If I had a crisp one-dollar bill for every time I’ve declared SoHo dead to me here on Flaming Pablum, I could probably buy myself a lovely lunch. As I’m prone to laboriously remind everyone, not only was SoHo once the center of the New York City art scene, but it used to act as an almost literal canvas, its narrow canyons colorfully slathered in all manifestations of street art – from chicken-scratch graffiti and huge, garish murals to hidden stencils and stickers bearing cryptic legends. It was as if the very neighborhood itself couldn’t contain all the art happening within it. When you crossed its borders, you knew you were in SoHo. The art was literally inescapable.
These days, of course, it’s a pointedly different scene. Following a veritable blitzkrieg of gentrification, the SoHo of 2017 is nigh on bereft of any semblance of its former self. Sure, there are still a handful of art galleries, but it's essentially become a haven for exhorbitantly pricey real estate, luxury retail outlets, high-end bistros and precious fuck-all else. There's still a bit of street art, but nothing like there used to be. More often than not, spaces that used to act as de facto outdoor gallery spaces now usually play host to clothier ads. For a more authoritative account of all things SoHo, of course, I humbly defer to Yukie Ohta’s excellent SoHo Memory Project.
This all said, I still love SoHo, and -- much like my walks through the East Village --– my eyes still hunt for signifiers of its former incarnation. As it happens, I have to walk through SoHo on my daily commutes to and from my office down at the bottom of West Broadway (mentioned as recently as here). This morning, I was met with a sight that felt like a nail pounded into the coffin of the SoHo my eyes still pine for.
Affixed to the edifices of a building on the northwest corner of Wooster & Grand Street -– a square of real estate made more claustrophobic by recent development -– was a series of angry, circular metal plaques. This street used to be positively awash in color and expression. Just steps to its south, between Grand and Canal, was a building called The Candy Factory, which was covered in a dizzying patina of street art. The since-vanished parking lot on the southwest corner of Wooster and Grand played host to huge pieces by Shepherd Fairey and Banksy, to say nothing of colorful works by lesser known street-artists. I can’t begin to imagine how many pictures I snapped of the ever-changing tableaux of art in that particular plot.
Today, the Candy Factory’s long gone, replaced by a condo. The lot, too, is gone, replaced by a condo. And the plaques on the northeast might just as well speak for the whole neighborhood now. Where once street art was welcomed, encouraged, admired and enjoyed by all, the sentiment of the neighborhood’s affleuent occupants is a very different one.
This plaques read as follows ….