At the mention of the word, “icon,” I started thinking of different iconic places around the world: Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, and the Eiffel Tower. Even just thinking about New York City, I considered the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, or the Statue of Liberty. But, would you go as far as to say that a blank wall can be iconic? In the early 80s, there was a solid, concrete slab in New York City along the corner of Houston and Bowery. It was a frequent tagging spot for graffiti writers. The City of New York was trying to combat the onslaught of graffiti on trains, leading graffiti writers to become territorial over the good walls and spots around the city. Simultaneously, there was a 23-year-old, up-and coming artist by the name of Keith Haring who was starting to grow in notoriety. In 1980, Haring noticed the unused advertising panels covered with matte black paper in a subway station. He began to create drawings in white chalk upon these blank panels throughout the subway system. Between 1980 and 1985, Haring produced hundreds of these public drawings in rapid rhythmic lines, sometimes creating as many as forty “subway drawings” in one day. This seamless flow of images became familiar to New York commuters, who often would stop to engage the artist when they encountered him at work. The subway became, as Haring said, a “laboratory” for working out his ideas and experimenting with his simple lines.
The subway became, as Haring said, a “laboratory” for working out his ideas and experimenting with his simple lines.
Haring continued to push the boundaries with several new opportunities. In the summer of 1982, Keith Haring and fellow artist Juan Dubose brought their chalk and paint to the corner of Houston and Bowery. The two chose this slab of cement for its central location in the middle of an emerging downtown art scene, and because it was on the direct walking route for artists traveling back and forth between SoHo and the Lower East Side.
Haring painted a bright orange wall featuring four large, green figures upside down and 8 smaller figures on the bottom. These human figures were depicted upside-down, reminiscent of B-boys and B-girls, the dancers of hip-hop, doing the iconic move in which they spin on their head. Haring also added two boxes with a three-eyed face inside of them, which he intended to represent greed. Lastly, there are two nuclear atoms on either side of the mural. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, Haring was worried about the effects of nuclear accidents, leading him to draw both atoms and mushroom cloud imagery.
Surprisingly, Haring’s piece remained on the wall for two years. In 1984 Goldman Properties acquired the 18-foot-high and 60-foot-long wall and left the mural of Haring intact for a few months. The SoHo neighborhood was going through major development, a process led by Goldman Properties. In 1990, Keith Haring died at the age of 31 due to AIDS-related complications. The Goldman estate is one of the most influential property development companies in the art world. A family-run company founded in 1968, they played a major role in transforming SoHo into the chic boutique shopping district it is known for today, as well as building out Miami Beach into the resort destination it’s become. Most significantly, Goldman Properties played a major role in transforming Wynwood from a few blocks of warehouses into a booming art district and one of the street art capitals of the world. They own and operate Wynwood Walls, as well as The Bowery Wall.
In an exclusive interview with UP Magazine, Jessica Goldman spoke about The Bowery Wall and her role in the organization. After Tony Goldman, the patriarch of Goldman Properties, passed away in 2012 his daughter, Jessica took over as CEO of the company. She led the company for 9 years, before handing over control to her husband Scott during the pandemic. Although she shifted her role, Jessica still oversees most of Goldman’s art projects serving as a de-facto Creative Director, and CEO for Goldman Global Arts, their creative arm.
Before Tony Goldman passed, the company had begun its shift toward more direct investment in the art community. In celebration of what would have been Keith Haring’s 50th birthday in March of 2008, Goldman teamed up with friend and curator Jeffrey Deitch. The two worked with The Keith Haring Foundation and commissioned a local scene painter to recreate Haring’s original 1982 classic. The new Haring mural was unveiled on March 4th, 2008 and continued its reign on the block until the end of 2008. From this moment, The Bowery Wall was born.
In the summer of 2009, Brazilian street duo Os Gemeos were invited by Goldman Properties and Deitch Projects to create an original installation on the iconic structure. Os Gemeos, two Brazilian twin brothers from São Paulo, had the heavy task of succeeding Keith Haring. Their imagery was colorful, detailed, and showcased their daily life in Brazil along with the socio-political problems of the country.
