Houston Bowery Wall: The full history of the iconic Street Art Wall!2 July 2019
If there were to be only one Wall dedicated to Street Art throughout Manhattan, it would obviously be the Houston Bowery Wall! His incredible story turns this wall a legend of urban art! The biggest Street Artists and graffiti artists from all over the world put their signature on. At each new artwork, this is a new show offered to New Yorkers and visitors of the big apple.
In June, I was lucky to be in New York for my birthday, and even more fortunate when I saw that a new artist had seized this mythical wall! A bit like Queen Andrea, this artist who grew up a few steps from the wall made me a private present! This specialist in typography and giant walls offers a simple and very colorful message, a note of hope and positivity with her “BELIEVE” and “LOVE MORE”. As you can see in the photo; the elevator is still on the spot; the painting was so fresh!
I’m going in this article tells you the whole story of this famous wall that has experienced many twists!
Birth of a legend: Keith Haring invested the Bowery Wall!
Before 1982; this wall was already decorated with graffiti of all kinds; but the legend really began that year when Keith Haring appropriated the entire wall by making a giant mural. He was the first to paint a giant wall in New York. A fresco that has remained without any degradation for several years!
In 1984 the real estate company Goldman Properties acquired this funny piece of wall and left the mural of Haring intact for a few months. Obviously a few months later; the fresco disappeared from the wall and for two decades it was ads that adorned it. Advertisements that were systematically tagged!
In 2008, Tony Goldman, an honorary member of Goldman Properties, and a great art lover teamed up with his friend Jeffrey Deitch – curator, collector and merchant – to revive this iconic wall and give it back to artists. They launch a program by selecting artists from around the world who will succeed and make this wall the best known in the world.
To start this project in style, they team up with the Keith Haring Foundation and commission Gotham Scenic to recreate Keith Haring’s original wall. Wall to be inaugurated for the 50th anniversary of the artist in 2008.
More than 30 Street Artists have their signature on the Mural Bowery
The greatest artists of Street Art have been invited to make a work for this wall and the story continues. So I went looking for all the frescoes since Goldman Properties started to “sponsor” this place; and that was not a trivial matter. I thought I could find everything on social networks; but the searches were more complicated than expected. Here is the whole story of the wall that I managed to recreate by spending a lot of time. For some periods, I even found anecdotes through interviews of the 90’s kept in old archives of the New York press. Finally I became a documentalist and I sincerely hope that the more than amazing story of this wall will fascinate you as much as me!
After Keith Haring, Brazil opens the ball with the duo Os Gêmeos!
In 2009 It’s Os Gemeos, two Brazilian twin brothers from Sao Paolo, who have the heavy task of succeeding Keith Haring; the challenge is raised and the work is acclaimed. The story of the wall begins to redraw. Like many identical twins Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo have a language of their own, colorful, borrowed from their daily life in Brazil and social political problems of the country. Their work is very easily recognizable thanks to the round, yellow, expressive faces representing Brazilian interbreeding.
In 2010, Shepard Fairey takes over and chaos sets in!
Shepard Fairey also known as his brand Obey takes over. He creates a special fresco, which is, in fact, a promotional work to announce his upcoming exhibition “Shepard’s May Day” and which of course is funded by Jeffrey Deitch himself! And what was to happen happened: graffiti New Yorkers have sanctioned the work and the first week all the lower part was already covered by graffiti.
Then the situation worsened, and parts of the wall were torn out showing the previous work of OS GEMEOS! The story does not say whether the previous work was kept for financial reasons or not! But in front of so much degradation some wooden panels were posed on the bottom of the work of Shepard Fairey to limit the damage. Of course these panels were immediately tagged!
In case the name of Shepard Fairey means nothing for you; it was the artist who made the famous poster “HOPE” during Barack Obama’s campaign of … just that!
Back to the roots: The Bowery Wall is adorned with Graffiti!
In August 2010 it’s the year of change; Jeffrey Deitch is appointed Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Tony Goldman takes orders and it is the gallery The Hole who takes the hand side “programming”. The gallery chooses to bring together two artists Barry McGee aka TWIST, and Josh Lazcano aka AMAZE, who will make their first collaboration. They decide to pay tribute to legendary graffiti artists with a wall full of hundreds of red tags! These two accomplices are still working together today; but have moved a little away from Street Art.
