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Inside the Graffiti-Covered L.A. Skyscrapers that Drew Global Attention

This great article in the Washington Post covers what I just read about in an art-related website. I am all for this type of thing and would encourage it on all dormant gentrification projects. I wish I could go to LA and see this masterpiece! Bravo!

Here is the article since it may be behind a paywall. I have a subscription.

It’s been about five years since Actual was a regular on the Los Angeles graffiti scene. He said he got on the “straight and narrow” when his daughter was born. But when graffitists started converging on an abandoned development in the city, he thought: “Am I going to be that guy that just said, ‘Oh yeah, I saw it happen. That was cool’ — or am I going to be that dude that was a part of it?”

The sky-high graffiti covering dozens of floors of the Oceanwide Plaza development in downtown L.A., a $1 billion project that was abandoned in 2019, has captured the world’s attention. It’s created eye candy for Instagram. It’s become fodder for conversations about urban blight and foreign investment. And despite graffiti’s undeniable rise to the mainstream, it’s reignited an old debate over whether it is art or vandalism.

To the graffitists participating and the experts watching, the “bombing” — as it’s called in the graffiti world — is more than a stunt or a crime. In a culture where visibility rules, the painted skyscrapers have become a landmark, literally taking the art form to a higher level. For them, it’s a historic moment.

Actual couldn’t pass it up. On his first attempt to enter the complex, he got caught and ran out. On his second, he saw security chasing a group of graffitists and tried to enter from the other direction. Another guard was waiting. Then, on his third try, he squeezed in through a hole in a fence that was covered by a construction sign. When he got into one of the towers, heart pounding, the real challenge began: “It was a big climb,” said Actual, who, like other graffitists mentioned in this story, spoke on the condition that he be identified by his tag name to discuss the illegal artwork. He wanted to paint higher than others, but by the time he reached the 36th floor, “I couldn’t walk; all my leg muscles were just shot.” So he scoped out a spot and got to work. “It was like a trance,” he said. “You’re so high up that it’s not until you come back down that you deal with the world again.”

The effort wasn’t wasted. Susan Phillips, author of “The City Beneath: A Century of Los Angeles Graffiti” and a professor at Pitzer College in California, said in an email that it was “perhaps the most legendary roll call in the history of Los Angeles.” Roger Gastman, a longtime graffiti curator and historian, said there’s been “a boom in street work the last few years unlike anything I have seen since the 1990s,” and the buildings show “that graffiti is bigger than ever.”

The reaction was, of course, not entirely positive. The Central City Association of Los Angeles released a statement saying it was “disturbed by the images of the vandalism” and calling for the city to “address this blighted property before it becomes a further nuisance.” The LAPD said Wednesday that it had arrested four suspects and was investigating “numerous crimes.”

In a social media statement last week, it said that additional security measures would be “implemented immediately” and that the graffiti will be removed. The department did not reply to a request for further information. In California, vandalism is punishable with jail time as well as fines. On Tuesday, Michael Delahaut, who lives across the street, said he was watching police raid the buildings. To the 54-year-old, who has been in the L.A. graffiti scene since the 1980s, the creation outside his window was no nuisance — it was more like waking up and finding a masterpiece had been installed in his living room. “It would’ve taken hundreds of writers, tens of thousands of cans. It’s amazing,” he said. “I’ve been able to witness a lot of graffiti movement moments, but this might be the biggest.” 

The opportunity was created by a “perfect storm” of factors, Delahaut said. Buildings in the luxury complex, put up by Chinese firm Oceanwide Holdings, reached as high as 55 stories before the company put the project on hold in 2019 because of financial troubles, the Los Angeles Times reported. In December, the security company responsible for the property sued the developer, saying it had stopped paying. Oceanwide Holdings did not respond to a request for comment. After the first night that pieces started going up, Delahaut said, he expected security to ramp up. It didn’t. By the next night, “it was clearly a scene,” he said.

Delahaut watched with the fascination of a curator. He admired the typography, kept a record of the artists’ progress — noting that he might need it for a later exhibition — and likened the work to the classic style captured on the cover of Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s canonical 1988 book, “Subway Art.” (He also compared it to a smaller project on a building in Miami last year.) As a former graffitist himself, he couldn’t help but think through the logistics: “The process of getting into the building, climbing up the stairs and figuring out how much you got to carry,” Delahaut said. “Graffiti is so much more than the act itself.” Some have looked at the graffiti as a symbol for the state of Los Angeles.

