Does graffiti enhance New York City real estate or is it a misappropriation of private property and our public visual space? The relationship between NYC walls and street art has always been fraught with controversy; the latest wrinkle seems to be to have developers give about-to-be-demolished edifices over to the artists for licensed, noncriminal, uninhibited expression. In December 2006, the Wooster Collective put together “Wooster on Spring,” a spectacular exhibit in which dozens of street artists went to town on 11 Spring St., a building that was going to be turned into luxury housing; some of the greatest graffiti artists in the world descended on SoHo to make sure that every nook and cranny was covered.
Over the last few months, we’ve had to say goodbye to the Queens capital of legal graffiti, 5 Pointz, which has now been whitewashed and will be demolished (which was always its destiny) to make room for luxury rentals. The latest building to get an artistic send-off is 327 East Twenty-Second St., the former 21st Precinct station house (from 1863 to 1914) that Suzuki Capital is turning into boutique condos. But before the wrecking ball arrives, a group of street artists has decorated virtually every possible space, transforming it into a graffiti lover’s paradise. (It opened last weekend and will remain on view this Saturday and Sunday only.) Savior Elmundo, Pesu Art, and Outlaw Arts invited such friends as Bad Pedestrian, bunny M, Cash4, Curb Your Ego, Dizmology, Erasmo, GIZ, Matt Siren, Mr. Toll, Pixote, Queen Andrea, and Zoens to participate, giving each a specific area for them to show what they can do.
Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali square off against each other in the ring. Elle’s prone wax woman melts as candles burn down across her body. Vexta’s bird flies out of the box. Rambo pays tribute to Al Pacino as Scarface. You can talk photography with Jesper Haynes in his darkroom. RAE creates a Basquiat-influenced mesmerizing blue bedroom. Chris RWK warns us that Robots Will Kill, and Mr. Toll equates skulls with dripping fried eggs — your brain on drugs, perhaps? Hellbent amazes with a psychedelic rainbow explosion. Sheryo & the Yok brilliantly turn a room red. N. Carlos Jay honors the Gashouse District battle between cops and graffiti artists. Watch out for Adam Dare’s brokenhearted chained rabbit. And you might want to stay away from Nick Tengri’s bathroom filled with broken glass, as well as another one bathed in blood. And URNY (SKI & 2ESAE) reminds everyone that this was a police precinct by writing such statements as “Stop the police from murdering people” and “You have the right to remain silent. . . . Anything you say can & will be used against you!!!” Meanwhile, others claim that “Graffiti is now for the bourgeois” and that “Artists shouldn’t work for free.”
Legal graffiti is always a bit tricky — the “criminal” element is a large part of its draw — and many of the works, including those on paper, wood, and canvas, are for sale. But the debate over the commercialization of graffiti style has long been over among the cognoscenti, and the art market and the real estate market, two of the more exciting arenas of ego and money in NYC, have combined here to produce another awe-inspiring, evanescent show — as fleeting as fame and fortune ever are.