A brief history of the Bowery Mural, the Lower East Side’s street-art showcase

A look back at the artists enlivening the old wall at the corner of Bowery and Houston

  • Keith Haring tribute, 2008

  • Os Gêmeos, July 2009–March 2010

  • Shepard Fairey, April–August 2010

  • Barry McGee, August–November 2010

  • Dash Snow tribute by Irak, November 24–26, 2010

  • Kenny Scharf, December 2010–June 2011

  • JR, June–October 2011

  • Faile, October 2011–March 2012

  • Retna, March–July 2012

  • Aiko, July 2011–October 2012

  • How & Nosm, October 2012–March 2013

  • A birthday tribute to Martha Cooper by Terror161, Faust, Lady Pink, Free5, How & Nosm, Crash, Daze and Aiko; March 9, 2013

  • Crash, March–July 2013

  • Revok and Pose, July–October 2013

  • Swoon, October 2013–February 2014

  • Maya Hayuk, February–May 2014

  • Cope 2, May 2014

Keith Haring tribute, 2008

The origin of the wall on the corner of Bowery and Houston is lost to the mists of time. But in 1982, Keith Haring, the street artist who rose to stardom before succumbing to AIDS in 1990 at age 32, became the first to a paint mural on it.
Goldman Properties acquired the structure two years later and left Haring’s mural intact. Over the ensuing decades, the work was tagged by lesser artists and touched up from time to time. But after Haring’s death, it deteriorated and was finally painted over. In 2008, Goldman Properties honcho Tony Goldman and gallery dealer Jeffrey Deitch launched a curated program for the wall, featuring street artists from around the world. The project kicked off with a re-creation of Haring’s piece in honor of what would have been his 50th birthday.
Os Gêmeos, a twin-brother artist team from Brazil, followed with a mural in 2009. They were also the last to paint directly onto the wall. Since then, artists have worked on a plywood surface covering the original masonry.
After Os Gêmeos, the Bowery Mural has changed seasonally. It has seen a tribute to Dash Snow, the artist, graffitist and oil-business heir who died of a drug overdose in 2009. And a welter of famed street artists—Terror161, Faust, Lady Pink, Free5, How & Nosm, Crash, Daze and Aiko—collaborated on a one-day-only birthday celebration for photographer Martha Cooper, a street-art legend who documented the nascent graffiti scene of the ’70s and ’80s.
Unfortunately, vandalism has been a chronic problem, most notably in the case of Shepard Fairey’s 2010 piece, which was bombed by hoards of haters. At one point, a huge hole was torn in the plywood, exposing the wall underneath. Eventually, a second plywood wall was erected over the lower half of Fairey’s work to protect it from further damage. Such are the wages of street art, however, where an artist’s credibility is often harshly judged.