In April 2010, Goldman and Deitch looked to Shepard Fairey to create the next design. A covering was installed over the wall to protect the previous Os Ge-meos mural and the new wall served as a canvas for Shepard’s piece. Fairey’s mural was used to announce his upcoming exhibition “Shepard’s May Day.” Knowing that the new wall was going to be a target for graffiti writers, they hired security to guard the freshly completed project. Still, on the first night, the wall was tagged. One week after the original mural was completed, a bigger NY graffiti crew went in on the wall. Previous installations were vandalized, but never to the extent that the Shepard wall was tagged. As the wall aged and got progressively more tagged, some bashed through the foundation of Shepard’s wall. This ex-posed the previous Os Gemeos mural. To keep it from further destruction, wooden boards were installed to protect the remaining integrity of the wall. That was tagged, too.
“My dad always believed that artists really set the tone for a lot of things,” she said. “Growing up, I was surrounded by art, and I think my dad always recognized that there was something extraordinary about that wall.”
In a way to make amends with the graffiti writers in NYC, the Bowery Wall took a turn. Tony Goldman now operated the wall through a new art gallery that opened in 2010, The Hole.
The Hole’s first wall collaboration was with Barry McGee in August 2010. The two used the wall to pay homage to legendary graffiti writers with hundreds of simple red tags on the white wall. Before switching to the next artist, The Bowery Wall was buffed. Permission was granted to create a one-day tribute to downtown artist and IRAK co-founder SACE. The IRAK team put up a 24-hour dedication by spraying SACE on the iconic wall before the next installation went in.
Over the next few years, several artists graced the Bowery Wall with less controversy. At the end of 2010, longtime friend and Keith Haring collaborator Kenny Scharf created a colorful work. Then, artist JR followed in June 2011, bringing his iconic black and white, close-up image of a face. His work highlighted the Standing Rock and Pine Ridge Native American reservations, giving voice to forgotten and impoverished communities in the Great Plains. Following was Brooklyn-based duo FAILE in October of 2011, covering the wall with wheat pastes of comic book like images. In March of 2012, LA-based RETNA created his signature calligraphic markings in blue and red over a freshly buffed white wall. Soon after, Aiko Nakagawa, aka Lady AIKO, was the first solo woman to paint the wall in July 2012 with a stencil-based piece.
After having eight murals grace the wall, Tony Goldman died in September 2012. At this time, Jessica Goldman, who was already supporting her father in his artistic endeavors, was tapped to continue her father’s legacy. “My dad always believed that artists really set the tone for a lot of things,” she said. “Growing up, I was surrounded by art, and I think my dad always recognized that there was something extraordinary about that wall.” The younger Goldman took her new responsibility with the utmost seriousness. “It’s important to me and my family to infuse beauty into the world, infuse creativity into the world, and push the envelope,” she reminisced. In the years since, the wall has featured a wide array of artists whose work have been both inspired and original.
In recruiting artists for the wall, Goldman typically looks for artist’s who have a well-established career, describing the wall as something similar to an Oscar or a lifetime achievement award. In terms of design, it’s “always a wonderful discussion between the artist and myself,” she explained. While Goldman doesn’t nitpick or micromanage artists, she noted that “I fully trust in the abilities of the artists selected. Personally, I’m not drawn to dark, negative styles of artwork. I really like vibrant color–I’m drawn to a lot of energy.”
“I fully trust in the abilities of the artists selected. Personally, I’m not drawn to dark, negative styles of artwork. I really like vibrant color–I’m drawn to a lot of energy.”
Only a few days after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc across New York City, HOW and NOSM, another set of twins, created a design with light bulbs, black smoke, and a sunken city, titled The Day After. “You’ve got millions of people passing by there on a daily basis. And so, a lot of the curation from me comes from thinking, ‘what are the times that we’re living in? Is there a message?’” Jessica Goldman explained. The following mural in March 2013 was a tribute to Martha Cooper, which nine artists banded together to create.
Next up was CRASH, the Bronx graffiti legend, who created a giant Popeye on the wall in March 2013. The next two artists hailed from the west coast, REVOK and POSE. On bringing A-list artists, the curator noted “When you go to an artist of that caliber, they are very sure of themselves. They’re very confident in their style. That’s what I love and appreciate about them. They’re always willing to experiment, which is really exciting,” Goldman said.