Phillips, the author and professor, said that in a place increasingly molded by private money, the work is a “powerful commentary about who gets to shape what.” Stefano Bloch, a cultural geographer at the University of Arizona who studies graffiti, called it “an exposé on the failure of oversized development,” made “in vibrant colors that force us to look up.”

But the artists are split on their motivations. Aqua, a graffitist and fine artist who worked on the high-rise project, said in an email that for those involved, it was all about location. “It is in the heart of the city with high visibility. What a gem!” For Actual, the work gave new voice to the streets. “The money invested in [the buildings] could have done so much for this city,” he said. Now, he said, the graffiti is a reminder: “That’s every single kid in this city just putting their name down, showing they exist and taking the city back.”

 


The Celebrity Who Is Now Occupying Basquiat's Noho Studio

File this under pretentious and disgusting:

Guess who's about to move into Jean-Michel Basquiat's old studio in Manhattan's Bowery neighborhood? It's the film star Angelina Jolie, who will pay a monthly rent of $60,000 for the property. From now on, call it Atelier Jolie.

The Manhattan building that once housed the studio and living quarters of late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has found a new tenant. Last week, actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie announced that she had secured 57 Great Jones Street, a two-story structure owned by Andy Warhol for 20 years, for a new creative endeavor platforming underrepresented fashion workers. With 6,600 square feet at her disposal, Jolie is working to create “a community of creativity and inspiration, regardless of socio-economic background” by providing resources and support to an international network of tailors through Atelier Jolie.

John Roesch and Garrett Kelly, the two Meridian Capital Group brokers who negotiated the deal, confirmed to Hyperallergic that Jolie signed an eight-year lease on the historic building that had been on the market for $60,000 a month since last November. Pop artist Andy Warhol bought 57 Great Jones Street, situated in Manhattan’s Noho neighborhood, in 1970 before leasing it to his close friend and fellow artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, in 1983. Basquiat both lived and made art in the space until his untimely death at age 27 in 1988.

Basquiat, a Brooklyn native of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, worked prolifically in the space as he continued to contest the boundaries between so-called “high art” and “low art” through his signature street art style that addressed themes of race, class, religion, and mortality. During the 1980s, Basquiat and Warhol shared a very close friendship, operating as collaborators, confidantes, and even creative competitors. Their friendship was widely publicized, but became fractured after their joint exhibition’s poor reception also yielded characterizations of Basquiat being “an art world mascot.” Though the two never formally reconciled, Warhol’s death in 1987 reportedly contributed to Basquiat’s downward spiral alongside his intense rise to fame and mistreatment as a Black man in the arts scene. Basquiat was found dead in the Noho apartment on August 12, 1988, from a heroin overdose.

In 2016, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation installed a plaque honoring Basquiat on the building’s exterior, which had long been tagged by graffiti artists paying tribute to the late visionary. Village Preservation’s Executive Director Andrew Berman described the building as “a uniquely significant part of New York City’s cultural heritage and landscape,” expressing pride in its landmark designation.

“It is our hope that this building will remain intact and in some way accessible to the public forever, in order to allow all who wish to the ability to appreciate its historic significance,” Berman told Hyperallergic.

The building’s first floor is home to an exclusive, invite-only Japanese restaurant called Bohemian. Neither Atelier Jolie nor the restaurant could be reached for inquiries.

Roesch told Hyperallergic that Meridian Retail Leasing negotiated the deal with Jolie for about six months. “We had a ton of offers from reputable operators, but her concept seemed best fit for the building and its history,” he said. Perhaps nodding to Basquiat’s reuse of existing materials for the surfaces of his work, Atelier Jolie pledged a commitment to sustainability through the use of “leftover, quality vintage material and deadstock,” focusing on the production of “quality heirloom garments with personal meaning.”


Risk Recieves Lifetime Achievement Award

‘An Addiction I Could Never Shake’: Street Art Pioneer Risk on How He Brought Graffiti From the Street to the Gallery

RISK-2-1024x683To write his first bit of graffiti, a young Kelly Graval didn’t travel very far. He staked out his high school until it was dark, before jumping the fence with four cans of red and white spray paint. On a wall, he painted “a big piece” that simply read “SURF,” a nod to his hobby.

“It was terrible,” he said of his debut as a graffitist—though by the next day, the work managed to draw the attention and admiration of his classmates, most of whom, back in the early ‘80s in Los Angeles, had yet to encounter any form of graffiti.

From there, Graval’s canvases would only grow larger and farther as his adventures in graffiti took him to train yards and freeways across L.A. His legend would develop alongside his tag, Risk, an apt moniker that captured the rebellion and peril inherent in graffiti writing, and that, yes, he borrowed from the board game.

