Thursday, April 1, 2010

Houston Wall

The graffiti wall on Houston is scheduled to undergo another change, from the Os Gemeos mural to something from Shepard Fairey. (He's also looking for more wall space.)

While we're enjoying these murals, it's important to keep in mind their hidden subtext--how they are, in fact, a cog in the wheel of the Big Machine that is turning the Bowery into a luxury lifestyle destination.

2008, from Super Touch

Long an open canvas for graffiti artists, the celebratedly sanctioned muraling of the Wall began in 2008 when Deitch Projects recreated Keith Haring's work from the 1980s, one that Jeffrey Deitch called, "a fabulously renegade piece of New York City public street art."

As Deitch told the New York Sun, "At the time, the corner of Houston and Bowery was the center of the downtown art world, because the galleries were in SoHo and the artists were in the East Village. 1982 was the peak of this downtown art world culture, and it's also when it started going mainstream. This project is a celebration of the dynamism of this time."

Original mural, 1982 photo by Tseng Kwong Chi

The dynamism of renegade street art going mainstream is one that gets many people riled up.

Mr. Brainwash gets labeled a FAKE and covered up by street artists. D*Face stops defacing and moves into a gallery. Shepard Fairey designs an ad campaign for Saks. The Cooper Square Hotel adds "graffiti" to its wall.

Sometimes, walking the streets, it's hard to tell if you're looking at gallery art, graffiti, or advertising. Questions about authenticity, reality, and intention arise. As for the Houston wall, it is playing a transformative role in the Bowery's conversion from Skid Row to intentionally created "art district" to high-end consumer playground--a replay of the Soho Model.

And it just happens that the man who created the Soho Model is also the owner of the Wall.

1983, photo by Martha Cooper

Since perhaps as early as 1984, the Houston wall has belonged to a real estate company called Goldman Properties. Developer of luxury condos and hotels, art philanthropist Tony Goldman donates the wall space for the Deitch murals.

Writes Ocean Drive magazine, "'Visionary' is the word most often used to describe Tony Goldman by those who have worked with him during his 40 years of rejuvenating neighborhoods. 'Tony will take the most barren, uninteresting space and infuse it with a vitality that you just didn’t think was possible.'"

Goldman is credited as a creator of liveable neighborhoods. Haute Living has called him "the founder of New York’s Soho... He was a pioneer into the area, snatching up properties as quickly as he could...renovating and turning them into lofts, the living style of the future."

Here's the Goldman guide to Neighborhood Building 101. Simply put: "Control the street life" and "effectuate what the vibe is going to be."

1990: photo by Verplanck

The New York Times this week featured Goldman and his move into Miami's Wynwood neighborhood, which appealed to him because, he said, “It had an urban grit that was ready to be discovered and articulated.”

The Wynwood street artists who came before Goldman aren't entirely happy about the project. Wrote The Biscayne Times, "The murals at 'Wynwood Walls' are not graffiti. They are paintings, and Goldman has hired 24-hour security to make sure no one defaces them. As [artist] BooksIIII points out: 'Look, they’ve got tended grass and lighting and whatnot. Our stuff is still unpoliced; It’s just out there on the street.'"

Wynwood has also been known as "Little San Juan" since the 1950s, and Goldman, according to the New York Times, believes the Puerto Rican population there won't be displaced by his plans. But we all know how Soho-ification goes.

2006 photo, OtherThings

For years, until Goldman and Deitch's Haring recreation, the Wall was, as Luna Park says, "a highly contentious graf spot." Often (but not always) illegally, they painted over each other without the interference or direction of mastermind gentrificationists or urban Svengalis. It was, by and large, an organic thing. It just happened--unlike hyper-gentrification, which doesn't just happen, but is carefully plotted, orchestrated by the powerful and the patient.

2006, legal Jace mural, from Razor Apple

The Fairey show signals the end to Deitch Projects and I wonder what will happen to this wall, once it has outworn its use. Will it be sold? Torn down? Or will it be permitted to fall back into the hands of renegades?

If there are any left in the neighborhood.