Before moving on to another artist, the gallery gives a “White card” to IRAK Grafitti Crew, one of the most famous graffiti teams in New York that has nothing to do with Iraq of course. Each graffiti team has its name in New York and each graffiti artist has his own Tag -his signature-. The wall is then polished and the team sprays a giant SACE in tribute to Dash Snow the co-founder of the team who died in 2019 at the age of 27 whose Tag was SACE.
Kenny Scharf, former friend of Keith Haring finishes the 2010 season in color!
With his friends Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring; Kenny Scharf was one of those artists who shaped the East Village; Like his friends he tried everything: sculpture, painting, fashion, performance, videos … With time remained a very colorful universe pop art, player, optimistic and happy. His wall will remain intact until June 2011. He still lives in New York and exhibits very often; he did not turn his back on street art since I came across one of his fresh frescoes in East Village!
With JR, France is honored on the Bowery Wall!
I know this will seem surprising to you, because JR is the only artist to have put a work twice on this giant wall. And the French press did not echo this first work at all! It is true that during its exhibition period from late June 2011 to late October 2011, the United States experienced one of the darkest episodes in its history. But I will still tell you the little story of this work which is the beginning of a long work undertaken by our Frenchie.
In November 2010 JR received the prestigious TED Foundation Award (Technology, Entertainment, Design). The institution then issues a $ 100,000 check to the “outstanding individual” who wins the award. Individual who is solemnly invited to make a wish that the TED Foundation will undertake. In March 2011 He launched the INSIDE OUT project by speaking in front of the assembly of the TED Foundation: “I make the vow that you mobilize for the causes that matter to you by participating in a world art project, and all together we are going to transform the world … “
The first stone of this project will be the face of this Indian in the heart of its territory, its stolen land. A tribute to the true natives of this city whose descendants are now in the reserves of Standing Rock and Pineridge. An image as you can imagine that rather shocked New Yorkers.
The FAILE duo brings back color to New Yorkers’ hearts
Radical change of style! At the end of October 2011, the Brooklyn duo FAILE brings joy and good humor to the heart of Manhattan. It is very sharp compared to the work of JR and the city needed it. We find everything that makes POP culture, references to American Comics, punchy colors, neat typography. An acidic universe which pasted up as Americans love them! FAILE was founded by Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller, today it has become a collective and it is not uncommon to see their new works at The Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn.
The Street Art of Los Angeles lands on the wall with RETNA!
It took two whole days at RETNA, on March 3rd and 4th, 2012, to impose his so special and recognizable calligraphy among all the Bowery Wall. Inspired by the Hebrew, Arabic and ancient hieroglyphic symbols, these red and blue inscriptions reflect the graffiti artist’s sensibility; he signs the Wall with the name “Ex Vandale Wild Style“. Today this artist collaborates with many brands like Louis Vuitton or Supra; but continues to exhibit in the street. He has just finished a wall in Paris nearby the subway station Saint-Philippe du Roule.
Finally ! A woman artist exposes on the wall: Aiko Nakagawa enters the scene!
It was not until four years before finally seeing the work of a woman on this iconic Bowery Wall in July 2012. Aiko Nakagawa is Japanese; she is one of the founding members of the FAILE collective. His sexy pop manga side is sometimes ultra-provocative; she brings back a touch of femininity that was missing from this wall … Her signature Aiko or Lady Aiko means “Little Love” in Japanese. A style that contrasts with the ultra-conservative Japanese education she received. Today, she is an essential artist in the world of Street Art and graffiti.
The story of the Bowery Wall could have ended there; Tony Goldman dies in September 2012; but his daughter Jessica Goldman Srebnick was already supporting his father in his artistic endeavors in New York and Miami. She takes the torch of the family business and continues the story of the wall. In October 2012 a new mural invades the wall!
A new pair of twins: How and Nosm are attacking the wall!
Only a few days after the hurricane Sandy and as soon as the water that had invaded Manhattan was no longer present, these two twins from Spain attacked the wall. They created an extremely detailed fresco where you can see a lot of light bulbs with black smoke escaping from the sunken city. Fish and electric plugs … a work that was probably directly inspired by the hurricane that had just left the city. They also called this fresco the name “The day after“.
