It is surprising to see this image reflected back to us again in the harried flurry of Williamsburg’s supercharged real estate development along the waterfront. Posted here on a construction wall protecting the perimeter of the old Domino sugar refinery, a photo that may remind you of the artists who first made this neighborhood a destination, then a desired destination.
The cool kids would say it is rather meta. This is a photo by artist and photographer Jaime Rojo of a photo by Jaime Rojo – taken of a wall protecting the Domino plant development in 2014, now put back on display on a wall protecting the Domino plant development. In the 1990s, when Rojo moved to the neighborhood as an artist, it was known as an artist’s refuge with a bubbling culture of art shows, loft parties, free-wheeling experimentation with all manner of media, and a laboratory for street artists.
Like the rippling reflections on the East River before it, this new picture contains fragments of what this history is.
Hellbent, the street artist featured in this photo painting his site-specific mural, was part of a public art project curated by Brooklyn Street Art, which you are reading. His art had graced the walls of Williamsburg illegally a decade or so before painting legally here on this temporary construction wall. Jaime Rojo had documented with his camera during that stage of his public work as well.
Now 8 years later, we ponder the future of this neighborhood, these real estate developers, and this artist. Street artists’ work is rare to be found here at this moment, while once it was on every block. Murals, many of them commissioned advertisements, affect a curious curation of a culture geared toward consuming.
The graffiti historian and art dealer Roger Gastman mounted the huge “Beyond the Streets” exhibition in this neighborhood only two years ago, drawing some crowds to look – and some customers looking to buy art on canvas by many artists whose work were illegally on Williamsburg walls only a decade earlier – Shepard Fairy, Faile are but two who come to mind.
New York Museums, should they ever change, will be next. Elsewhere, in cities and continents outside of this city known for being a birthplace of graffiti and the street art movement, there are already museums dedicated to this grassroots people’s art movement. New York art institutions follow, in this case.
We will be as surprised as anyone to see what photos we will publish about these street artists in this neighborhood in 8 more years.