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Rammellzee RIP

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Will Gompertz | 11:21 UK time, Monday, 5 July 2010

New York goes through periods when, if you want to stalk the zeitgeist, it is the only place to go hunting. One such moment was the late 1970s and early '80s. The resonance of that period's underground arts scene still infiltrates the output of today's zeitgeisters.

Untitled by Jean-Michel BasquiatRammellzee, who died last week at the age of 49, was at the centre of the action. Involved in the emerging graffiti, hip-hop and neo-expressionist movements, he was a main player in a city of main players that included Nan Goldin, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Jenny Holzer, Charlie Ahearn, Futura 2000 and Grandmaster Flash.

He stole the show in Charlie Ahearn's 1983 movie Wild Style with this performance, produced the stand-out track for the equally influential graf movie Style Wars, was among a stellar line-up on Streetsounds Electro 2 partnering with K-Ron for the 10-minute classic Beat Bop.

The neo-expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat was part friend, part foe. But when they worked together, it was good. This video for Toxic shows both parties on form [some language not safe for work].

Basquiat succumbed to the spoils of being at the eye of the creative storm. Julian Schnabel - another prominent member of NYC's neo-expressionist movement, whose art wasn't as accomplished as Basquiat's - became a good movie director starting with a very watchable bio-pic of Basquiat.

Framing much of this scene was Collaborative Projects, known as Colab, a state-funded not-for-profit artists' collective. They put on exhibitions such as The Times Square Show in disused spaces that had a raw energy and passion that is utterly absent in today's champagne and nibbles openings.

Jenny Holzer talks about the scene in this interview. Where now, though, is the happening place? I don't think London or New York. Mexico City, maybe?

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