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All the Graffiti On 190 Bowery Getting Buffed, Except for NEKST (RIP)

Photos by: Tod Seelie

For decades, the Germania Bank Building at 190 Bowery in Manhattan has been covered in graffiti, establishing it as a symbolic monument against the forces of gentrification; the last holdout in a neighborhood (and city) that’s being developed and inevitably whitewashed in the process.

But by this weekend, Mass Appeal has exclusively learned that all those layers of spray paint and wheat paste will be removed by owner Aby Rosen with the exception of one: a longstanding piece by NEKST, a graffiti artist who died several years ago.

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Sean “NEKST” Griffin, a world renowned and respected writer, passed away unexpectedly in 2012. The prolific artist painted his name in cities all across the United States and is believed to have tagged the high profile Bowery spot sometime in 2007. And he did it more than once.

NEKST’s brother VIZIE, who’s also a graffiti writer, gave a brief history of the piece. “He did it twice,” writes VIZIE via email. “Once with a different sketch. It got buffed and he came back and hit again. That’s the version that has been there since.” Over the years, his MSK brethren have maintained the piece, renovating it as recently as April when one of the letters was buffed, which could explain why Rosen has decided to keep this one aerosol remnant. It also shows the power that the graffiti-driven arts community has, even over a multi-million dollar piece of real estate. After all, would you want to piss off his army of supporters?

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VIZIE once discussed how much his brother loved 190 Bowery:

This was one of Sean’s all time favorite spots. He had actually painted it one time before this outline. When it was removed, he repainted it almost immediately. At one point he even had the Spring Street side with a big SEMZ block. Throughout the years he had to defend it, always getting clipped or gone over, usually by people who didn’t know any better, sometimes by people who should. No matter where he was living at the time, he would make sure when he was in NY, it would get a fresh coat of paint. After Sean passed our friends have helped with the maintenance. Now, it seems like it’s on its last legs.”

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The six-story landmark was sold to Rosen two years ago for $55 million by photographer Jay Maisel, who had lived in the 35,000 square foot property for decades, after purchasing it for a paltry $106,000 in 1966. Since the sale, Rosen has maintained that the retail tenant who rents out the massive first floor space would have the final say as to whether the graffiti stays or goes.

Mass Appeal reached out to creative house Great Bowery, the building’s main tenant to get their take on Rosen’s decision to buff the piece. “We would have much preferred the graffiti stay,” writes COO Melissa Kelly, “however we are really grateful that the landlord agreed to save the culturally significant NEKST piece.”

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Of course, once the surface is cleaned, it will likely attract even more writers.

When asked about the real estate mogul’s decision to keep the NEKST, VIZIE simply wrote: “The whole thing is weird, but I’ll take it.”

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