walked out my front door this morning to find most of the artwork under the LIRR overpass at 43rd Street and 37th Avenue painted over.
the people who undoubtedly painted over the work were likely sent by the SUnnyside Neighborhood Network (SUNN) to clean up the place, to my understanding made up of volunteers from the community (there was a trailer nearby which later I mentioned that I couldn’t believe I didn’t get photos of, because it was an awesome sight to see, full of anti-graf hardware and chemicals! mentioned here). Now, I gotta say, and I’ve said it before: I ♥ Sunnyside.
I love the multiculturalism of Sunnyside, the array of foods and languages you can find, the pubs, the houses, the places to walk through, and especially the people. I really love the people.
So I feel like there’s something missing as far as our voice and their concerns go. In fact, we’re probably missing each other.
The underpass is a blight. I’m not as bothered by it as most and I’m well aware of this fact.
The Down the Street and Around the Corner exhibition currently on view at Flux Factory, in collaboration with the Queens Blackout Division, sought to beautify the area through art. It needed, demanded even, to be worked upon.
At least a dozen artists including myself at one point had work throughout the underpass. Most of it was 2D but included some physical installations and surrounding elements. The SUNN cleanup crew did perhaps the worst job imaginable: instead of painting the entire wall a pleasant and respectable color, they only painted over the areas in which work existed, in a putrid yellow, creating color fields waaaaaaaaaaay less-attractive than the artwork previously on the wall. And at one point they decided, after already painting over some posters, that perhaps they were art, and should stop before painting over the rest (SEE ABOVE PHOTOS)!! Unbelievable!
(a version of this image without the text can be downloaded here)
They splattered paint all over the sidewalks leaving puddles of this oil-based paint, which have since been trailed by shoes and bike tires, and went so far as to abandon their paint rollers in the street:
Now! There are a few other issues at stake here. Found within the sunnysidechamber.org website it reads:
Graffiti hurts property values, discourages shopping, and creates a climate of lawlessness in a community. All of us pay the price for it. And while some graffiti may show imagination and artistic ability, a quick look around our area will reveal mostly illegible scrawls. Tolerating such behavior definitely sends the wrong message to young people.
Let’s put aside the property values and lawlessness discussions, those aren’t even worth getting into at this point; my main contestation is how does SUNN distinguish between illegible scrawls and everything else; after all, at this point, they painted over a large body of everything else, while at the same time accepting that some street art reflects ‘imagination and artistic ability’. And WHY for fuck sake are ‘young people’ targeted as the culprits of why SUNN is even concerned about ‘graffiti-removal’, also slyly referred to as ‘neighborhood beautification’. Uh huh.
Next: I’m from St. Louis, and I can attest that graffiti does a LOT for improving an area’s appearance, a type of ‘beautification’ if you would. After the 1993 Great Flood of the greater St. Louis region, a flood wall was built south of the Arch to act as a barrier against any future flood in that region of the city. The wall, a nearly 2-mile slab of concrete, was an eyesore. Eventually it was campaigned to legally allow graffiti artists, for an event called “Paint Louis”, to cover the entire flood wall with their graffiti art. Traces of that event, whose creations still exist to this day, and whose presence has even been included in school field trips, can be found here and here and here and here. Yes, it attracts people to St. Louis from all over the country, that’s called tourism.
While I wouldn’t say that the area under the LIRR overpass in Sunnyside, Queens could by any means compare to the flood wall on the riverfront of St. Louis, I would argue that that distinction is not for me or SUNN to make, either! The underpass provided a voice for people, and I think in the coming weeks and months you will see them reclaim their voice! In fact, I can guarantee it!