Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Graffiti in New York

Above: Highline in July

There's an article in the NYTimes City Room blogs about removing graffiti still dis/gracing the Highline.

Graffiti fuels an endless debate. I have found street art to be something that pleases me enormously in particular contexts. Removing it on the Highline seems absurd to me. The Highline, this old, abandoned industrial artery has been beautifully restored, but so much of its original context has been expunged. I am a huge fan of the plantings, plant geek that I am, but would find their juxtaposition with paint to be entirely appropriate to where they find themselves.

Below are some examples of graffiti I have loved. Feel free to weigh in on them, and to disagree, with erudite explanation. I am curious about why I like it, and when I would not, and what others think..

Below, the tag in the recently designed and planted Tribeca garden.

Below, above the 66 Square Foot terrace, isn't this graffiti? And more ephemeral and more toxic, and no less beautiful for it?

The roving truck that parks on Forsyth Street, early this year.

More problematic, on the newer side of the Liz Christie Garden, behind the vegetable and fruit plantings. The scraggly white tags are not working . But the black balloon is getting somewhere.

And, of course, the Gowanus Garden, in spring 2006, above. This graffiti was wiped out, as evidenced in this post.

And on the other Gowanus canal bridge, on Carroll Street. Why is this not a successful canvas?

And finally, below, good, gone art, ex Spring and Elizabeth Streets in Nolita.


  1. Wow. Really strong disagree with you on this one. The graffati that you picture, such as one of your favs at the Tribeca garden, is a gang tang. It is not art. It is not done by a person with creative expression. It is marking territory.

  2. Hi Anonymous, thanks for your comment - actually the 'gang tang' (good name for a soda) was painted by a 12 year old white boy who sneaked out from his very high rent piece of real estate next to this terrace. He may have been marking territory, and I think he did so quite nicely. Nice colour, nice form, nice balance...

    How would you define art?

  3. In the eye of the beholder, of course. As is all "art."
    But I've seen some wonderfully expressive graffiti, in many countries. There are some places where it's encouraged, to decorate new walls.
    What really peeves me is the ludicrous sums (of rate payers' money!) spent to eliminate it.
    And that recently planted garden with the blue tag? If I lived there I'd probably have a big tub of Corydalis "Blue Panda" to complement it. ;-)

  4. Maybe it's because I grew up in the heart of Philadelphia most of my life but I have more of a "hate" relationship with graffiti. I love your photo of the sunflowers from an artistic perspective but would I want that graffiti on my brick wall?...no. Now a painted mural on the other hand, maybe one depicting a September harvest on an urban farm...I could definitely appreciate that.

  5. In all my visits to The High Line I've never ben bothered by the graffiti. Maybe because I've lived in NYC so long, or maybe because part of what I LOVE about city gardens is the juxtaposition of the plants with almost everything else: the water tanks, the concrete, the sky line, and yes, the graffiti. Like all things, some is better than others, but graffiti and gardens can be a stunning and provocative combination.

  6. much depends on the skill of the tagger, doesn't it? in my relatively tame suburb of boston, there are mostly unskilled scribbles, which i hate. i see some very nice work, only very occasionally, in cambridge.

    i think it is similar to the phenomenon a few years back, when almost everyone was a writer or poet. ("oh, i'm working on my first novel") but when you heard/read some of these works, yeesh, it was like a scribble from a spray can.

  7. Oops. That would have been a typo on my part. Meant to write gang tag. I don't define graffati as art b/c in my neighborhood the tags are used to define gang boundary lines. Moreover, I have worked extremely hard to buy my house and don't appreciate a 12 year old using my garage as his/her rite of passage into ganglife. Yep. This just cuts really personally for me. I really enjoy your blog. Just commenting b/c I don't see any aesthetic value in graffiti.

  8. I think graffiti has its place in our culture. Inside, private walls, private art- outside, public walls, public art.

    But its also easy to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of something that really has lost its teeth. In NYC, colorful, large graffiti grew out of hard times and its attendant crime. Graffiti was the signifier of that crime and certainly was not well thought of. It meant disrespect and a certain helplessness of the owners of the walls it was placed on. The subways were unsafe and we lived a different life in NYC -and honestly, walking down the street, even in Manhattan, was a different experience not all that long ago (at least it feels that way to me).

    So now that graffiti has the qualities of a folk art, and is completely unthreatening, I can see its formal beauties and appreciate its juxtapositions with high design. Seriously. And it always seems fleshy to me, but in pop colors. Even like Ab Ex De Kooning or earlier Gorky. In some way it seems like these kids channeled Pop Art, Ab Ex, and Conceptualist text works and merged them in a grand public project.

    That said, for the every day citizen, thats just may sound like a bunch of gibberish.

    Marie, off topic, you commented the other day, you called something "god'sknucles." Is that another name for a mushroom?


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