Not all the art in Chelsea is for sale. Here are seven murals that are worth seeking out as you make your way from gallery to gallery. Start at the High Line and work your way down through the neighborhood. And remember to keep your eyes wide at all times: part of the joy of street art is discovering beauty in unexpected places. By Jessica Allen.
In 2011, French street artist JR won the $100,000 TED Prize to use “for a wish that can inspire the world.” He created the Inside Out Project. People take photos of themselves, upload them to a website, and receive large pasteup posters, which they can then hang somewhere in their community. It’s the world’s largest participatory art project. JR also takes portraits of people, usually from marginalized communities. Here, Brandon Many Ribs, of the Dakota tribe, overlooks the High Line. Is he in pain? Is he just being a kid and fooling around? JR leaves the interpretation up to the viewer.
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Jordan Betten is a busy man. When not making luxury leather goods and clothes under the brand Lost Art, redecorating restaurants, or posting cool images to his blog, he paints murals large and small around New York City. The High Line Zoo features a menagerie of his creatures, squiggly, black-and-white beings, including gorillas and giraffes, camped out on a Chelsea rooftop. Betten conceived of and executed the work with artists Sun Bae and Stuart Braunstein. At night, it glows. Once a month, the zoo comes alive with music for a dance party. Go monkey, go monkey!
Brazilian muralist Eduardo Kobra reimagines iconic images in kaleidoscopes of color. In his multistory mural along West 25th Street, he takes on Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photo “V-J Day in Times Square” as well as other scenes from the city circa World War II, such as a little girl selling newspapers and streetcars passing by. The original black-and-white depiction of a sailor grabbing a nurse in a passionate embrace has been transformed into a rainbow, a symbol of love and light so powerful, it might make your day. Kobra’s work helped mark the photo’s 67th anniversary on August 14.
Eyebeam is an art and technology center, with a focus on openness, exploration, and energetic idea-sharing. Up to 20 resident artists and fellows work at Eyebeam at any given time, creating new projects that pursue interesting intersections among media, architecture, visual art, urban geography, physiology, and just about every other field you can think of. There are also frequent exhibitions, talks, workshops, and performances. Taeyoon Choi, a former artist-in-residence, and street artist LNY channeled Keith Haring, Greek mythology, cartoons, and cave paintings to cover the center’s facade. You don’t need to be a card-carrying member of Mensa to enjoy Eyebeam, but it would probably help.
Just down the street from Eyebeam is Swampy’s monster, a skull with horns protruding from its ears and jaw. In an interview with the New York Times’ T Magazine, Swampy (also known as Swamp Donkey) called himself a “bootleg artist,” because “I never went to art school, I don’t know how a lot of things in the art world work, and I’m unprofessional with my approach to just about everything.” His creature sometimes appears with an upside down cross on its forehead. But the only thing even remotely scary about this work is the red-and-yellow maze background: stare at it long enough, and your eyes might cross.
This 80-foot-tall kid overlooks the playground at PS 11, a public school along a quiet street. Brazilian twins Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo—better known as Os Gemeos—put up the mural with Futura2000 in 2010. As Os Gemeos wrote on their blog: “The idea was to unite two styles that are completely different so they become one. The concept behind the flags (with the colors completely altered from their originals) signifies unity, a world without borders, combined to form ‘one world one voice.’” As the artists’ styles blend, from Futura’s swirls into Os Gemeos’ precise shapes, so too are different ethnicities, religions, cliques, points of view, and so on meant to blend on the playground and surrounding streets. Inspiring stuff.
Like Os Gemeos and Futura, British street artist Phlegm decided to dedicate his skills to the kiddies. His New York City debut consists of hunched, birdlike figures hard at work near a playground and community garden. The mural stretches three stories high, depicting otherworldly mechanics and mechanisms. Perhaps Phlegm simply seeks to show inspiration and imagination, the way our synapses and neurons fire to produce all kinds of crazy stuff, from stories to flying machines to huge paintings on city walls. Or perhaps this work is just plain weird.