graffiti Library collection accessible and insightful. The first years of the foundation have been particularly focused on preserving and curating the collection, managing online channels (website and social media) and releasing publications.
The next step in 2021
Under the roof of Denim City, located in the renovated old tram depot De Hallen in Amsterdam, Dutch Graffiti Library frames graffiti(culture) as cultural heritage. By showing work, sharing knowledge and collaborating with students they create interest in graffiti heritage. The collection offers stories, context and inspiration for people, brands and organizations. The graffiti culture of the 70s, 80s and 90s forms the basis for current art movements such as Urban Contemporary art and Street art. Stories from this culture are embraced worldwide as cultural heritage. The next step ends in the summer of 2022, as the dream of Dutch Graffiti Library comes more and more into reach.
Dutch Graffiti Library will make graffiti culture accessible to a wide audience under the name About Graffiti Culture. In de Centrale Markthal they create a cultural experience for a broad audience and make stories visible as a source of inspiration, awareness and creative development, by collaborating on exhibitions, talks, sales events and visibility. Enhanced by a permanent space where cultural graffiti heritage is displayed in a museum setting.
About Graffiti Culture
- Museum About Graffiti Culture
- Gallery for artists with roots in graffiti
- Library for research and education
- Cultural heritage institute
- Open space for workshops, lectures, collaboration, community building & shop
The coming six months will be used to introduce people to the About Graffiti Culture concept at various places in the Netherlands. In 2023, the doors will open at the permanent new location in Amsterdam-West.