A 15-foot-tall crocheted mural that appeared, unauthorized, on the side of a private Bushwick residence and has since stirred debate about gentrification and street art is coming down today. Rob Abner, who manages Bushwick Flea on 52 Wyckoff Avenue — a market the wall borders — announced on Facebook yesterday that the two-month-old work is coming down, although he questioned this turn of events, writing, “what does taking the piece down accomplish? … It was a source of enjoyment.” Abner confirmed with Hyperallergic this morning that the artist, London Kaye, will remove the mural at 2pm.
We spoke yesterday with Kaye, who has installed many yarn works across New York City and said that it was her decision to remove the piece.
“I’m taking it down, actually, within the next couple of days,” Kaye said over the phone. “Oh yeah, it’s not staying up. I don’t want it to be there anymore.” Titled “Moonshine Kingdom,” the piece portrays Sam Shakusky from Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom holding hands with the Grady twins from The Shining, but how the mural appeared in the neighborhood, rather than its specific imagery, is the source of contention within the community.
As Gothamist first reported, Bushwick native Will Giron, the homeowner’s 27-year-old nephew and a legal coordinator for the Fifth Avenue Committee, expressed disapproval of the mural last week, writing on his Facebook, “Gentrification has gotten to the point where every time I see a group of young white millennials in the hood my heart starts racing and a sense of anxiety starts falling over me.” He referred to Kaye as a “hipster transplant,” comparing her and her installation to “colonizers who claim indigenous lands for themselves while displacing the people that were once there.” Kaye, who moved from southern California to study at New York University, has lived in the city for seven years and in January moved to an apartment a block away from the mural. She has since apologized to Giron, who told Hyperallergic over the phone that the incident symbolizes a “larger narrative of gentrification and culturally responsible art.”
Kaye had reached out to the Abner, a 54-year-old Queens native, earlier this summer, after noticing that the market’s back wall had two murals (which themselves have not received backlash). She asked if she could yarn-bomb the adjacent one — then blank, aside from some black graffiti along its bottom edge — and he agreed. Abner, however, failed to ask the homeowners for permission, spurring Giron to send him and Kaye emails at the end of August requesting its removal. Kaye told Hyperallergic she assumed from the start that Abner had cleared everything, and although her immediate reaction was to take down the work “because the last thing I wanted to do was cause any trouble,” Abner said he would handle the situation.
What ensued was a phone conversation between the two men on August 31, during which Giron claims Abner immediately began raising his voice, asking, “What the fuck is your problem? It’s just art. Don’t you like art? This is Bushwick. There are murals all over the place.” Giron reiterated that the mural was unauthorized; in response, the flea market manager told him his family should be grateful since the mural raised their property value. He also told Giron to have his lawyer contact him if he wanted it removed and threatened to call the police and report his aunt’s practice of selling home-cooked food to the community from her front yard. (Giron says his aunt, who is elderly and disabled, does sell food to earn a small amount of money from friends, but “it’s not a grand operation.”)
Abner denies all of that, although he admits that it was “100% wrong to put [‘Moonshine Kingdom’] up without permission.” He had originally assumed that the building was occupied by tenants rather than by its owner, “and tenants don’t usually care,” he said.
“[Giron] just wanted to stir up shit, honestly, so he can make a name for himself,” Abner told Hyperallergic. “He’s like a little wannabe Al Sharpton or something. I emailed him and I said, ‘Can we keep it up until the end of October?’ I have yet to hear from him.” Abner did send Giron an email with an apology following their phone call, but Giron hasn’t been in touch with Abner and says he has no plans to because of his “very hostile and threatening attitude.” Abner, meanwhile, insists that he just wants to maintain good neighborly relations.
For his part, Giron sees Abner as another perpetrator of gentrification who is using Kaye’s image as a free marketing ploy.
“It’s not about the image. The issue isn’t with the artwork itself,” Giron said. “The problem is Mr. Abner’s sense of privilege and entitlement where he feels he can come to this community and do whatever he wants.” Abner insists he didn’t take it down because he feels bad for Kaye, who spent about two months crocheting the piece — her largest yet — and five hours installing it. Still, he mentioned that “a million people come to see it now so it’s a big attraction … at least 20 or 30 people pose for pictures in front of it every Saturday and Sunday.” The work’s popularity is evident on Instagram.
Giron especially finds the lack of legal repercussions telling of what he views as the law’s unequal treatment of street artists according to race, citing the arrest of artist Julie Torres in 2010.
“One of the reasons why Ms. London is able to continue to do this work is that folks of color are treated much, much more differently, and artists of color face much more hostility and much harsher treatment from police,” Giron said. Kaye, who has been yarn-bombing for over two-and-a-half years, says that police have approached her about four times, each time asking for proof of identification.
“I’ve been stopped; it’s scared me,” she told Hyperallergic. “But I always do it in the middle of the day. I don’t want it to look like I’m up to no good. If someone stops me, I take it down.”
Giron, however, still believes that Kaye is simplifying the situation and isn’t completely aware of the greater implications of her work. “It’s insane how long-term residents from the community — when we put up our art, when we want to express our voices through our art, we need to worry about the law,” he said. “For Ms. London to somehow compare her struggle to those of minority groups who have historically been silenced or oppressed is a little offensive … I don’t think she’s a malicious person or has any bad intentions, but to make that type of comparison is sort of indicative of what the wider community is trying to express in regards to privilege and entitlement.”
Kaye herself acknowledges that in retrospect, she should have created something that would “have brought the community together,” but says that at the time she was focused more on a work that would fill the large wall nicely. She cites The Shining as one of her favorite movies and notes that she had just seen Moonrise Kingdom, and merging the two was a quirky result she could easily translate into crochet.
“All my art is cheesy, but it’s about happiness and the good side of life,” she said. “[‘Moonshine Kingdom’] was really just signifying young love, finding love in unexpected pieces. I definitely wasn’t trying to send a message of my opinion on the community through that piece of art.”
Although Giron is glad that the pair reached an agreement to take the piece down, he doesn’t believe Kaye should necessarily stop making street art, which he described as “a social responsibility to the community.
“I feel it’s totally possible for someone like her to be an ally in this movement,” he said. “[By] having a sense of awareness and presence for the issues that are going on; dialoguing with the community and realizing that when it comes to street art, it’s not just a matter of the artist expressing him or herself.”
Although “Moonshine Kingdom” will soon fade from the block, Kaye does plan to continue installing her crochet work. She’s been actively posting to her Instagram, although it’s now flooded with harsh criticism and insults about privilege and race. But she insists that she’s walking away from the incident having learned some lessons.
“I’m going to be way more cautious for the future on where I put my pieces and finding out all the information before,” Kaye told Hyperallergic. “Now I really need to think greater than, what can I make? It’s more about, what does the community need? What do they want to look at every day?
“Yarn is an element that’s easy to come down,” she said, “but now I understand that just because it’s an unintrusive form of art doesn’t mean that it’s invited.”