What’s the Difference Between Street Art and Graffiti? This New York Show Lays Out Their Overlaps and Historical Differences

"Graffiti vs. Street Art" is currently on view at Van der Plas Gallery in the Lower East Side.

Installation view of
Installation view of "Graffiti vs. Street Art," 2021. Courtesy of Van der Plas Gallery.

If you’ve ever wondered what the difference between street art and graffiti is, take note: A new exhibition in New York’s Lower East Side is laying out the histories of the two styles, focusing on just what sets them apart. 

Titled “Graffiti and Street Art,” the exhibition at Van Der Plas Gallery includes artists who pioneered both forms as well as contemporary practitioners, including Sinclair the Vandal, David Diaz, Con$umr, FA-Q, Christopher Hart Chambers, Frank Wore Croce, Alejandro Caiazza, Will Power, and Franc Palaia.

What the exhibition makes clear is that the two art forms have had an entwined co-existence, and artists often compete for space across urban environments. The progenitors of both styles were similarly inspired by the living urban landscape in the face of the stuffy commercial glamour of the mainstream art world during the 1970s. 

Con$umer, Love Spray. Courtesy of Van der Plas Gallery.

Con$umer, Love Spray. Courtesy of Van der Plas Gallery.

So what are the differences? Graffiti predates street art and is more deeply rooted in the act of writing, with mainly self-taught artists marking individualized tags as a kind of self-expression. Burgeoning street artists took their cues from the graffiti movement, but the style was more often practiced by trained artists and included a heavier emphasis on imagery and work with an overarching message for the public.

“Easily dismissed as vandalism by the untrained eye, both graffiti and street art, in fact, possess rich histories, rising out of vibrant local culture and environmental pressures,” says Van Der Plas Gallery in a statement. “These styles began developing into codified, although still controversial, urban art forms in the 1970s; both involving re-appropriation of public space with bold visuals, at the risk of legal repercussions.” 

See more images from Graffiti vs. Street Art” below. 

Will Power, Beloved (2020). Courtesy of Van der Plas Gallery.

Will Power, Beloved (2020). Courtesy of Van der Plas Gallery.

Christoper Hart Chambers, Twinkle Toes (2020). Courtesy of Van der Plas Gallery.

Christoper Hart Chambers, Twinkle Toes (2020). Courtesy of Van der Plas Gallery.

Juan Carlos Pinto. Courtesy of Van der Plas Gallery.

Juan Carlos Pinto, Untitled. Courtesy of Van der Plas Gallery.

Installation view of "Graffiti vs. Street Art," 2021. Courtesy of Van der Plas Gallery.

Installation view of “Graffiti vs. Street Art,” 2021. Courtesy of Van der Plas Gallery.

Installation view of "Graffiti vs. Street Art," 2021. Courtesy of Van der Plas Gallery.

Installation view of “Graffiti vs. Street Art,” 2021. Courtesy of Van der Plas Gallery.

Graffiti vs. Street Art” is on view at Van Der Plas Gallery through March 21, 2021. 


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