Reading the Streets: NY mural by Kerry James Marshall

Kerry James Marshall, 'Above the Line,' New York City. Photo via Friends of the High Line: http://art.thehighline.org/project/kerryjamesmarshall/

Kerry James Marshall, ‘Above the Line,’ New York City. Photo via Friends of the High Line: http://art.thehighline.org/project/kerryjamesmarshall/

 

NEW YORK – It’s not every day that one’s real estate nightmares come to life, especially during an otherwise pleasant walk on the High Line. As I looked up around West 22nd Street however, I saw the black and white, futuristic embodiment of the fear that lurks in the hearts of all New Yorkers.

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Reading the Streets: Swoon art and activism

Swoon, New York City. Photo by Ilana Novick

Swoon, New York City. Photo by Ilana Novick

 

NEW YORK – Since she last appeared in Reading the Streets, wheat paste warrior Swoon, aka Caledonia Curry, has had a very productive last two years, blurring the lines between art and activism.

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Reading the Streets: Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens

Isaiah Zagar, Philadephia, Pa. Photo by Ilana Novick

Isaiah Zagar, Philadephia, Pa. Photo by Ilana Novick

 

PHILADELPHIA – Almost every inch of Magic Gardens, the two-story indoor/outdoor wonderland – featuring a double decker backyard! – on South Street, is covered in multicolored glass tiles forming all matter of people, animals and abstract designs.

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Reading the Streets: See you in Brooklyn

Hank Willis Thomas, ‘The Truth Is I See You,’ New York City. Photo by Ilana Novick

Hank Willis Thomas, ‘The Truth Is I See You,’ New York City. Photo by Ilana Novick

NEW YORK – Hank Willis Thomas’s exhibit “The Truth Is I See You” is like a stroll through a comic book come to life in Downtown Brooklyn. Comic book speech bubbles are mounted on polls weaved in through the tree-lined promenade on the Metrotech Commons. There are no superheroes here, however, no villains terrorizing the denizens of Metrotech. There’s no fear at all, but instead, perhaps the most reassuring pieces of public art I’ve ever seen.

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Reading the Streets: Tom Fruin’s Icon series

Tom Fruin, 'Watertower,' New York City, photo by Ilana Novick

Tom Fruin, ‘Watertower,’ New York City, photo by Ilana Novick

NEW YORK – Tom Fruin’s Icon series celebrates architectural marvels from cities around the world by rendering them in stained glass. Each of the icons represents a unique symbol of the city’s architecture or economy, including a stained-glass smokestack in Detroit and a billboard in LA. For New York, Fruin began with a subject both utilitarian and iconic (and admittedly, a frequent obsession of mine): the water tower.

Watertower 3: R.V. Ingersoll watches over the City from its perch on top of 334 Furman Street, looking like stained glass. Fruin’s is not the stained glass of Catholic churches and Tiffany lamps. R.V. Ingersoll is a reference to a 2002 quilt made from found drug bags collected in and around the Ingersoll Houses, a public housing project. The colors of the bags correspond to those on the water tower. It made me feel a little queasy to learn this, that the artist literally built a quilt out of the physical manifestations of addictions and suffering, in a housing project so close to the wealth of DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights.

This time around, no drug paraphernalia was included in the making of tower. Instead, nearly 1000 multicolored plexiglass scraps that, according to a Brooklyn Magazine interview with Fruin, are either donated by Evonik Crylite or salvaged from Lower East Side sign shops, and held together with steel beams to give the sculptures structure. The water tower on Furman Street is illuminated by sunlight during the day, and uses renewable energy collected from solar panels to power the LED systems that create a light show at night.

Tom Fruin, 'Kolonihavehus,' New York City, photo by Ilana Novick

Tom Fruin, ‘Kolonihavehus,’ New York City, photo by Ilana Novick

In October 2014, Fruin brought Kolonihavehus (2010) to join the family of installations after a world a tour that included stops in Sweden, Denmark, Austria, and the Czech Republic.

Tom Fruin, 'Kolonihavehus,' New York City, photo by Shawn Hoke via thisiscolossal.com

Tom Fruin, ‘Kolonihavehus,’ New York City, photo by Shawn Hoke via thisiscolossal.com

It’s a playful response to the buildings and bridges around it; the bright colors and sharp lines make the house look like the louder, wilder younger sister of the granite and steel buildings on the skyline across the river.

Tom Fruin, 'Kolonihavehus,' New York City, photo by Ilana Novick

Tom Fruin, ‘Kolonihavehus,’ New York City, photo by Ilana Novick

Both sculptures will be around through the fall.

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Reading the Streets: Brazil’s hip-hop-obsessed twins, Os Gemeos

Os Gemeos, New York City, Photo by Ilana Novick

Os Gemeos, New York City, Photo by Ilana Novick

NEW YORK – For three blessed minutes each night in August, Brazilian street art twins Os Gemeos took over Times Square’s electronic billboards, replacing ads for cars, clothes, and comedies with their animated characters. The residency was beautiful but oddly timed; the images played only from 11:57pm-12:00am each night. I worried my inability to make it to Times Square at just the right time meant I’d missed the twins entirely, but fortunately Os Gemeos also graced 26 Second Avenue with a mural you can see anytime you like, at least until a 10-story building begins construction in the adjacent lot.

