Graffiti Over Easy: Losing My Faith On Mercer Street

AVONE at Gallery 89/Bar 89 (via

Last Sunday, I found myself sitting with my head in my hands on a tiny stoop on Mercer Street, wondering how to even begin to process witnessing Gallery 89‘s exhibition of graffiti writer AVONE (Destroy & Rebuild)American Graffiti. Not a graffiti art show in a pop-up gallery as promised, it was an exhibition in a bar/restaurant and on Sunday, naturally, they were serving brunch. Let me repeat that: Graffiti art … at brunch … in Soho.

Not one of those graffiti artists that show in galleries but don’t actually write on the streets, AVONE was arrested on charges of vandalism in 2007. At that point, he was perhaps the most wanted graffiti writer in New York. I’m not sure what happened between 2007 and 2011 that his art is now hung over wealthy tourists drinking their mimosas.

At Gallery 89, which is really Bar 89 on Mercer Street, the main piece in the exhibition is a huge painting, consisting of a giant woman from the neck down, reminding me of exploitation movie posters such as Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Under this woman, AVONE pasted collaged papers, including a photo of Fox News blowhard Bill O’Reilly, which he painted his tag over.

AVONE, "Untitled" mixed media, 16 × 36 ft (via

Unfortunately, I don’t think I can even comment on the art because it is hard to view art hung over a wall full of customers shoveling eggs in their mouths. I did not even get to take photographs in the “exhibition” because there were so many Soho brunch-goers that were waiting for tables so I could not get a clear shot. Moving outside to see if I could get a better view, the trendy, tinted windows also foiled my attempt at photographs.

Why would Bar 89 be a place for a graffiti art show? I’m not going to analyze AVONE’s motivations whatever they are. Advertised as a pop-up gallery on art listing websites such as ArtCat, there was nothing about the layout of the exhibition that suggested easy viewing of the art. Unfortunately I did not have plans for brunch or else I would have been able to fully interact with the piece as it was intended as a decorative piece like the crappy paintings of sailboats found in even crappier motels.

To me, AVONE’s art in Bar 89 is an obvious attempt at making a Soho bar seem street and cool. Let’s face it, Soho has not been cool in a long-time. Instead, it has developed into a sprawling near-suburban style mall full of chain stores and spending-crazed tourists.

However the real question remains what effect does a show like this have on graffiti art in general? Why did I walk out of Bar 89 feeling like I had just witnessed a funeral for graffiti art? Many have argued since the inception of graffiti on canvas and graffiti that was brought off of the streets and into the galleries about the commercialization of graffiti. American Graffiti blatantly points out that graffiti art has now been taken one step further, as pure interior decoration in an attempt to foster a certain mood for a restaurant. Graffiti is supposed to be free, accessible and rebellious, not glanced at over overpriced french toast.

After the horrors of American Graffiti, I had to pick myself up somehow so I went to Munch Gallery‘s Upside Down Frowns by Radical!, an Albany-based street artist known for putting numerous drug references in his work. While I can’t say Radical!’s show assuaged my fears over the horrors of American Graffiti, at least I got to spend it with a few vulture babes.

Radical!, "Spring Break" acrylic on wood (photo by author)

AVONE’s American Graffiti will be on view at Gallery 89/Bar 89 until January 3, 2012 and Radical!’s Upside Down Frowns is on view at the Munch Gallery until November 20.

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