By the 1980s, New York City mayor Ed Koch launched a campaign to remove graffiti from subways. In response, Rammellzee began broadcasting Gothic Futurism through paintings and sculptures forged in his Tribeca apartment instead. They depicted volcanic, cosmic spaces where jagged letters, as sharp as scythes, exploded from shiny pools of resin, leaving splatters of neon spray paint in their wake. Often, they took aim at their enemy—society itself—represented by chains, handcuffs, and gaseous, sickly green clouds.
Curator and writer Carlo McCormick, who co-curated the Red Bull show, met Rammellzee in the early ’80s. By that time, “he had already transformed the act of graffiti into a fine art form and radical philosophy,” McCormick explained to Artsy. “He was always that far ahead of the game, and taking it someplace beyond our understanding.”
Word spread of Rammellzee’s mystical, graffiti-inspired paintings—which were also newly sellable, now that he made them on portable boards instead of on the surfaces of trains. The art world’s downtown galleries took notice, and he began showing across the U.S. and Europe.
In 1987, he had a sprawling exhibition of paintings (and 800-pound spray-painted marble sculptures) at Galleria Lidia Carrieri in Italy. By that point, he had already gone from illegal street artist to critical darling. That same year, in an Artforum review of a New York solo show, McCormick noted that Rammellzee had already “propelled…to stardom.”
A diverse swathe of works from this era will fill Red Bull’s second floor. But the real Gothic Futurist gold is on the first floor, where the sculptures and theories Rammellzee developed in the 1990s and 2000s will be brought to life in an all-encompassing installation depicting his cosmic, semiotic war. “The viewer will walk through a battle that’s poised to kick off,” Wolf explained.
Around 1991, Rammellzee began exhibiting less and retreating into his home-cum-studio more. “The shows started to thin, but the myth was only gaining steam,” said Wolf. “His theories became more complex and it marked the beginning of what, arguably, was his magnum opus.”