Tribute to Martha Cooper: THE iconic Street Art photographer!
She is a key figure in New York Street Art; by the lens of her camera Martha Cooper has immortalized the entire graffiti and Street Artists works in New York over the years. She was present with Keith Haring in 1982! She is the memory of the most prolific years in terms of artistic creation! With time she became the official photographer of the Bowery Wall. So it’s no wonder that for this tribute in March 2013, the greatest artists rush to pay him a very personal tribute on the occasion of his birthday. On this fresco are the artists’ work: Aiko, Bio, Crash, Daze, Faust, Freedom, LadyPink, Terror and How & Nosm. The artists on this wall offer her a special thanks in the form of a dedication “From The Streets of the World To the 2’s & 5’s Thanks To Our Work SURVIVES! “
A Bronx legend, Crash, succeeds this vibrant tribute!
John Matos, aka Crash, is one of those legends who tagged the subways and walls of New York tunnels in the 80s. A real Bronx graffiti artist very influenced by American comics. No one was surprised when Crash starts drawing on this mythical wall a giant Popeye in March 2013! The artist in the left side refers to the Tags of the subways and right finished his work with the style “stencil” which is in the trend of graffiti of the past time.
They are much less known than previous artists and attack the wall continuously for 7 days and 7 nights in the heat wave of July 2013. For these two artists from Los Angeles, the pressure that represents this wall is huge! REVOK tells HuffPost “I feel it is my responsibility to pay tribute to the people and culture that created me, to pay tribute to New York graffiti and the movement in general”. Faced with the task at hand, the two artists are accompanied by more than 30 New York graffiti artists throughout this work that seems titanic! At the end this visually cacophonic fresco becomes a reference in the graffiti world. And one of the most appreciated by New Yorkers for a long time.
The talented SWOON illuminates the Bowery Wall
I will not hide it, SWOON is for me the most interesting Street Artist of our time. She has a very particular technique since all her collages were engraved previously. The sensitivity that emerges from her works is in line with her personal investment in humanitarian missions. She knows that the passage of Hurricane Sandy is still a trauma for New Yorkers; As a result, she decides to have Groundswell, an artist collective, unveil a series of wall murals about healing in New York’s most storm-ridden neighborhoods. The result is a majestic siren … a rebirth for some. The fact remains that from the beginning of 2014 this artwork is once again the prey of graffiti teams New Yorkers.
The wall becomes a symmetrical mesh of colors with artist Maya Hayuk
This American artist has an obsession for symmetry and complex patterns associated with lush colors. Her frescoes, often giant, recall a view of space or a view through a kaleidoscope that would point to traditional Ukrainian crafts, mandalas, or Mexican weavings. In the United States, Maya Hayuk made herself known by being the first street artist to sue Starbucks who had used her drawings without permission. Of course she did not win; street works do not have the same level of Copyright than others Artworks. Apart from 3 graffiti on the lower part; her work on the Bowery Wall remain intact from March to May 2014.
COPE2 the legendary New York graffiti artist puts graffiti back in the heart of Manhattan!
COPE2 alone embodies the history of New York graffiti! It is the graffiti artist who has most vandalized the New York subway since the 70s … And it continues to rage in Brooklyn, in the Bronx … Tags appear every day! To say that for him, the realization of this wall is a consecration would be an euphemism! For this realization he did not move away from his “wild” aesthetic and mixed bubble lettering with other elements of traditional graffiti. He couldn’t resist to invite his long-time crime partner, INDIE 184, to add his Tag on the wall. A colorful result for this summer 2014; a nice tribute to New York graffiti.
Back to the past ! The wall of Os Gemeos reappears miraculously in October 2014!
We do not know the real reason for this turnaround. The box that had been placed above the fresco of Os Gemeos has been completely removed. The painting of Os Gémeos reappears, and we can see that the five years that have elapsed have only slightly deteriorated. Looking good I found a video of this event:
Then follows a very little publicized period and also in the little article that I could find on the Web; all the visuals have been removed. It seems that the wall was a little engulfed behind the panels used to protect the works on the back building or even destroyed. I allowed myself to send an email to Goldman Properties to find out what really happened. Was the wall felled and then rebuilt? No answer for the moment. But it is clear that in April 2015 the wall resumes service and it is very clean; moreover, his damaged left corner is no longer there! Astonishing no!
