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  • Nicole Garvin

New York City’s Art Subculture — The Bowery Wall

Photograph by Author, Artwork by Queen Andrea

They have credited modern graffiti to an artist with the moniker Cornbread from Philadelphia in the 1960s. By the 1970s subways, they covered cars in New York City in graffiti works by artists such as TAKI 183 and JOE 182. Their name or nickname with the street number the lived spread throughout all five boroughs via the subway until Mayor Lindsey announced in 1973 an anti-graffiti initiative that would subsequently lead to the last graffiti-ed car cleaned during the late 1980s. In 1982 social scientists George Kelling and James Q. Wilson conducted experiments on the Broken Windows Theory, expanding on 1969 research by psychologist Philip Zimbardo. A major criticism of this theory is that it inherently discriminates against neighborhoods are in lower socio-economic conditions.

New York City in the 1980s saw an overall revitalization to public spaces in Manhattan and the outer boroughs. There was an influx of agencies and foundations that aimed to beautify and maintain the city, such as the MTA Art and Design agency, the renovations of Bryant Park and Tompkins Square Park. In the 1990s, the success of these programs lead to an acceleration of real estate which lead to new residents who invested in the neighborhood, some allured by the charm of its grittiness and history. However, on the Lower East Side, the new residents ended up in a moment of tension with those who clung to the freedom that the Lower East Side offered.

In 1983 Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, A-One, and Daze collaborated on a piece that covered the Bowery wall. Tony Goldman of Goldman Properties acquired ownership of the Bowery wall 1984. Despite owning the property and wanting to use it for mural space with his longtime friend and art consultant Jeffrey Deitch, the tagging of the Bowery Wall continued into the 2000s. In 2008 Goldman Properties and Deitch Projects paid tribute to Keith Haring with a recreation of the original mural, working with the Keith Haring Foundation, Deitch Projects matched the paint colors based on the foundation's extensive archival materials. The convergence of gentrification, corporate influence and graffiti leads to the question of how can we navigate the role of public art, pay homage to a grassroots movement, while being aware of cultural gentrification to promote urban recovery? For the Bowery Wall, because of the Lower East Side’s rapid gentrification, and the choice to capitalize on the commodification graffiti in 2008, is an example of a cultural shift.

- Nicole Garvin

For more information about the topics I mentioned in this post check out:

Jane Rosen, "Graffiti Spreads over New York City"—Archive, 29 March 1973”, The Guardian

George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, "Broken Windows," The Atlantic,

Dorothy E. Roberts, "Foreword: Race, Vagueness, and the Social Meaning of Order-Maintenance Policing," The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-) 89, no. 3 (1999)

#Graffiti #BoweryWall #TatsCru #StreetArt #Mural #NYCHistory #Art #bronxArtHouse #UrbanAnthropology #History #PublicArt

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