To outsiders, the chaotic “gentriffitication” of uninhabited buildings by local street artists and “taggers” might seem like some bleeding-edge trend, but it has been a (sur)reality for decades. San Francisco, New Orleans, Cleveland, Toronto, and other cities were among the first to see less-than-desirable properties adorned with universes of pattern, poetry, image, and even spray-painted narratives illuminating injustices and the occasional good deed. Hrag Vartanian reports at Hyperallergic.com on the 21st Precinct police station (closed in 1914) in Gramercy, Manhattan having been worked over by more than 65 graffiti writers and street artists. Rob Aloia, of Outlaw Arts, assembled—among others—artists Tone Tank, Sheryo, Ghost, Faust, The Yok, Rae, Mr Toll, Pixote, and Alan Ket, to wax urban shamanic inside the infamous 4-story building.
The results, created over the past few weeks, range from stunning to idiosyncratically obscure. “Some ideas work,” said Vartanian, “but most look incomplete or half-baked… [T]here’s something about this vein of graffiti and street art culture—exemplified by 21st Precinct—that’s stuck on the romantic myth of art as a fun (mostly male) free-for-all….” Vartanian certainly knows what he’s talking about, but I see the project as a 4-story Rorschach test—bound to provoke as many reactions as the spectrum of colors liberated in spaces once fraught with fear and aggression.
21st Precinct continues August 23-24, from 1-6 PM, at 327 East 22nd Street (Gramercy, Manhattan)