For Risk, it made sense that he should persist in writing and tagging the city. “You have the art form and you have the strategic form,” he told Artnet News of graffiti. “It’s just an addiction that I could never shake.”

Decades on, his endurance is paying off. Recognized as a pioneer in the West Coast graffiti scene, Risk has seen his work included in exhibitions from “Art in the Streets” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles to “Beyond the Streets” in Los Angeles and New York. His recent forays into fine art and sculpture, too, have fetched prices upwards of $200,000.

Over Art Wynwood weekend which was from February 16 through 19, Risk will be collecting the fair’s Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award for continuing to “innovate and shape contemporary art through his work.” His sculptures will feature within the fair, which is presented by Art Miami, and his graffiti art will take up an entire mural that flanks the entrance.

Certainly, the honor is “mind-blowing,” he said, but it’s also been gratifying to watch what once was deemed vandalism enter the art conversation.

“My whole life I wanted graffiti art to be a mainstream art form—to just be considered a genre of art. I wanted to see this art form be in galleries and museums, and celebrated around the world,” he said. “And now it is.”

Read the full article here.


A Look Inside the Batcave

Like all great graf places, the batcave in Brooklyn is slated for demolition to build ... wait for it ... luxury apartments. But here it is as is.

Dating back to the 1950s, the Gowanus Batcave is one of the City's oldest graffiti havens. Similar to its Queens counterpart 5 Pointz, the Batcave is being demolished and converted into residences. In this immersive 360° video from the New York Times, peek inside the graffiti-filled Batcave before it is gone for good.

 


25 Places Reborn Through Graffiti

In this list offered on Atlas Obscura, there are 25 international places that have been reborn through street art and graffiti.

Notice that New York City is not listed. And yet this city had what would arguably be the pinnacle of street art revitalization. That was 5Pointz, an industrial square block dedicated to artists around the world. Destroyed in 2014 it is now the site of two vampire towers of glass, isolation and ugliness that the developers have the temerity to name "5Pointz".

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Abandoned or forgotten places can become otherworldly canvases.

There are endless stretches of abandoned structures scattered around the world, many forlorn and destined to be reclaimed by nature—eventually. In the meantime, many abandoned factories, alleys, hotels, and more have been transformed into living canvases. With every brushstroke and release of spray paint, these places, some officially sanctioned, others not so much, get some injection of new life, as art museums without the white walls. 

Just outside Las Vegas is a former shopping outlet that has been reimagined as a modern art gallery. Due to financial issues, the Primm Outlets were forced to close their doors, until a new owner stepped in with a new approach. Artists were invited to decorate the walls and remaining storefronts of the now Prizm Outlet, and it’s seen more visitors than ever before. In Stockholm, an abandoned industrial village is now one of Europe’s largest graffiti exhibits. Each spring, graffiti writers and mural artists across Sweden descend on what’s known as the Snösätra Wall of Fame to refresh the artwork and craft new pieces. From an abandoned sniper post to an alley that is the largest outdoor art gallery in the Northwest United States, these are 25 of our favorite places reborn from the end of a nozzle. 

Check it out here.


An Atrocity Rises From the Ashes of 5 Pointz

Before and After Photographs of 5Pointz Mural Site Show a Bleak Transformation


Tel Aviv's Florentin District is Losing Its Wonderful Street Art

Florentine 04-Rami-Meiri-Photo-Lord-K2-scaledThe Times of Israel sheds light on an international travesty. Artist neighborhoods filled with street art are being over run by developers and destroyed. One such neighborhood is the Florentin in Tel Aviv. Read more here --

The hub of Tel Aviv’s street art scene remains Florentin. Operators regularly offer guided street art tours for foreigners and Israelis alike to view the art spread throughout the neighborhood. Abarbanel Street and its surrounding industrial zone of wood and metal workshops — as well as art galleries — are the street art epicenter.

But with Florentin’s ongoing, fast-paced gentrification, the art on its streets is dwindling. In several parts of the neighborhood, in fact, street art was recently painted over by the municipality. Due to soaring real estate prices, rival developers are battling over the land in their haste to build residential housing. And as they do this, they are stripping away the neighborhood’s soul, driving real estate prices even higher, while offering little to the public — apart from more living quarters in an overcrowded section of a city that is in dire need of cultural spaces.

“Street Art Tel Aviv” — the first in our series of books documenting Tel Aviv’s urban art scene — captures the streets of the city when they still largely belonged to us.

