“Post No Bills,” a pop-up gallery at a New York construction site, was covered in The New York Times (2008).
Photo by Luna Park.
Construction Zone: Beware of Audacious Art
Even with the cooling economy, there are a couple of things that New York City still has in abundance these days: artists and acres of condominium construction sites surrounded by wooden walls. On a recent night in Long Island City, Queens, the first found a mutually beneficial use for the second, called it a gallery and held an opening, with Cheez Doodles standing in for canapés.
The name of the makeshift and, in this case, legal street art space might sound a little awkward: Gallerie Pulaski. But it is honest. The exhibition of work by more than 20 artists, most of them graffitists in good standing, has taken shape on the scaffolding-shaded plywood walls around a rising condo, just yards away from the busy ramps to the Pulaski Bridge spanning Newtown Creek.
These kinds of ubiquitous temporary walls, with their “Post No Bills” stencils, are not usually a preferred canvas for street artists because “your work just gets whitewashed over in a second by the construction workers,” said an artist who calls himself El Celso.
But in this case El Celso and his friends, with permission and encouragement from a real estate developer, Simone Development Companies, and a nonprofit art group, Chashama, started working on the walls a couple of weeks ago with spray paint, paper, glue, Plexiglas, screws and contributions from several artists who have never displayed a work on the streets. The project quickly drew the attention of blogs like C-Monster.net that feature street art.
The creators described the idea in a news release as a “construction site beautification program” and “New York’s first plein-air street gallery,” open around the clock, seven days a week. As if they needed to, they added that the show called, of course, “Post No Bills” is “free and open to the public” until Aug. 31 or perhaps until the Hunters View condominiums are completed. (A banner advertising the building shows a beautiful woman kissing a man with the Manhattan skyline in the background and encourages prospective tenants to “Live Like a Star.”)
The opening got under way on Friday evening about 6 with a bang, a loud one, caused when a sport utility vehicle smashed into a van, or vice versa, as the two jockeyed for position getting onto the bridge in front of the exhibition. No one seemed to be hurt, but the police arrived in droves.
“This is kind of a crazy place,” said El Celso, who along with an artist named Ian Farrell, the show’s co-curator, recently helped create a huge authorized graffiti mural on another construction wall nearby, in a part of Long Island City where luxury apartment buildings seem to be sprouting on every corner.
For “Post No Bills” they enlisted many of their friends who, like them, generally don’t require an invitation to make art on private property. But they also included artists like James A. Willis, a painter who is represented by a gallery in Chelsea and who contributed an ominous charcoal drawing of a crossroads. Also featured, posthumously, is the work of Evelyn B. Metzger, a wealthy Upper East Side painter who died in her 90s in 2004 after a lifetime of prodigious output. (El Celso was given dozens of her studies on board that were being discarded by her family, and he now uses them, either untouched or embellished by him, as a kind of prefab street art.)
El Celso and Mr. Farrell also decided to work with the ready-mades that were already affixed to the construction walls. Like the metal fire hydrant sign. (The exhibition label lists it as “Fire Hydrant, Sign Company, 2008, industrial paint on metal.”) And the large, subtle text work that reads, “To Anonymously Report Unsafe Conditions at This Work Site Call 311/Para Reportar Condiciones Peligrosas en un Sitio de Trabajo Llame al 311.” The label for that one reads: “Jenny Holzer, Construction Truism, 2008, industrial paint on metal.”
“We thought she would appreciate the humor,” El Celso said of Ms. Holzer, whose text works reside in important museum collections around the world.
As it turns out, mounting street art legally is sometimes not much easier than doing it under cover of night. An overzealous security guard for the condo project shut down the art-making one night, rebuffing all attempts at explanation. Police cruisers constantly stopped. El Celso also noted that he and other artists making an authorized mural in Bushwick, Brooklyn, this month were given tickets by the police after opening beers to celebrate the day’s work. “In Bushwick!” he added.
And about an hour into the opening on Friday, just as El Celso had the coals going nicely in the miniature Weber to make hot dogs for the growing crowd, a police car pulled up, and an officer ordered the fire extinguished. El Celso complied.
“I have to say,” he said, “it’s really kind of a weird experience to be doing all of this legally.”