If you’ve noticed an abundance of street art embellishing the Lower East Side lately, it’s due in part to the outdoor project-based collective Murals Around New York (MaNY). MaNY was established in 2010, when a few like-minded artists and curators recognized how difficult it has become to find mural space in Manhattan, “unless you’re a superstar like Shepard Fairey or JR and are dealing with a giant sponsor,” says Keith Schweitzer, one of MaNY’s more visible “front men.”
The group realized approaching property owners with requests to paint their exterior walls was a lot easier to do under the auspices of an organized entity than as an individual artist.
At the time, Schweitzer had been working with No Longer Empty, an organization that takes over vacant or abandoned retail space for pop-up art exhibitions, and had developed strong connections to an international community of artists through them. He jumped in as a curator/negotiator for MaNY and organized a large group show at 145 Ludlow St., which is now TimeShare Backyard.
Schweitzer works only with artists who are very careful to respect other street artists; any graffiti that has come before them is left untouched on the their spaces. He’s worked with such up-and-comers as HOW and NOSM, adopted members of the legendary Bronx based TATS CRU, who are rumored to be the next artists on the prominent wall at Bowery and Houston.
At the end of last year, MaNY partnered up with the Fourth Arts Block, an organization devoted to the development of the East 4th Street Cultural District. This established a small amount of funding and support, though Schweitzer says money rarely passes hands; rather than salaries, the funding they drum up goes for the prep work, supplies and installation.
I recently had the pleasure of accompanying Schweitzer on a walking tour of the group’s recent endeavors in the neighborhood. MaNY currently has artwork gilding concrete alleyways, exterior walls and construction containers from East 1st Street to East 4th Street.
We started our tour at “Music Machine,” a large mural on the concrete at Extra Place just off Bowery, painted by Buenos Aires-born artist Sonni. His bright colors and whimsical cartoon boomboxes liven up the cold, newly developed block.
One of their recent co-productions on East 4th Street is Bronx painter Tom Sanford’s “Saints of the Lower East Side,” which debuted with much fanfare in June. Sanford picked seven iconic figures (see headline photo) who helped define the legacy of the Lower East Side: Martin Wong, Joey Ramone, Miguel Piñero, Ellen Stewart, Charlie Parker, Arthur Fellig (aka Weegee) and Allen Ginsberg. They are represented in a row of large square tiles with gilded backgrounds, on scaffolding next to LaMama Theater.
At 22 E. 2nd St., we took a look at South African artist Faith47’s stunning piece, “The Weight of Air,” on the exterior of the Ideal Glass building. Faith47 is known as a revolutionary in Cape Town, and this ephemeral painting hints at some of her more existential themes.
One block up, on East 3rd Street, behind the LaMama Theater, we visited “Truth Implies the Good” by the artist CAKE. CAKE created three massive female figures in her studio and then used wheatpaste to mount them on three large sections of the wall.
Except for one disruptive “tag” over the work, which some guys from the block quickly touched up for her, Schweitzer says it has remained fairly untouched. The rules of the street are still about earning respect so the locals will look out for your work — at least for a while.