Ron English comes crashing into New York with his baby Hulk: giant!
This image has invaded social networks! It is certainly the most publicized fresco since the existence of the wall! And what about Ron English? He is a living legend! He is the one who initiated in the United States the Kidnapping of billboards to make Street Art! It is also the artist who has been most involved with the courts and judges to defend the intellectual property of urban arts. He has created many satirical and iconic characters throughout his career. With this mad giant Hulk baby; it offers New York City a breathtaking work.
The entire American flag is composed of fake advertisements criticizing the American overconsumption and its excesses. You can read “Diabetic Coke” with the typography of Coca-Cola, Cereal Killer with Kellog’s typo, Bad Buddha Burger – more pounds less cents – with the image of an obese Macdonald, … A shocking work that does not please the multinational junk food. But a work adored by New Yorkers … And I will not hide it, I’m a big fan of his work too 😉
The graffiti artist Futura 2000 passes after Ron English with his “Concrete Jungle”
To pass behind a legend whose work has remained longer than expected is not an easy task. In October 2015, it was Futura 2000, a Brooklyn artist, renowned graffiti artist, to take over. It is the first graffiti artist to have mixed graffiti and abstract art. He already has a solid reputation in the world of contemporary art when he attacks the wall. He decides to offer a new vision of the wall and the urban jungle; because any colored work would go unnoticed. He creates an almost monochrome abstract work called “Concrete Jungle”. A work that completely breaks with the previous one, and which shows the diversity and richness of the talents of the world of Street Art.
Logan Hicks, the king of the stencil, spreads his life, his friends on the wall!
Logan Hicks is considered a very great stencil and serigraphist in the United States; he was born in Florida but quickly adopted New York. His stencils depicting often banal street scenes are of such detail that one would think he sees hyperrealist photography. A work of indecent precision that he realizes by hand or laser. For once I do not even recommend his Instagram, which does not pay tribute; but rather his site which is impressive! In August 2016 he attacks the wall; a work made long and difficult by his technique; he builds his fresco layer by layer with cardboard panels that he grazes with his stencils and then assemble one by one. A work of ant for this monumental fresco. An urban landscape, which, according to him, represents his past, his present and his future in New York. Small but important clarification; all the characters on this mural are friends of the artist!
The wall is adorned with Urban Mythology thanks to the duo Pichi & Avo
This duo of artists from Valencia, Spain had to brave freezing temperatures in February 2017 to get to the end of their fresco. Their particular style marries classical sculpture with urban art. For this monumental fresco they married ancient gods and graffiti to create an “Homeric Hymn to Poseidon”! Each of their works is performed on the mode of performance; they begin with the neoclassical side and gradually cover the work of graffiti so that, in the end, only the graffiti subsist!
This fresco comes to celebrate their ten years of collaboration and of course these two companions continue to work together and they’ve found a name to their style “urbanmythology”
David Choe or the biggest controversy of the legendary Bowery Wall!
June 2017: the wall of shame …
Hard to know what David Choe wanted to express in his work so much the wall was controversial from the first day! The first week the graffiti team Big Time Mafia comes to sanction the barely fresh fresco! Nobody knows if this is related to the artist who is suspected of having been a sexual aggressor … or if the graffiti team simply sanctions the work itself by considering that it is not worthy of the wall ! A few days later, the inscription “rapist” is affixed to the wall.
Then another Blood Red Tag directed by Blake, member of the BTM group, hides part of the fresco.10 days after the realization of his mural David Choe finally expresses himself on Instagram on June 17, 2017 acknowledging that he had lyrics displaced and verbally extolled deviant behavior that he would not have had to put himself in a good position. He states in his message that he has worked at length to change his behavior and apologizes to people he might have hurt by his words. The damage is done, June 18, the wall of David Choe is whitewashed, it is unclear whether Goldman Properties has made the necessary or if the artist himself wanted to whitewash. The story of the Bowery Wall is now tainted … The place becomes a hotbed of protest against sexual violence!