2007, legal OMNI, from Super Touch

More NYC street art:
Stolen Legos
The Decapitator
Bloody Payphone
D*Face Paints
Industrial Art
Mom & Popism
Revs/Cost Vanishing


EV Grieve said...

“It had an urban grit that was ready to be discovered and articulated.”


I think he meant, “It had an urban grit that was ready to be glossed over and commercialized.”

Melanie said...

I would love to know what some of the graffiti means...the stuff on stores and walls

Bryan said...

I get your point about the institutionalization of street art but also recognize that graf has been mainstreamed for a quarter century -- at least since the breaksploitation burst of the mid 80s (from the sides of trains into gallery space in soho) and worry too that the alternative -- tear down that shitty little slab of concrete and build a bank branch -- would be not too far behind if people like Goldman didn't realize the commercial value of providing urban "atmosphere" at that corner.

What I'm really itching to see is if Keith McNally lets the wheatpasters put shit up all over the outside of his new pizza place, which in every other respect looks like it's trying too hard to blend in. (and again, could be worse: look at DBGB!)

Jeremiah Moss said...

i agree, the murals are better than a bank. which brings up that die-hard dilemma, what i think of as the BTAB (Better Than A Bank) Effect.

SK said...

Yeah, because crack addicts and broken whiskey bottles are way better than nice hotels. Let's turn every place into Mars Bar because what people want to live next to.

Anonymous said...

really interesting and complex post - BN

marjorie said...

great post. thank you.

Unknown said...

I think SK's remark is a good reminder of another dilemma that exists in these gripes: Many of us forget the downsides to our much loved memories of older New York. Or, as is more and more often the case, people weren't even here to witness them. It's an endless argument over which version of New York is better. "Sure, things are commercialized and suburbanized but I sure don't miss looking over my shoulder every five feet, or calling the cops about my heroin-addicted neighbors." But I don't really think it's that simple or black and white. The city didn't need to change so drastically just to be cleaned up. It's been an undemocratic process in which many of us who loved the old days are ignored rudely by people who just got here. And frankly, I think one of the most important lessons in all this is that New York has always been a place where people do live next to Mars Bar and a nice hotel at once. Because this is a "real" place, not one that's planned within an inch of its life. Or at least it shouldn't be, not in the sense of the culture of its streets and businesses.

Caleo88 said...

I agree with Gardiner. I moved to the city in 88', in order to be apart of what the city was at that time.And NYC was at that time a city that contained ALL dimensions of a great metropolis, brand new as well as broken down. The snippy little shits who showed up 12 months ago and complain about old school New Yorkers that complain about what's lost can't conceive of what's been lost, and how renegade this town really was. It's great vitality rose from the distinct neighborhoods and forgotten spaces that could be exploited by the brave and the crazy.Much of the roots of the music/fashion/culture that is sold to these young brats today was birthed in the dirty streets of old New York. And if it wasn't for the denizens of that glorious city, the world would have been a much more boring place.

John said...

I disagree. I would rather have one of those ubiquitous bank branches. That is, I would rather have something organic and real, rather than something that is manufactured to seem real, but isn't. And graffiti that is commissioned by some super-rich developer ceases to be graffiti. I am reminded of the relatively new Herzog & de Meuron luxury condo at 40 Bond Street, fronting an oddly-shaped gate inspired by graffiti in some pathetic shout-out to edginess or something. If anything, the whole nature of graffiti is that it deliberately eschews boundaries and openly mocks the idea of a separation between private property and public space, whereas a gate is the very embodiment of that separation. There is supposed to be something inherently transgressive about graffiti, in that you are appropriating someone else's property; but if you take that out of the equation, then its just like any other fake crap increasingly populating this city. At least a bank is real. It may suck. It may be soulless. But it will have gotten there because that's the way the pendulum was swinging at the time. And then one day, it will swing in the other direction, and the bank won't be there anymore either, and something else will be, because this city has no memory, and that is the most real thing anyone can say about it.

SoHo Oldtimer said...

This is not intended to flame or attack. It is an attempt to accurately correct revisionist history and spin.

Tony Goldman is a legend in his own mind!

