Street Art Returns to Soho with Work to Do

Between 1970 and 1980, 112 Greene Street was home to one of the city’s most revolutionary art spaces. Co-founded by Jeffrey Lew and Gordon Matta-Clark, the radical gallery gave artists free reign to express themselves. In this environment, Vito Acconci, Laurie Anderson, Richard Serra and Louise Bourgeois produced some of their most challenging and inspiring work. But, you wouldn’t know it now. Anonymously nestled next to the type of Scandinavian design store that sells lamps shaped like buck heads, 112 Greene Street is one of the many casualties of Soho’s yuppie revolution.

Royce Bannon and the Endless Love Crew are trying to change that. Thursday night they’ll unveil Work to Do, a collaboration between fifty one street and urban artists that fills every paintable space in the gallery with their work. Recently, Flavorwire had a chance to catch a sneak preview of the exhibit and discuss the project with curator Royce Bannon.

Inspired by a Barack Obama quote, Royce says that the show is about “working as a community.” The curator argues that, “Today, we can’t trust the government to take care of us. We have to bond together and help ourselves. That’s the idea of Work to Do. There’s a lot of work to be done right now.” The Endless Love Crew has gained a reputation for exemplifying these ideals through their collaborative open-canvas projects. Comprised of nine core members, the ELC aims to improve the streets in New York and all over the world. The community-minded spirit of the crew made them the logical choice to head up project.

As Bannon told Brooklyn Street Art, “[the space] was a mess when I saw it. It was full of a bunch of wood, tables, broken furniture, junk… it was basically used for storage, hadn’t been used for anything I guess for years.” Despite the state of the gallery, Bannon began to work tirelessly, recruiting artists from all over the world whose work he admired in the hopes that the project could “bring the art back to Soho.”

If what we saw is any indication, they already have. Work to Do is visually arresting for its scale alone. When the owners of 112 Greene St. approached Bannon about the exhibition, they only intended to involve Bannon, Abe Lincoln Jr., Anera, El Celso, infinity — the active members of ELC. But, it is difficult to imagine how they could possibly have filled the 4,000 square foot room by themselves.

From the ceiling to the floor, the fifty one artists involved in the project have covered the entire space with everything from swirling patterns to tongue-in-cheek designs. Bannon’s monsters pop off the wall next to a series of snaking, hallucinogenic squiggles. Thomas Buildmore fills another corner of the room with his trademark shrines, complete with fake flower flourishes and a miniature fountain. The boisterous work that predominates sometimes give ways to surprising examples of subtlety; Cake’s “Waiting for the Smart Crew” features a sensitively depicted woman staring into space while Kosbe’s piece erupts into a violent mix of bleeding colors. Remarkably, the jumble of styles, colors and media combine to produce a harmonious whole, giving credence to the community element of the exhibit.

When asked if the artists were able to collaborate smoothly, Royce admitted that while he was apprehensive at first, ultimately everyone kept the community spirit in mind. “There was no beef, no arguments,” he explains. “Everyone came in happy to paint and enjoy themselves. A lot of people brought paint, but we also supplied a lot and had some donations for materials from the arts. Everyone was just happy to be there.”

At its core, street art is about reclaiming community and territory. Although these pieces don’t appear on abandoned buildings or train cars, they achieve the same effect. The artists of Work to Do have gone into a forgotten place and newly marked it as a space for creative collaboration.

The exhibit will kick off Thursday at 7 p.m. with a performance by Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force, where they will debut a new single also called “Work to Do.” If you belong to the growing minority who’s sick of watching people buy Jamba Juice on the corner of Mercer and wonders where all the real artists have gone, Word to Do is a must see.