Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York: Artwashing 14th and 8th

About a decade ago, I had a dream that the southeast corner of 14th Street and 8th Avenue was being torn down to make room for WalMart. That didn’t happen. At the time, I checked with one of the business owners (there was a popular Korean deli, a bodega, and a liquor store). He told me that the owner of the buildings had turned down offers of up to $45 million for the whole lot.

But then, last year, it all went.

We learned that a 10-story office tower is coming, designed by architect Gene Kaufman and developed by the Chun Woo Realty Corporation.

Chun Woo Realty Corp, DNA reported last year, “has owned the two properties for around three decades…noting that redevelopment was something they’d ‘been contemplating for over a decade.'”

“We’re not developers who moved in and are pushing small businesses out. We’re actually the longtime permanent owners of the building, and it was actually our business,” the developer said of the deli. He didn’t mention the other two businesses or any residents upstairs, or the impact this high-end office tower will have on the neighborhood.

In the meantime, until demolition, they’re doing a little artwashing with Bombay Sapphire.

I walked by yesterday to find “Art in Progress” signs on the deli. Bombay Sapphire says, “Stir Creativity.”

Security guards policed the installation of several canvases.

The booze corporation has a message for us:

“Creativity has no boundaries. It can flourish in art galleries, and it can thrive on the streets outside them. With Art in Progress, Bombay Sapphire is transforming the city’s construction sites into open air art galleries to inspire New Yorkers’ own creativity.”

This is artwashing.

Defined by Feargus O’Sullivan, artwashing is a “profit-driven regeneration maneuver” in which “the work and presence of artists and creative workers is used to add a cursory sheen to a place’s transformation…. It often happens…when developers spot areas that have attracted residents from creative industries, then earmark them as ripe for investment and remarketing to a new kind of customer.”

Artwashing attracts hyper-gentrification and it is also public relations. And murky advertising. If you’re looking at this and thinking it’s an unmitigated good, well, they’ve got you right where they want you.

This is not spontaneous creativity. It’s not bohemian aliveness in the Village. It’s the spoonful of sugar that helps the poison go down.

This is a corporate-development collaboration that artists have agreed to participate in, though it would be better if they did a little more critical thinking about that participation.

It reminds me of when luxury neighbor, One Jackson Square, went up next door in 2007. The developers wrapped that site in billboards that capitalized on the creativity and bohemian history of the Village. “To this day,” said the ad materials, “the birthplace of bohemian culture is still home to an eclectic mix of artists, iconoclasts and cognoscenti.”

On the billboard, it read, “The Spirit of Greenwich Village Is Alive and Well.”

Today, One Jackson Square is home to a Starbucks and a TD Bank.

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