Street art: Murals commissioned around 2 WTC site

Photos by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA

Downtown’s historically corporate streetscape is getting a welcome splash of color.

A spread of murals dozens of feet high are in the works at 2 World Trade Center — where Silverstein Properties plans to build another soaring skyscraper as part of its nearly two-decade-long redevelopment of the WTC campus. But for now, the building is built out only to the ground floor, with plenty of blank, street-level wall space, so the developer is trying to put that to good use by commissioning some colorful public art.

After the success Silverstein Properties had transforming the 69th floor of 4 WTC to a street-art-style office space which enticed music-streaming company Spotify to move its headquarters there, the developer decided to take the concept to the streets. The recently completed 3 WTC is expected to open June 11, and the murals are a part of an effort to draw in more foot traffic and make the WTC campus more colorful ahead of the opening.

Photos by Sydney Pereira

The six artists Silverstein commissioned — many of whom worked on the 4 WTC project — are glad that this will be a more public showcase than an office tucked away 600 feet in the sky.

“I don’t like my work being hidden,” Hektad said. “When I paint in the street, it’s for the people. It’s not for me. It’s for the joy — to take pictures and photos.”

Six artists and their teams transformed the World Trade Center streetscape ahead of Memorial Day Weekend. In addition to Hektad, street artists including Riiisa Boogie, Chinòn Maria, Stickymonger, Brolga, and Todd Gray spent days painting their signature colorful designs across from the white, spiky Oculus transit hub. Their murals ranged from Maria’s flowered street sign for Vesey Street to Hektad’s optical illusion of splattered hearts.

The artists had teams — mostly their friends and families — assisting them, but the work still took several days, some longer than others. Hektad’s was one of the biggest murals he had ever done.

The Silverstein’s original venture into street art at 4 WTC sparked criticism after reports that artists who contributed were not compensated. And for some artists, the news that their work on the 69th floor became a selling point to woo Spotify to the office space was counter to how the exhibition was pitched to them, according to an article in the online arts magazine Hyperallergic back in March 2017. The original works were supposed to be a part of a 9/11 anniversary memorial ceremony in 2016, but that event never occurred, according to Hyperallergic.

For the 2 WTC project, however, the artists’ were each paid $2,000, plus expenses for supplies, according to Dara McQuillan, the chief marketing officer of Silverstein Properties.

And down at 2 WTC, the work was much more what the artists were accustomed to — on the street where the public can see it, with passers by stopping to comment, take selfies, or just watch the process.

Photos by Sydney Pereira

The mural walls were corrugated, which means that the artists were using more supplies than they expected because of the greater surface area. Stickymonger, also known as Joohee Park, said the murals were going to take two to three times more supplies than she originally planned for. Another artist welcomed the challenge of this space in particular.

“There’s no perfect walls, really,” said Brolga, an Australian artist whose work is featured in various locations around Brooklyn. The 2 WTC site was “a really nice challenge, scaling up and working with that.”

Brolga’s fame took off after he painted a Muhammad Ali mural in Brooklyn coincidentally just months before Ali’s death, he said. Since then, he’s been commissioned for work around the world, including China and Australia. He said high-profile gigs like 2 WTC give street artists a chance to shine.

“It’s a unique opportunity for us artists,” he said.

The murals are expected to remain for six months to a year, depending on when the developer is able to secure anchor tenants and finally begin construction of the last major piece of Silverstein’s WTC redevelopment plan.

However long their art sticks around, the artists hope their work can brighten the mood of a place with some grim associations.

“The place is Ground Zero. It’s known for being a sad place,” said Hektad, whose work typically features vividly colored hearts, adding that he hopes people can leave the space more uplifted, filled with a message of peace and love from his work.

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