The History Of The Bowery/Houston Street Graffiti Mural Wall In NYC

From Keith Haring to Aiko Nakagawa.

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Image via Complex Original
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Keith Haring Kicks Things Off

In the summer of 1982, Keith Haring and fellow artist Juan Dubose brought their chalk and paint to the corners of Houston and Bowery. The two chose this slab of cement for its central location in the middle of an emerging downtown art scene, and because it was on the direct walking route for artists traveling back and forth between SoHo and the Lower East Side. The installation is said to be Haring's first large-scale public work and continues to resonate with New Yorkers nearly 30 year after it first appeared. The popularity of this piece helped further Haring's success and legacy, and immortalized the Houston Street and Bowery wall as a downtown landmark.


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Keith Haring Tribute

NYC real-estate developer and avid art enthusiast Tony Goldman acquired ownership of the Houston Street wall in 1984, and used it for advertisements for two decades. Through time, it saw its fair share of graffiti, but never anything legally commissioned. In celebration of what would have been Keith Haring's 50th birthday in March of 2008, Goldman donated the iconic wall to his friend and curator, Jeffrey Deitch. The two teamed up with The Keith Haring Foundation and Deitch commissioned Gotham Scenic to recreate Haring's original 1982 classic. The collaborative relationship between Goldman and Deitch continued in NY and later carried over to Miami's "Wynwood Walls."


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Os Gemeos Take Over Bowery

In the summer of 2009, Brazilian street duo Os Gemeos were invited by Goldman Properties and Deitch Projects to create an original installation on the iconic structure. The twins from Sao Paulo didn't disappoint, adding another acclaimed piece to their growing New York repertoire. The South American brothers later worked with Goldman and Deitch down in Miami on the "Wynwood Walls" project.


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Shepard Fairey Celebrates May Day

For the wall's next participant, Goldman and Deitch looked to Deitch's friend and collaborator, Shepard Fairey. A casing was installed over the wall to protect the previous Os Gemeos mural and the new wall served as a canvas for Shepard's piece. The Fairey install was timed to promote Shepard's May Day installation, the final exhibition at Deitch Projects.


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Fairey Gets Tagged

Deitch and Fairey knew that the new wall was going to be a target for NYC graffiti writers, so they hired security to guard the freshly completed project. NY graffiti artist NAW was the first to welcome Shepard to the neighborhood by tagging over Fairey's piece the very first night it was completed. This immediately hit the blogs and created a dialogue amongst New Yorkers regarding Shepard and NYC.


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More Tags On Fairey

One week after the original mural was completed, a bigger NY graffiti crew went in on the wall. Previous installations were vandalized, but never to the extent that the Shepard wall was tagged.


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Fairey Wall Gets Bashed

As the wall aged and got progressively more tagged, some bashed through the foundation of Shepard's wall. This exposed the previous Gemos wall, creating an "Old New York"-style install in a neighborhood that had been recently clean and tidy.


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Fairey Gets Protected (And Tagged)

To keep it from getting further destroyed, wooden boards were installed to protect the remaining integrity of the wall. That got tagged, too.


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Barry McGee Paints Mural Wall

Jeffery Deitch closed up shop earlier this year and made his jump to director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Tony Goldman now operates these Houston and Bowery collaborations through Deitch’s successor gallery, The Hole. The Hole's first wall collaboration was with Barry McGee (TWIST) and Josh Lazcano (AMAZE). The two used the wall to pay homage to legendary graffiti writers from both yesterday and today.


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IRAK Tribute to Dash Snow

Before switching to the next artist, the Houston Street wall was buffed. Permission was granted to create a one-day tribute to downtown artist and IRAK co-founder Dash Snow, a.k.a. SACE.


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The IRAK team put up a 24-hour dedication to Dash by spraying SACE on the iconic wall before the next installation went in.


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Kenny Scharf Returns

To close out the wall for 2010, longtime friend and Keith Haring collaborator Kenny Scharf took over the Houston Street wall.


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