All hail Jeffrey Deitch’s Coney Art Walls project
Eye on Real Estate: Murals and vendors selected by Smorgasburg jazz up a Thor Equities site
A little fun is a good thing — especially in the heart of America’s Playground.
This summer, Thor Equities is bringing fun of the artsy sort to a blacktopped lot on Stillwell Avenue and the Bowery, which sits smack in the middle of Coney Island’s amusement district.
Joseph Sitt’s development firm is collaborating with renowned art curator and dealer Jeffrey Deitch on a buzzed-about project called Coney Art Walls at 1320 Bowery on the west side of Stillwell Avenue.
It’s a collection of street art in the form of exuberant murals painted by 30 artists on temporary walls. The paintings are interspersed with shipping containers that serve as locations for a dozen food vendors chosen by Smorgasburg. Also, a Sunday afternoon and evening music program is planned for the lot.
The project is being billed as an “outdoor museum.”
Deitch, who’s the former director of MOCA LA (that’s the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles), is a high-profile proponent of street art. An exhibition he staged at the museum in 2011 called “Art in the Streets” was a big draw.
He had planned to bring the exhibit to New York City. But the Brooklyn Museum, which was going to partner with him, was short on funds to do so.
So. About Thor’s big lot near Coney Island’s famed Boardwalk.
Like legions of other Brooklynites, we lament the eviction of amusement ride and park operators from the site several years ago. We’re sorry there has been so much unhappiness in the Coney Island community about the property being used for flea markets in past summers, or not being used at all.
But we’re nuts about big, bold paintings in public spaces, paintings that can hold their own beneath dazzling blue summer skies. They’re eye candy. We love eye candy.
So when we were invited to watch the artists at work at Coney Art Walls, we made a beeline for the shoreline.
This also gave us a chance to celebrate the coming of summer by snapping fresh photos of the Wonder Wheel, the Parachute Jump and other favorite Coney Island oceanside sights.
The murals that were completed before our arrival were as wild and wonderful as we had hoped they’d be. One’s got mermaids you can see a mile away. On another, crazy-looking fish swim in hot-pink waters. A third depicts a Coney Island Boardwalk fantasy, complete with a snake charmer.
We spoke with two intriguing artists about the paintings they were doing.
Ron English, the Godfather of Street Art
“This is a fun project,” said artist Ron English — who is known as the Godfather of Street Art.
He was deftly applying spray paint to a darkly witty mural depicting Mickey Mouse and other pop icons with grinning mouths that reveal scary skulls.
English explained that it’s a big deal to be part of a Deitch project.
“He’s the kind of guy who calls you — you drop everything,” English said.
“He would never say it — but he kind of kicked off a global art revolution,” English said of Deitch’s support of street art.
“Art was locked up in the galleries. People lost touch with it. Now it’s like rock and roll — we tour the world.”
Street art festivals can be found in far-flung cities from Miami to London to Stavanger, Norway.
English, who lives in upstate Beacon, has a massive outdoor painting on view on the Bowery Mural Wall on Houston Street in Manhattan. Deitch is a co-curator of the wall.
English came to Coney Island with a crew of artists called Team POPaganda. That’s not a typo; it’s a play on the words “Pop” as in Pop Art and “propaganda.”
They painted macabre grins on TV characters that are favorites with children —Barney the dinosaur, Ronald McDonald and a Teletubby.
“Kids like to be scared in a safe environment,” English said of his grinning paintings.
“Kids like a thrill — like a horror movie. They know it’s just a movie.”
Buff Monster’s Ice Cream Cones Have Eyes
Brooklynites have seen Buff Monster’s work.
In 2013, the artist painted a Williamsburg wall with dripping ice-cream-cone creatures with one-eyed faces — an image that’s way cooler than we’re making it sound.
The day we met the Crown Heights resident at Coney Art Walls, he was working on a painting called “Hercules at the Crossroads,” depicting three of these ice-cream creatures.
This is the first time Buff Monster, who graduated from the University of Southern California, has worked with Deitch.
“Of course I’m happy to get called by him,” the artist told us. “He does great projects.”
A Word About the Food Vendors
We’d rather cut out our tongue than speak a disparaging syllable about iconic Coney Island hot-dog seller Nathan’s, or Ruby’s, where the fried baby shrimp basket tastes like nostalgia, or other beloved Boardwalk eateries.
Nevertheless, as a fan of al fresco snacking, we say Welcome to the neighborhood to Brooklyn foodie faves Red Hook Lobster Pound and Mexican ice pop-maker La Newyorkina and other food purveyors Smorgasburg has brought to Coney Art Walls.
The food service is weekends-only through June 21. After that, it into turns into a daily affair. See related story for a look at what folks have been eating there.
By the way, Thor hired consulting firm Biederman Redevelopment Ventures (BRV) to create programming for 1320 Bowery and its lot on the east side of Stillwell Avenue and the Bowery.
In May, a BRV executive told informative Coney-centric website Amusing the Zillion that performances would likely be staged at both sites.
Joshua Greenwald, Thor’s director of public relations, told us summer plans for the lot on the east side of Stillwell Avenue “are still being finalized but should be announced very soon.”