Over the last decade, the city, like many dense metropolises around the world, has become a paradise of art on the streets, a legacy — sometimes directly, sometimes in spirit only — of the graffiti movement that took root in New York in the 1970s and ‘80s more powerfully than anywhere else, spawning a new American art form.
That legacy has, of course, always been deeply contested, even as graffiti has sunk deeply into the DNA of 21st-century visual culture. At its heart, it is still an outlaw form, deriving much of its power from its surreptitious creation, under cover of darkness, in places where some people have no interest in seeing it and might need to spend thousands of dollars to remove it. (“It’s everywhere,” one official in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a new graffiti mecca, recently told The New York Times. “It’s epidemic.”)But alongside unauthorized and highly ephemeral street art — a world that now includes not only paint and wheat-paste paper pieces but also materials from knitted yarn to tile to Lego parts to hacked digitized road signs — the city now boasts more or less officially enshrined works scattered throughout the boroughs. There are commissioned murals, memorial murals, city-supported painting projects, ambitious pieces that serve as signs for stores and restaurants, and hundreds of so-called permission walls, in which more free-form work goes up with few objections.