He has a well-tuned publicity machine and no one ever calls him on it.

What did he do to be called the "father of SoHo", except name himself that? In fact, he did more to try to ruin SoHo than improve it.

E.g, he owns the Rousse building on Greene (110?) and a couple of lots on that block. Big deal.

He did nothing to get SoHo zoned for the artist residents, nor get it landmarked, etc.
In fact, the SoHo Alliance(the people fighting Trump SoHo, and whose members did get SoHo's artists' zoning and landmark status) in the early 80s had to take him to court because he violated the zoning when he attempted to open an oversized night club across from 110. Eventually, he had to settle for the smaller Green St. cafe.

He tore that and some other bldgs down ten years ago to build a huge luxe condo. Lots of people have done that in SoHo. He's not special.

His tenants are, let's be kind, are not wild about him. He is currently trying to oust a quaint antique store that rents from him on Mercer to open up a huge late-night restaurant, the last thing SoHo needs.

He tried to lure the Meat Market's "Soho House" to 110 Greene, but the neighbors convinced Soho House they would face a liquor license battle and they went to the Meat Mkt instead.

He also rented out in the 90s to the notorious club, Spy, on Greene Street that introduced "bottle service" to the world. Some contribution to the arts, Tony!
Spy was a disaster. Loud obnoxious drunks would spill out at 4am wakening everyone for blocks.

He's an "art philanthropist" because he lets some grafittist paint on a wall on a lot so tiny he cannot build yet another of his luxe condos? Please!

His SoHo artist tenants have had many battles with him, and I know persoanlly several who live in fear that he will yet evict them.

Why this landlord was given so much cred by you is incredible.

Don't believe the hype!

glamma said...

tony goldman basically sounds like the devil incarnate.

Anonymous said...

I am pleased to see that you have my black and white mural that Elsa Rensaa and I did, in, I guess, 1990. The mural was based on my drawings and was a political statement referring to the struggle against gentrification on the LES. All the writing on the Wall came from the chiseled writing on the downtown courthouse - was about truth and justice. The mural was never defaced and lasted most of the summer until Goldman, pissed, did the first commercial mural- an advertisment for some yuppie wine bar.

This commercial mural was done by Chico. I took over some buckets of paint and threw paint all over the mual. Then went and told Chicos people what I did. He came to me and asked me to pay for his paint. I said no, that he was wrong not to come and tell me that he was going to go over me. I was sensitive to the fact that he had a paying job and I could respect that, but not without talking to me. He got his money and he could get more from Gldman to fix it up, but nothing from me.

Anyway this is how I met Chico. Later we became friends and I support and respect his major contribution to LES mural culture. Props, love and respect to Chico.

The next Bowery & Houston mural I was involved with you have not posted a picture. It was the recent Deitch/Goldman recreation of the original Keith Haring mural. This mural was "fixed up" by LA II (Angel Ortiz). This was also a political statement. I have been helping LA II to get his deserved recognition for his immense contribution to creating Keith Haring as a mainstream artist. I was with LA II when he took over the Wall, using my ladder. This is why LA II put my name on the Wall. This battle has pitted me against Jeffery Deitch. This Wall was not touched by anyone, not even Deitch.

Following is a part of where my fight with Deitch is now. I need help with this battle. So if there are any warriors out there willing to step up, would appreciate the help.

My email is too long- where can I send the Deitch information to? Is there an email address?

Clayton Patterson

Anonymous said...

I live near Wynwood and it's the location that has it doomed for gentrification (visit and you'll see why that's a great thing). The southeast boundary is the Arsht center, a nearly billion dollar opera house. On it's north east is the Design District and a Midtown. Straight east is the bay and the closest Miami land to Miami Beach. It's a great central location.

There are other condos already built in Wynwood and a very large section of it is warehouse space or existing galleries. Finally, the Puerto Rican population there is now a loose community at best, mostly living in poverty.

Mike Clelland! said...

I lived in that neighborhood in 1983, when that Keith Harring image was painted there. It was quickly defaced with graffiti. Someone painted BIG CUTE SHIT across the "artwork"

Anonymous said...