In the ’90s, a nonprofit group of aerosol artists called the Phun Phactory was granted permission from the owner of a warehouse complex in Long Island City to use the brick exteriors of the property’s 12 buildings as a canvas for their work. The site, which came to be known as “the world’s premier graffiti mecca,” attracted artists from all over the globe, offering them the opportunity to paint without fear of prosecution. Famed for his lightbulb illustrations, Jonathan Cohen—aka Meres One—began curating works for the site in 2002, later renaming the vibrant sprawl 5 Pointz.
Back then, the development—a former water-meter factory and record-making company—encompassed 200 or so artists’ studios for rent. Below-market prices made it a haven not only for aerosol aficionados but all sorts of creative types. But plans to redevelop the site were approved in 2013—and without warning, the iconic walls were completely whitewashed, devastating the entire art community.
A year after the property was demolished, Robin Chadha—chief marketing officer of CitizenM—tapped Marie Cecile Flageul, a veteran spokesperson and advocate for 5 Pointz, to select 20 artists who had painted at the original site to create works for the Netherlands-based hotel chain’s new Manhattan outpost. “The idea or hope was to bring a little bit of 5 Pointz back to New York City,” Flageul says.
She asked the colorful band—whose members range in age from 25 to 65 and hail from seven countries—to help compose “a vertical love letter to the Bowery” in the form of a series of murals housed within the stairwell of the 21-story hotel.
“The idea or hope was to bring a little bit of 5 Pointz back to New York City.”
An ode to the street on which the hotel lies, the theme is broken down into four categories—words, faces, places, and moments—which collectively narrate and honor the life and art of the Lower East Side. “The works echo the quality of what we had in 5 Pointz,” Flageul says. “It is a great showcase of the diversity of what can be done in aerosol art today.”
Dubbed the Museum of Street Art (MoSA), the permanent exhibition starts on the rooftop with a 5,000-square-foot mural by Meres One. Titled Bowery Rebirth, it features letters culled from the original site and is designed to capture the feeling “of being on top of the world,” according to the hotel’s website. (A stained-glass–inspired work by Cohen, boasting his signature Wildstyle lettering, also sits in the building’s public plaza.) Other artists include Elle, the brilliant vandal behind the collage portrait of RuPaul, and Sheryo, a Brooklyn-based Singaporean visual mastermind known for her playful collaboration with fellow artist The Yok called Pipe Dreams, which graced a wall along Crane Street at the original 5 Pointz and featured a geisha and a monster devouring a slice of pizza.
Flageul is currently holding free weekly guided tours of MoSA and plans to offer other scheduled programming in the future. If you stop by, she says, don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes and note that backpacks and photography aren’t allowed in the exhibition.
At the end of the day, her mission is simple: “I hope guests will appreciate the installation and look at the Bowery differently, and realize how diverse and rich graffiti and street art are.”
Why You Should Go: To get a taste of the artistry you either miss or never got the chance to see at 5 Pointz.
Museum of Street Art
CitizenM New York Bowery
189 Bowery (between Spring and Delancey Streets)
Open seven days a week, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m., with tours every 30 minutes