This mural took an entire six days to complete with a dedication to some of graffiti’s most illustrious who had passed away. That Fall, Swoon, the next woman artist tapped for the wall, creates a series of wall murals around the city about the healing post-Hurricane Sandy. The mural featured a large siren along with words and images of a recovering city.
In early 2014, Maya Hayuk, an American artist, created one of her intricate and captivating geometrical patterns. Later that summer, another NYC graffiti legend was invited to paint: COPE2. The wall would be covered with a mix of wildstyle, tags, and bubble letters. Oddly, the box that was covering the painting of the original Os Gemeos mural was removed in October 2014. The mural was still in place but had slightly deteriorated for five years. Goldman Properties issued a news release saying that then covered mural would be unveiled again.
From 2015 through 2017, Ron English, Futura 2000, Logan Hicks, and duo PichiAvo adorned the walls for various months. But June 2017, would bring the most controversial artist that the wall had seen. David Choe, an artist from Los Angeles, finished his mural to the dismay of many. Choe had been accused of predatory behavior based on a story that he told on his podcast, in which he recounted a story about coercing a masseuse into oral sex. Within days, the mural had BTM tagged in large black letters. Many speculated it was the Seattle-based crew, Big Time Mafia. A few days later, the word “rapist” was tagged as well. After two weeks, the mural was completely whitewashed.
“I think that artists have to really balance their work. We all lead by example. We all have one reputation. That’s it. And so, how you wish to manage that reputation, how you wish to lead by example, that’s totally up to you.”
Later, Choe apologized on Instagram, “In a 2014 episode of DVDASA, I relayed a story simply for shock value that made it seem as if I had sexually violated a woman. Though I said those words, I did not commit those actions.” When asked about the controversy, Jessica Goldman paused to articulate. “I’ve definitely learned a lot over the years. I think that we’re living in a very unusual time with the way in which people communicate with one another.” While she did not directly defend or criticize Choe, she did note, “[it’s] easy for people to criticize when maybe they haven’t dug in deeper into who this person is… We all make mistakes over the course of time.” In continuing, Goldman explained, “I think that artists have to really balance their work. We all lead by example. We all have one reputation. That’s it. And so, how you wish to manage that reputation, how you wish to lead by example, that’s totally up to you. Social media doesn’t always give you the full picture of the human.”
After the whitewashing, 18 artists gathered in front of the white wall to protest sexual violence. The artists wore shirts that spelled “RESIST!” and “NO MEANS NO” while utilizing red liquid to pour on themselves. They left red, dripping handprints on the white wall before leaving. Obviously with this controversy marring the possible outlook of the Bowery Wall, Goldman Properties needed to bring in someone to repair the emotional damage.
In October 2017, London-based artist, Lakwena, through support of Instagram and Goldman Properties, created an abstract work with the words “Lift You Higher.” This piece was part of a marketing campaign for Instagram’s #KindComments and was not taken seriously by the graffiti writers of the city. The mural only lasted two months due the high frequency of tags before being whitewashed again.
In an effort to bring back the respect and legend status of the wall, the next artist tapped was Banksy in March of 2018. Banksy’s work was created to protest the imprisonment of Zehra Dogan, a Kurdish journalist jailed for painting a watercolor of the city of Nasyabin. The painting she created showed the city reduced to ruins following an attack by the Turkish government. She was sentenced to three years in prison by the Turkish government. Banksy’s work showcased the artist behind bars with tally marks along the wall. At night the watercolor made by Dogan was projected above the wall.
Next in line was Tristan Eaton who invited New Yorkers to take a break during the summer of 2018. The mural incorporated all kinds of pop culture imagery with the word “Intermission” through the center. This was one of the first works in years that didn’t have any large tags to mar the design.
“I find a lot of beauty in the style of graffiti. There is skill, there is chaos, and there is energy in the work for it.”
On the dynamic between street art and graffiti, Goldman noted both the culture of respect and her frustrations with tagging. “I try not to take it personally. But when someone spends so much of their energy and passion into creating something beautiful and monumental for a community does it become a little bit disheartening when it happens? Absolutely.”