 


The End of Centralia's Graffiti Highway

Atlas Obscura reports the end of a stretch of old highway in Delaware that over the years has become decorated with graffiti.

A trio of camera-toting 20-somethings stumble out of a Delaware-plated Honda Civic onto the shoulder of a rural Pennsylvania highway. It’s summer 2020, and amid the pandemic, they’ve road-tripped nearly three hours up circuitous, mountain roads to reach their off-the-grid destination: the notorious, smoldering, coal-country ghost town of Centralia. They’ve come to this remote corner of Columbia County to take in one sight in particular, the vast spray-painted surface a mile of the former Route 61, commonly known as “Graffiti Highway.”

But, to their surprise, the promised anarchic, visual feast just beyond the “No Trespassing” signs is gone. As of early April 2020, the colorful art, scrawled wisdom, and periodic vulgarity of the highway was officially laid to rest by the property’s current owners, Pagnotti Enterprises, on the grounds that one person’s postapocalyptic wonderland is another entity’s liability. The road’s messages—from “You fell in love with my flower but not my roots,” to “Out of nothing came everything,” to “OBEY … if you want to”—now rest beneath pyramids of dirt.

Formally closed in 1993 due to a decades-long mine fire simmering beneath its surface, this abandoned 0.74-mile stretch of road had achieved cult status in the first decade of the 2000s. After years of disuse, it took on new life as an artistic commons adorned with everything from pineapple-carapaced turtles to less-than-family-friendly fare, often of the male anatomical variety. By 2017, it was anecdotally cited by some locals as the sixth-most-visited attraction in the state. Its warped surface was a magnet not just for taggers, but also for horror fans and gamers in search of one of the inspirations behind Silent Hill (the 2006 movie based on the video game), mountain bikers, skaters, ATV enthusiasts, photographers, local party people, ghost hunters, and the generally curious.

The Graffiti Highway had become a destination in its own right.
The Graffiti Highway had become a destination in its own right. Flickr/R. Miller/CC BY 2.0

Around the Graffiti Highway, a new community sprang up, one born of—yet completely separate from and sometimes opposed by—the one that preceded it. As Johnson notes, it became a space where people chose to assert, through their tags, that “I was here, I can be here, I’m a part of this.” With interest fueled by Facebook groups, the Silent Hill franchise (Roger Avary, one of the screenwriters behind the film adaptation of the horror game, cites Centralia as an atmospheric muse), and cable television features, it morphed into Centralia 2.0. The Graffiti Highway became Centralia’s new public square, offering visitors a barrage of constantly evolving, often droll, visual novelty.

As locals reported, graffiti had indeed migrated off the highway.
As locals reported, graffiti had indeed migrated off the highway. 80schic84 (Atlas Obscura User)

As the highway’s popularity grew, the remaining locals called for increased patrols and citations. Some reported that the graffiti was creeping away from the highway and into neighboring areas, including cemeteries. Planned events, including a Barbie Power Wheels race that drew hundreds of RSVPs in February 2017, prompted enforced closures. Still, other observers—including Dave DeKok, author of Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire—point out that accidents on the site were few and far between. On April 8, DeKok told a local news outlet, “It was just a lot of people coming together. It was a lot of fun and it wasn’t hurting anyone.”

During the week of April 6, a three-day burial process took place. A convoy of 400 dump trucks descended on the area, delivering between 8,000 and 10,000 tons of dirt. One by one, their beds were lifted and tailgates opened. Cascades of dirt piled onto the colorful marks below.

The Graffiti Highway’s end has not gone unmourned or uncontested: several change.org petitions have called on officials and business leaders to reverse the burial. At press time, one appeal to Governor Tom Wolf had nearly reached its goal of 35,000 signatures. Impassioned, wistful remembrances, forlorn musings, and heartfelt pleas fill the comments. People refer to it as “one of the most beautiful places in Pennsylvania,” a “place of free expression, creativity and adventure.” One person declares its destruction, “a disservice to the beauty of human art juxtaposed in nature.”


Breaking News-- Appeal Upheld in 5Pointz Artist Lawsuit

Great news--

 

Appeals court backs $6.7M award to Queens' 5 Pointz artists

 

 

Twenty-one graffiti artists are due $6.7 million under a court judgment upheld Thursday against a developer who destroyed their works at the famed 5Pointz art mecca in Queens. The artists sued developer Gerald Wolkoff, taking their case to an unprecedented trial arguing their work at the old Long Island City factory was work of “recognized stature” protected by the federal Visual Artists Rights Act, a federal law that took effect in 1990.