Redeem the wall blazon to better continue its history
In October 2017 Goldman Properties organizes a marketing coup with Instagram to boost their #kindcomments campaign. It is the English artist Lakwena who then creates a highly colorful fresco, very kaleidoscopic with the inscription “Lift You Higher” – “Rise!” Lakwena Maciver is known for her use of powerful messages, bright colors and geometric patterns. In her youth she made banners of protest for her mother in London; it was at this moment that she understood the importance of words. This fresco with a highly positive message aims to alleviate the previous scandal. In the end this new work still held two months before being covered with the mysterious name of Anna in January 2018. In March the wall is whitewashed again for the next artist whose identity is still unknown.
Banksy invests the Bowery Wall with a political fresco
It is a politically charged fresco that Banksy made in mid-March 2018 to protest the imprisonment of Zehra Dogan, a Turkish journalist jailed for painting a watercolor of the city of Nasyabin reduced to ruins following an attack armed forces of the Turkish government. She was sentenced to almost three years in prison. Banksy wanted to show the count of this unjust imprisonment and represented the journalist behind bars. At night the watercolor made by this journalist is projected above the wall. I think it’s not worth it for me to give you a little topo on Banksy because of his notoriety!
Tristan Eaton invites New Yorkers and tourists to take a break
It took nearly a week in June 2018 for Tristan Eaton, an internationally acclaimed Hollywood artist, to complete his “Intermission” fresco. A very pop fresco that incorporates all the elements of the Eaton style. This “intermission,” “pause,” represents the break everyone needs in the face of the depressing events happening in the world. The artist delivers a message by inviting people to have a break for a better start and move forward for the rest of their journey. This fresco is a huge success and it seems that the Bowery mural finally regains some of its splendor.
JR returns in collaboration with Time Magazine and tackles the sensitive subject of firearms
Personally I always find it a bit odd that we ask a foreign artist to illustrate a problem that we have in our country. When I heard about the fresco; it reminded me the Ken Loach’s American film about the Spanish War! But here is Time Magazine doing a series of interviews around the gun control debate and asking JR to illustrate it for coverage. JR will photograph all the interviewees and integrate them one by one in his editing. The result is a very powerful fresco; large-scale photojournalism without bias. It is precisely this lack of bias on the part of JR, who has firm positions on the defense of human rights, that astonishes critics. But this fresco does not lie, and it shows a picture certainly terrible, but an image that represents the reality: There are today more than 265 million firearms in circulation in the United States!
An 11 was then written on the fresco by an anonymous artist to pay tribute to the 11 victims in a Pittsburgh synagogue. On November 9, a woman transforms the 11th in XII in homage to the twelve victims of the bar Bordeline in Thousand Oaks in California. A scene of rare intensity that New Yorkers, present this day, will not forget.
Back to the roots: This is the first time in years that Bowery Mural becomes a place of graffiti
It is Wilfredo Feliciano aka TATS CRU, New York artist who began his career in the early 80s in the middle of the graffiti period in the New York subway that puts the graffiti in the spotlight on the wall. He is recognized as the greatest “typographer” of Street Art with his letters with complex shapes, varied styles with always use of explosive colors to strengthen the relief. Surprisingly other graffiti artists in the city did not come to vandalize as they do when they are famous artists like Shepard Fairey or Swoon.
The story continues…
If you held until the end of this article: Bravo! Personally I had the impression to write a book! But here I am so captivating but this story that I could not stop en route. This wall is mythical and its chaotic history is full of anecdotes. For me it represents Street Art in all its diversity; all his styles, and the engagements or not of the artists. It is a magic place that would never have existed without Keith Haring painted the first stone of the building. I will finish this article with a photo of Martha Cooper immortalizing his work.
Si cette longue histoire vous a étonné, captivé,… Merci de partager ; un petit moyen de me remercier pour ces longues recherches 😉 Et si j’ai aiguisé votre curiosité, n’hésitez pas à aller visiter pour article (beaucoup plus court) sur le Bushwick Collective ; Brooklyn c’est bien aussi !
If this long story amazed or captivated you, thank you for sharing; a small way to thank me for these long researches 😉 And if I sharpened your curiosity, do not hesitate to go visit for article (much shorter) on the The Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn! You will love it!
See you soon for new artistic adventures!