As you’re reading this, someone is likely standing in front of the north east corner of Bowery and Houston, snapping a picture of one of its ever changing murals. Currently, artist Swoon was commissioned to decorate the wall and used the opportunity to remember Hurricane Sandy, with a formal dedication on its anniversary this past October 29th. But this space wasn’t always legal or a place where it was safe enough to be so snap happy. It wasn’t until Tony Goldman of Goldman Properties – the owner of the wall – collaborated with Jeffrey Deitch and The Hole NYC, that the wall became a legitimately curated temporary exhibition space.
When Keith Haring and Juan Dubose first collaborated to decorate the wall in 1982, their intention was to pay homage to the new art scene that was rising in the neighborhood. A common path between Soho and the Lower East Side, the stretch of Houston was perfectly trafficked and visible. Goldman later employed the help of Deitch to recreate Haring’s vivid orange neighborhood beacon in 2008, honoring what would have been Haring’s 50th birthday. Just as Haring and Dubose saw the mural as more than graffiti, Goldman and Deitch too saw the importance of revitalizing and repurposing the wall, resurrecting it to champion new artists continuing Haring’s tradition.
South Bronx native graffiti artist Crash also had a chance earlier this year in March to use the wall as his canvas, choosing iconic cartoon character Popeye to punctuate the mural. He explained the importance of having the opportunity and the wall’s actual context in street art to the Brooklyn Street Art blog, saying, “when I was approached to paint it, I felt the weight of over 30 years of painters that I’ve admired, and felt it an honor to be someone to be added to that group. The piece was meant to depict the mix of Pop and Graff/Street art and how it’s developed in the last 40 years.”
Crash is one of the many top tier artists that Goldman and The Hole NYC have brought in to put a new face on the wall – something that would have landed them behind bars, not endorsement deals and solo gallery shows prior to their involvement. Shepard Fairey used the opportunity to promote his May Day installation, which ran at Deitch’s gallery, deceased artist Dash Snow was also honored there, with a giant recreation of his signature “Sace” tag, Barry McGee opted to use only tags as a throwback to the wall’s roots, and duo FAILE chose an entirely refreshing approach, using their layered wheat pasting techniques.
In a city that’s where even subway steps aren’t free from being used for advertising space, it’s important to the art scene at large to have a legendary spot like this preserved. It’s not only a tribute to Haring and others being brave enough to push against the traditions of the art world and create a new valid form of expression, but it’s continuing on an important local tradition that does enhance the neighborhood. The only glaring difference, is that the artists haven’t had to mask their identities and work stealthy at night, afraid to be arrested for their vision.