Photo Essays

Big Name Artists Hit the Street With Bowery Murals

As part of the Festival of Ideas For the New City anchored by the New Museum, a group of major artists have sprinkled the Bowery with art in a project called After Hours: Murals on the Bowery. In collaboration with the Art Production Fund, painters including Mary Heilmann, Richard Prince and Jacqueline Humphries created murals for the roll-down metal gates of restaurant supply stores on the historic street. The trick is that these murals are only visible at night or on Sundays, when the stores are closed and the gates are down. Over the course of one evening’s sunset, I went on a scouting mission to photograph the works in their native habitat. Click through for the photo essay.

Under each photo, I identify the artist and give a short, one-liner review. Some of the murals are pretty successful, while others don’t fare so well, whether because of difficulties with the steel support or a sloppy execution.

Note: I actually missed the Barry McGee mural, so that’s the one mural out of the 18 that’s missing from the photo essay. I’ll try and get one soon! If there’s one already around, leave it in the comments.

Looking down the Bowery, the New Museum is visible at left.

/ kc

Lawrence Weiner’s mural was one of the best, the poppy colors stood out on the drab street and the lettering was crisp and clear. It’s evocative, particularly in view of the flooding we’ve been seeing in the southern US lately.

/ kc

Jacqueline Humphries’ mural was also elegantly crisp and punchy, creating a vibrating graphic image that was readable even from across the street. Up close, it’s just as powerful.

/ kc

Ingrid Calame’s contribution was another abstract piece, but this one wasn’t as successful. The acrid colors didn’t work so well in the urban setting and the horizontal composition wasn’t super dynamic.

/ kc

Rikrit Tiravanija tells us to “STOP WORK NEVER WORK”. I couldn’t tell if the sentiment was meant to be ironic, but I definitely saw it as such in the context of the neighborhood. We can’t really stop working right now, Rikrit. Maybe if we had your Thailand villa we could.

/ kc

I have to say that I didn’t really get this Chris Dorland mural much at all. I like its visual relationship to industrial iconography, and there’s some trompe l’oeil decay added to the flat shapes. Still, the actual icons are rather strange and unreadable. Is that a paper clip at upper right?

/ kc

Adam McEwen has this text-based contribution. The sentiment fits in with the urban context, and the mural’s colors and presentation have a plain-spoken eloquence. McEwen totally wins for readable typeface, too.

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Bam! Deborah Kass and Pulp, Ink. knock your eyes out with their mural. This 80s-style epic really popped to me, for the industrial-signage colors and glam vibe. You are not going to walk by this thing without looking closer.

/ kc

In contrast, painter Mary Heilmann’s mural looked fuzzy. Though I liked the pallet here more than Ingrid Calame’s above, the borders between the colors were muddy and indecisive, looking more like a sloppy stage backdrop than one of the artist’s powerful canvases.

/ kc

Here, Ellen Gallagher takes her usual visual vocabulary of cartoony eyes and blobby shapes and blows it up to a huge scale. Though the delicate lines didn’t read clearly from a distance, up close this mural was a knock out. The red lines are carefully brushed on in a thick, opaque paint that displays an attentive artistic hand.

/ kc

Sterling Ruby’s DSM-IV-TR stands for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4, Text Revision. The mammoth book is a bible of mental health, with new editions signifying innovations in medicine and medical thinking. Though the reference is clear, I didn’t really get any particular message from the painting. Is it about our universal need for therapy to fix the dangers of a meaningless post-modern existence? I’m not sure.

/ kc

Like all of the most successful murals, Gary Simmons’ contribution appropriated the language of signage to strong effect. This simple composition stuck out, in part for its unlikely color and in part for that smoldering Gothic script. Super fun.

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At left, Amy Granat’s curlicues were pretty but didn’t really say much. It kind of looked like corporate advertising, or the under-construction facade of a luxury retail store.

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OHH YEAH! Richard Prince’s Kool-Aid Man was a clear frontrunner for best mural. The pop reference is a cutesy nod to the artist’s appropriation-based practice. How could you say no to that face?

/ kc

Judith Bernstein used her metal gate as a form of protest, echoing the kind of graffiti that these murals probably covered over. This was definitely the most political contribution, and it was quite aesthetically dynamic as well.

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Glenn Ligon, subject of a current retrospective at the Whitney, submitted this mural. I think it might be a reversed Rorschach Blot test? Probably my least favorite piece in the exhibition, and there was actually a real-life pile of vomit next to it (slightly visible at bottom right), echoing my own critical sentiment.

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Elmgreen & Dragset’s mural won the Best Mural Ever of 2011 award for me. The “Open 24 Hours” piece reacted to its urban context and joked around with the idea of a closed gate, even while managing to be pretty at the same time. Very cool.

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Funnily enough, this mural by Matthew Brannon meant less and less to me the more I looked at it. The delicate typeface and Japanese-leaning color scheme were nice, but the piece didn’t really cohere into anything significant. It was ambiently pleasant.

/ kc

Want to check out the murals for yourself? Art Production Fund also produced a full map with the names of the artists and the locations of their murals. Check out the guide below.

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