iheart public 003

iheart public 003 was completed on November 8, 2008, up on the Highline in New York City’s Meatpacking District. It was hand-painted and measured 7′X5′.

This painting was at once homage to Highline’s graffiti and street art as a protest to the rumored erasure to come before the public opening of the Highline Park.

Rumor turned reality in the spring of 2009, when NYC Parks and Recreation began painting over all the graffiti on the planned lower section of the Highline set to open. Every piece of graffiti and mural art is now covered by a battleship grey layer of paint.

From an April 24, 2009 article in the Gothamist on this process:

An architect associated with the Highline rehabilitation tells our source, ‘We fought to save it but the mayor and the Parks authority have a zero tolerance policy. Really really sucks…I just heard from the director of planning at the Friends of the Highline. He says that the Highline organization does not consider itself responsible for protecting the historic graffiti that adorns the buildings adjacent to the highline. He also said that the mayor’s office made private decisions with the property owners without consulting the public.This unilateral decision is troublesome. I hope you agree with me that they should have run public conversations about whether to preserve any of this stuff.’

I wrote to Friends of the Highline in November 2008 to ask about the plan for the graffiti; this was their response:

It’s out of our hands- it’s city policy to remove it. While we may admire the artistic component of some graffitti, it has been found in other parks to encourage more graffitti and vandalism if not removed.

SOME HISTORY

After it’s last days in 1980 as an elevated freight railroad , the Highline structure was left to rot. With disregard came a return to the wild up on the tracks, with native flowers and vegetation filling the ground between the rusting rails. Among others, graffiti artists came to the Highline looking to make their mark.

As rap is the street’s electric news line, so graffiti is its coded visual language. With the Highline’s abandonment exactly mirroring the birth of hip-hop culture in NYC, the graffiti on the Highline was an essential documentation of this rising art form.

Opposing this school of thought is the idea of graffiti as the gateway to social chaos, aka the broken window theory, which governs the zero tolerance policy stated above by NYC Parks & Recreation.

Art or vandalism?

NOW

From the lines and intitial reviews, one would assume the Highline is a hit. I wish I could agree; maybe I saw too much, having my studio so closeby, watching its transformation.

Where the Highline was once natural, historical, and gritty, it is now corporate, cordoned-off, unnatural, pastiche. The graffiti cover-up in drab grey is symbolic of the Highline’s loss of historical identity.

Dominic Leong, a friend and NYC architect, wrote me:

The first time I was on the highline I was actually pretty into it.  I was mostly impressed with the different prespective of the city it opened up…as a new vantage point for moving through the city. The funny thing is that the best thing about the highline…was the highline.  They could have left it as a field of weeds and you would still have the amazing vistas back into the city.

READ THE NYTIMES ARTICLE ON THE COVERUP