This weekend the NYPD police precinct is hosting a graffiti and street art show, and the public is welcome to see every floor completely swimming in aerosol and plastered in wheat-paste.
Admit it, it is not often you receive an invite like that.
"When this precinct was built it was a very bad, very poor neighborhood. When the cops came in there was a lot of brutality and there was a lot of corruption," says curator Robert Aloia of this building architected for the NYPD in 1863 and closed down fifty years later. A quick search on the web shows a history of thuggery born of Dickens. Records at the time of closure indicated their were 9,500 arrests annually and this tiny slice of Manhattan alone had 37 brothels.
So why not have a graffiti show here before tearing it down, right?.
Brooklyn Street Art: So you literally could hit every wall here and it wouldn't matter because it is coming down at the end of the month?
Robert Aloia: Yeah the inside walls. The outside walls they don't want us to touch.
In a twist of events pulled from a satire, one of the artists on display this weekend was arrested this month in Brooklyn and spent the night in jail before seeing a judge. The following day he came to this precinct and hit up some walls with impunity.
"It's just amazing that these artists can put their time, their money, and their talent into something that is just coming down," says Aloia while touring us through rooms and stairways during one of the four visits we made for these exclusive first images, " and it is only going to be seen for a certain amount of time."
Hellbent has his own room. So does Rambo. Cash4 and Matt Siren are sharing one together, as are Sheryo and the Yok. Elle spent an entire night in hers watching her black wax sculpture melting away with the candles she planted in it. An unconfirmed story says it is a sculpture cast of the elusive Judith Supine.
"She painted it black, melted it and filmed it," says Aloia.
Brooklyn Street Art: Have you thought of the irony behind the fact that this is a former police precinct and many of the artists would have been running away from this place instead of trying to get into it?
Robert Aloia: That is true, I didn't think of that aspect of it really, but the gallery area was the actual holding cell.
Brooklyn Street Art: So how did you draw these people together?
Robert Aloia: Every show I've done I start with my friends, and then it's friends of friends, and that's it. It's just about one degree of separation.
In the last three years the New York native has curated a number of shows heavily weighted with graffiti artists and Street Artists, primarily on Manhattan's Lower East Side at bars, event spaces, and venues with downtown history like Fuse, White Box, and La Mama.
A bartender and DJ who has mixed with a lot of New York nightlife and street life without becoming hardened, Aloia and co-curators like Erik Foss and Ricky Powell have been doing sometimes star-studded yet unassuming one-off shows the past few years with Street Art names like Bast, Supine, and Aiko and some of the newer kids like N'DA and Icy & Sot.
"I am from New York and I always knew a lot of graffiti artists, that's how I ended up getting into it. I was just lucky enough to have access to some venues to do stuff."
Brooklyn born, Aloia's been on the LES since the 80s, which explains his devotion to the memory of "outlaw parties" where people would set up an illegal bar and a pumping sound system in improvised celebrations at unsanctioned locations. Outlaw parties and pop-up speakeasies still exist of course, but more often they are in Brooklyn now as Manhattan is shoving artists out by the truckload.
For "21st Precinct" he's called in nearly 50 artists from as far away as Japan, Australia, California, and nearby New Jersey. The mix of artists is eclectic and sometimes quite powerful like the tribute to SAMO (Basquiat) in the gallery by his co-conspirator Al Diaz, and the dark room built by Swedish photographer Jesper Haynes which features images from the downtown New York in the Reagan era.
"I definitely always have a mix with fine art, photography, installation, but you know I always have old-school graffiti artists and street artists," he says as he looks over the four floors of thickly gritty splendor by renowned and unknown.
For those lucky enough to see the show in this venue this weekend or next, "21st Precinct" is a quintessential New York minute, a steamy grimy melting pot of authentic attitude that begs to differ and perhaps stick a finger in your chest just before the wrecking ball hits. Thank Aloia while you're there. Not surprisingly, the new building that replaces this one will be for.....wait for it.... luxury residences.
************************ OUTLAW ARTS Presents: "The 21st Precinct" Curated by Robert Aloia & VNA Mag
The show will be in the old 21st Precinct located on 327 East 22nd Street. More information HERE.
Adam Dare, Al Diaz, Amanda Marie, ASVP, Bad Pedestrian, Ben Angotti , Bill Claps, Bishop203, Bunny M., Cash4, Chris RWK, Chris Soria, Coby Kennedy, Curtis Kulig, D. Gaja, Danielle Mastrion, Dasic, Dizmology, Duel, ELLE, Erasmo, Esteban del Valle, Faust, Ghost, GIZ, Hellbent, Hue, Icy & Sot, Iena Cruz, Jesper Haynes, Justin Carty, Ket, Lexi Bella, Li-Hall, Lorenzo Masnah, Matt Siren, Mr. Toll, N. Carlos Jay, Nepo, Nick Tengri, Pesu, Phil, Pixote, RAE, Rambo, Ricardo Cabret, SAE, Savior Elmundo, Shery-o & The Yok, Shiro, Tone Tank, URNY, Vexta, X-O.
This article is also posted on Brooklyn Street Art.
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