On the side of the building facing Houston Street is a lanky teenage boy wearing a backwards baseball hat and boom box slung across his shoulder like a purse, climbing his way out of the concrete. I remember those boom boxes perched on the shoulders of men walking below my fourth floor bedroom window, Run DMC, Public Enemy, and eventually Biggie Smalls blasting from the speakers, the beats mixing in with cars and buses.

Os Gemeos, New York City, Photo by Jamie Rojo via BrooklynStreetArt.com

Os Gemeos, New York City, Photo by Jamie Rojo via BrooklynStreetArt.com

The boy looks like he’s running away, climbing through the concrete of the building. I wondered if he might be running from something. Perhaps, like his creators, he’s a graffiti artist, running away from the scene of the last mural or tag. I don’t think he’s in danger—the hint of mischief in his eyes says he knows what he’s doing. Maybe he’s a ghost of one of the men with boom boxes, about to step into a changed city.

Os Gemeos’s Instagram page calls the mural an independent project that pays tribute to “to everyone that has made and continues to keep the real Hiphop alive!” No word from designers RSVP Studios or 24 Second Avenue owners AORE Holdings LLC as to when construction will start. If New Yorkers are lucky, maybe the ghost of hip-hop past can keep the eye-catching street-art mural alive just a little longer.

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Reading the Streets: Wishing on You at Times Square

Faile, ‘Wishing on You,’ New York City, photo by Ka-Man Tse for Times Square Arts via Gothamist.com

Faile, ‘Wishing on You,’ New York City, photo by Ka-Man Tse for Times Square Arts via Gothamist.com

NEW YORK – In Tibetan Buddhism, prayer wheels are revolving metal or wooden cylinders filled with a scroll containing a mantra, or inscribed with prayers. Spinning the cylinders is considered comparable to saying the mantra, encouraging devotion and contemplation. Times Square is not a place of contemplation or devotion, aside from perhaps devotion to neon, life-size Elmos and the pursuit of giant M&Ms. Even so, street art duo Faile, in collaboration with the Times Square Alliance, created Wishing on You, a prayer wheel for our consumerist times.

The wheel is made of hand-carved and painted wood, set in the middle of a gazebo on the pedestrian plaza between 42nd and 43rd Streets. In place of spiritual mantras are pictures and phrases related to consumption, like “XXX movies,” “La Elegancia” and “Lottery.” Other symbols of our desire to acquire include ads for beer, toys made of gold and some “special deliveries” that suggest illicit pleasures for the right price.

Faile, ‘Wishing on You,’ details, New York City, photos by Ilana Novick

Faile, ‘Wishing on You,’ details, New York City, photos by Ilana Novick

More abstractly, a man with a dog’s head is rendered in candy-colored pastels. He’s carrying an orange-haired woman on his shoulders. She looks impossibly relaxed, leaning into an invisible breeze. There’s also a giant car, and a mermaid sitting beneath a “50% off” sign that makes it look as if she’s the object being discounted. It’s hard out there for a mermaid.

Faile, ‘Wishing on You,’ detail, New York City, Photo by Ilana Novick

Faile, ‘Wishing on You,’ detail, New York City, Photo by Ilana Novick

The exhibit is meant to be interactive; spin the wheel and you’ll set off the neon lights at the top. Either I need to work out more, or, much like finding peace in the middle of Times Square spinning the 7-foot-tall, heavy wheel is no easy feat.

If you’re a fan of Faile, but not of Times Square or of pushing heavy objects, you can get even more of the duo at the Brooklyn Museum for “Savage/Sacred Young Minds” exhibit, which includes, among other things, a temple and an arcade.

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Reading the Streets: Kelsy Montague’s ‘What Lifts You’

Kelsey Montague, ‘What Lifts You,’ New York City. Photo by Ilana Novick

Kelsey Montague, ‘What Lifts You,’ New York City. Photo by Ilana Novick

NEW YORK – “Why was I so grouchy about this mural,” I asked myself while walking by Kelsey Montague’s What Lifts You on the corner of Mott and Kenmare streets.

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Reading the Streets: JR’s ballerina

JR, New York City. Photo by Ilana Novick

JR, New York City. Photo by Ilana Novick

NEW YORK – French artist JR’s epic urban portraits usually focus on the striving, struggling or at least non-famous. Previous projects featured favela residents in Brazil, new immigrants to New York, even random strangers willing to pose in a traveling photo booth and have their faces wheat-pasted over major international avenues, including Times Square. Lauren Lovette, a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet is none of those things, but her presence across a Tribeca building is no less arresting.

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Reading the Streets: Hanna Liden pays homage to the bagel

Hanna Liden, ‘Everything,’ New York City. Photo by Ilana Novick

Hanna Liden, ‘Everything,’ New York City. Photo by Ilana Novick

NEW YORK – Swedish artist Hanna Liden had never experienced the joys of a bagel until arriving in New York in 1998. As she told Women’s Wear Daily in a recent interview, “It took only a cream cheese-filled in a West Village park, however, for the iconic carbohydrate to make a deep impression on her. Seventeen years after that fateful bite, Liden is honoring the bagel with her new sculpture series Everything.

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