Whilst walking home last night, I passed by the corner of Elizabeth Street at East Houston and was struck by the above, the latest in a string of murals gracing the westerly-facing edifice.
At first glance, one might perceive this mural to be some sort of palpable blow against the empire, so to speak, but dig a little deeper, and it’s fairly dispiriting.
I’ll get into its content and execution shortly, but it should be acknowledged that for all the bravado of a legend like “Gentrify This,” it was still commissioned at the behest of the shop around its corner, Rag + Bone/Jean, a bespoke habberdasher specializing in ludicrously expensive casual menswear. The influx of businesses like Rag & Bone -- which displaced the restaurant, Café Colonial, which had, in turn, been there for fifteen years until a rent hike forced them out in 2010 -– represents the quintessence of gentrification. One could credibly argue that Café Colonial was equally representative of that same gentrification. Feel free to go down that rabbit hole, if you so please.
In any case, this mural is the street art equivalent of poserism, steeped in a slick patina of cultural appropriation. Rag & Bone doesn’t lament the gentrification of the Lower East Side. Rag & Bone is the manifestation of the gentrification of the Lower East Side.
These next points are fairly petty and pedantic, but you should expect as much from me by this stage.
Right off the bat, let’s get this right out of the way -– while the Clash are inarguably synonymous with all things Punk Rock and did indeed spend a shitload of time in New York City (recording at Electric Ladyland and playing venues like The Palladium, Bond’s Casino and Shea Stadium), at no point did they ever perform at CBGB, which makes the sloppy rendering of Paul Simonon smashing his bass (from the iconic cover of London Calling) adjacent to the approximation of the CB’s logo sort of lazy and incongruous. As a side note, there was a far better replication of this same image formerly adorning the wall of since-closed bar on East 12th back in the 90's. Don't look for it now, but here's how it's done:
The ersatz “SAMO” tag (the street art nom de plume of Jean-Michel Basquiat) also feels somewhat cheaply tacked on. Overall, the whole endeavor seems like something you might find at a Disney park.
Don’t believe the hype.