Art at the Top of the World
An unexpected gallery space on the 69th floor of 4 World Trade Center
Pics by Josh Geyer.
A street art show stamped with approval by the corporate suits at the World Trade Center has to be boring, right? Apparently not.
This weekend I was offered a viewing of a show by street artists in the bare and empty 69th floor of 4 World Trade Center. It was a great experience. The opportunity of taking in the view from such a tall skyscraper was enough to get me out of bed early on a Saturday morning. I’ve never done The Top Of The Rock or visited the observation deck of the Empire State Building. (Tourist stuff.) So this was the first time I’ve seen the New York skyline from so high up. When the elevator doors first opened, the view totally distracted me from the exhibition. But after that initial deer-in-headlights moment, my eyes settled on the artwork.
First to catch my attention were the vinyl manga pieces stuck on the floor-to-ceiling windows by Stickymonger. Starry-eyed anime girls looked off into the distance and lounged about the edges of the concrete space. The sight of the Brooklyn Bridge and Hudson River outlined by theSouth Korean artist’s characters was a great adaptation to the environment.
That installation subtly directed my gaze towards the walls, where I encountered the angular black-and-white illustrations of Jackfox, son of South Africa’s Faith 47, whose work seemed to hover over the surface of the smooth gray concrete pillars. Next to catch my eye was a mural by Cern from Queens, who balanced ultra-flat black shadows with fluoro-colored characters in a subway car scene. A giant wheat-pasting by Ron English of a boxing glove–shaped brain covered one wall and the abstractions of Rubin 415 graced another. Conrad Stojak repurposed parking meters, filling them with miniature scenes, including a gruesome car accident. And the tight bathroom hallway was entirely covered by a low-rise city pattern, courtesy of Ian Ferguson, with storefronts at the bottom that made me feel like a giant.
The fact that street artists are being embraced by the powers-that-be is not all that surprising. A New York Times article about the show breathlessly posited that “it is different because the artists were not on the run, chased off by a landlord.” In fact, smart landlords have long seen the potential of street art to help raise their profile (and prices). The H&M storefront at the bottom of 4 World Trade Center offered a book of street art for sale featuring many of the artists on display on the 69th floor. And a 180-foot David Bowie mural in Jersey City could be seen off in the distance. Landlords at the World Trade Center welcoming artists like these is just one more step in a years’ long embracement of street art by the establishment.
But the exhibit is most definitely worth the trip. Unfortunately, it’s only open by invitation at the moment. It’s also heavy on security, necessitating an advance email which gets you a printed keycard that activates a buttonless elevator, taking you directly to the 69th floor. But once there, the sense of looming authority is soon forgotten in the endless sky that wraps the entire space.
Organizers hope to unveil the show with a public opening on April 5th. Stay tuned for updates.