For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with gallery owner and muralist Victor Fung.
How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?
I have lived in what I call the Lower “Far East” Side (Chinatown/LES) for only four years. I am originally from Queens, but I have been hanging out down here since the early 2000s or so.
Why did you move here? Or, if you were born here, why did you stay?
Basically, my aunt lived in a tenement building down here for about 30 years and I took over her place. I commuted into the city from Queens for my whole life (school, work, etc.) and the two to three hours of travel a day really started adding up over the years. It was time to make the move.
What do you do?
Out of college, I spent about eight years working in the corporate world doing project management at a marketing company. During that time, in about 2011, I started Klughaus Gallery with my partner Pierre Gutierrez. It was located at 47 Monroe St., by the Manhattan Bridge skatepark. We quickly outgrew the space and moved on to doing pop-up shows in larger venues within the LES. Today, in addition to representing artists like Seb Gorey, Smart Crew, Jurne, etc., I also run a mural business called Graffiti USA that focuses on commissioned aerosol artwork. We have done custom work for many clients including LinkedIn, DKNY, Facebook, Rebecca Minkoff, etc. I really enjoy the challenges of working in completely different environments every day and am happy to be out of the office!
Tell us about your apartment–the good, the bad and the ugly.
Well, when I first moved in, I had to help empty this apartment out that was full of, say, “collected” items from my aunt that had really stacked up over the years. Let’s just say that there was only a narrow pathway that led from one room to the other to get around. It took about three to four truckloads to get rid of everything, and we had to bring stuff down five flights of a walk-up. The view out my front door and from my roof of the Manhattan Bridge is all worth it, though. Also, my building is up on a hill right by the water and we were luckily totally safe from Sandy.
What’s your favorite spot on the LES and why?
This is a hard one. I would say that the LES area under Delancey Street is developing very fast and the area around the East Broadway stop is my favorite area right now. Also, a shout-out to Avenue D, as it’s one of the last few areas that still have the older LES vibe.
Favorite cheap eats?
Hawa Smoothies where I always go to get my Acai bowl fix!
Favorite place for a special night?
Hanging out at night on LES rooftops in the summertime. Priceless.
How have you seen the neighborhood change?
Like I mentioned before, in the time I have lived in the LES, I have seen a lot develop south of Delancey. Tons of new galleries, restaurants, bars, etc.
What do you miss from the old LES?
I hate to be a cliché New Yorker who complains about gentrification and how I miss the old New York (even though I do). I’ll be honest, I spent most of the ’90s in Queens around Flushing, but when I started going to the LES, it was usually out with friends to party or get into some trouble. Max Fish, Mars Bar, Iggy’s, Motor City, etc… The whole stretch of Ludlow and Orchard from Houston to Delancey definitely has a different feel today. I appreciate the old and I try my best to appreciate the new as well.
Is there a new arrival you love?
Love is a strong word, but I’m very happy to see the East River waterfront downtown is slowly starting to get up to par with the west side.
What drives you crazy about the neighborhood?
Maybe I’m just getting old, but I do my best to stay away from the LES above Delancey on weekends. It’s a bit too crazy for me these days.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on the LES?
What stands out the most in my recent memory is watching cars float around in the street during Hurricane Sandy and how dark, quiet and eerie the streets were during the blackout that followed. I drove around taking videos of the dark streets at night and it was a pretty apocalyptic feeling. I’m sure that people experienced crazy situations all over the city, but I was on the LES during the time, so I’ll never forget those images down here.
Who’s the best neighborhood character you’ve met and why?
Coming from a background working with street artists, I would have to give a shout-out to the local graffiti writer SEV TDT who’s been active and up in these Chinatown/LES streets as long as I’ve been alive. He’s a humble guy and definitely an interesting LES character.
Tell us your best LES memory.
Walking around in the snowstorm in 2010 when literally no cars could go down the side blocks. We were doing snow angels in the center of the Allen Street and Delancey Street intersection. It was pretty lawless that night, and we did our best to behave.
Also, going way back, my parents used to drive to Chinatown to go grocery shopping every weekend and we parked on Catherine Street across the street from PS1. They would leave me in the car in the driver’s seat like I would keep them from getting a ticket (My feet couldn’t even reach the pedal.) Once they were done shopping, I would usually get to go into this one comic/newsstand store. I couldn’t read any of the stuff in Chinese but always liked to look at the cartoons.