Further on the subject she elaborated, “I think there is an unspoken culture in the street art world where respect sits at the core of the dynamic. ” Though the tagging of the wall frustrates Goldman, she does have a personal affinity for graffiti—“I find a lot of beauty in the style of graffiti. There is skill, there is chaos, and there is energy in the work for it.” The wall’s position between graffiti and street art has sparked conversations about the differences between the two mediums. “Street art and graffiti belong to the same family… they’re grounded in the same DNA.” Goldman explained. “Like many things in life, the hope is that we as individuals might be different—the styles of art might be different—but we can all co-exist.”
Following Eaton, the wall hosted French artist JR again, but this time JR utilized the wall to highlight his Time Magazine cover that revolved around gun control debates. JR photographed all 245 interviewees and included them in the mural. Within 24 hours of the mural’s completion, there was a hate-crime shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on October 27th, 2018. The number 11 was written on the black and white artwork in a stark red paint, along with a smear resembling blood.
After multiple controversies, for better or worse, at the Bowery wall, Goldman Properties decided to return to its graffiti roots of the wall by inviting the legendary TATS CRU to paint in January 2019. That summer of 2019 the was decorated by the stylized lettering of Queen Andrea as she graced the fabled wall. And that fall, Japanese artist Tomokazu “Matzu” Matsuyama created a work with multiple layers of highly detailed images. The mural by Matzu remained for an entire year due to the pandemic. Until September 2020, when Brooklyn artist Raul Ayala and 10 young students created a work that focused on allegory, community, folk-lore, and mythical creatures. This installation coincided with the 25th anniversary of Groundswell, an organization that uses art to advocate for social change.
“I am hopeful that The Bowery Wall will remain an iconic space that celebrates the careers of incredible artists in different ways,” she said of the location as an art hub. In her work as the Goldman Global Arts CEO, she aims to “be able to do more with like-minded clients that genuinely and authentically embrace art and want to bring it to the public in meaningful ways.”
The most recent artist to paint the wall was California muralist David Flores with his work titled, Seeds Sown in October 2021. Flores is best known for his self-proclaimed “stained glass” and mosaic style. The mural currently features a black and white motorcyclist with red flower trailing behind in motion. The mural lasted a solid seven months, before a graff writer used a spray-paint extinguisher to tag the entire wall. With this, once more came the cycle of whitewashing, and soon a new artist will step up to the plate.
Speaking on the legacy of the wall, Jessica explained her vision for the future, “I am hopeful that The Bowery Wall will remain an iconic space that celebrates the careers of incredible artists in different ways,” she said of the location as an art hub. In her work as the Goldman Global Arts CEO, she aims to “be able to do more with like-minded clients that genuinely and authentically embrace art and want to bring it to the public in meaningful ways.”
Haring loved this spot due to the traffic of artists be-tween SoHo and LES, and though ever-rising rental prices have changed the fabric of the neighborhood, the Lower East Side remains home to street art and graffiti culture. And through all the highs and lows, The Bowery Wall has come to define an iconic space in art history as one of the most infamous walls in the world.
TIMELINE OF THE BOWERY WALL
• Keith Haring Tribute. March 2008—December 2008
• Os Gemeos. July 2009—March 2010
• Shepard Fairey. April 2010—August 2010
• Barry McGee. August 2010—November 2010
• Kenny Scharf. December 2010—June 2011
• JR. June 2011—October 2011
• Faile. October 2011—March 2012
• Retna. March 2012—July 2012
• Aiko Nakagawa. July 2012—Oct 2012
• How and Nosm. Nov 12—March 13
• Marty. March 9 2013
• Crash. March—July 2013
• Pose/Revoke. July—October 2013
• Swoon. Oct 13—Feb 14
• Maya Hayuk. Feb 14—May 2014
• Cope 2. May 2014—July 2014
• Ron English. April—September 2015
• Futura. Sept 15—July 2016
• Logan Hicks. July 16—Jan 17
• Pichi Avo. Jan 17—June 17
• David Choe. June 2017—defaced amid protests
• Lakwena. Sept 17—March 2018
• Banksy. March 2018—June 2018
• Tristan Eaton. June 2018—October 2018
• JR. October 2018—Jan 2019
• Tats Cru. Jan 2019—May 2019
• Queen Andrea. June 2019—Sept 2019
• Tomokazu Matsuyama “Matzu”. Sept 19—Sept 2020
• Raul Ayala. Sept 2020—Oct 2021
• David Flores. Oct 2021—May 2022