As a teenager, I had the visual misfortune to go to high school in Orange County, California, land of cookie cutter developments, cookie cutter strip malls, cookie cutter freeways and cookie cutter nose jobs. Which is why I’ve always appreciated the visual chaos of New York: from the blingarrific oversized billboards in Times Square to the polished chrome gates of row houses in Queens to the graffiti that covers just about every surface not policed by a business improvement district.
Which is why reading Lois Weiss’s real estate column in Rupert Murdoch’s mouthpiece today was such a complete and total buzzkill. Weiss picked on one of my most personally beloved buildings in the city: the Artkfraft Strauss building on the corner of 12th Avenue and 57th Street, where all the blingarrific lights that once illuminated Times Square used to be produced. Weiss reports that the building has turned into “a symbol of neglect and a mag net [sic] for petty crimes.” She describes the tags as “ugly” and the graffiti as “unwanted.”
Now hold on a minute there, Tex. Who said anything about “unwanted”? The Artkraft Strauss studios are inhabited by artists from chashama, who use the space to produce sculptures and paintings and performances. (See here and here.) The art on the building is a combination of graffiti that has accumulated over time, along with original pieces painted — with permission — from artists as far away as Spain and Germany. On a week-to-week basis, the walls are added to, by figures both renowned and anonymous.
There are many people who may not find the building’s exterior aesthetically pleasing. (It’s not as if I’m in love with every last piece.) It’s the gestures I find inspiring, especially in a city that, block by block, seems determined on becoming cookie cutter. Chashama: please don’t buff the art. The rest of the city can homogenize. Let the artists, freaks and weirdos have at least a corner.