While its days of rampant (and illegal) graffiti are over, New York still offers a wealth of fantastic murals and street art — you just have to know where to find it.
New York’s come a long way since the 1980s, when graffiti tags covered every subway car and neighborhood crews competed for wall space and notoriety. Decades of aggressive policing have left much of the city permanently scrubbed clean.
Like the forests that once covered New York, it’s now easiest to see graffiti in enclosed parks, where curators do their best to recreate the city’s wild past. Here are some of the best spots to discover the history of street art — and peer into its future.
Nestled between three elementary schools in East Harlem, the Graffiti Hall of Fame is an internationally renowned destination for graffiti's biggest names. True to the spontaneous spirit of graffiti, the collection of works is constantly rotated. 20 large murals surround a central courtyard, and each one is repainted on a yearly basis by a prominent artist. The repainting ceremony is an annual, weekend-long party featuring hip-hop performances and barbeque.
The adjacent streets serve as a more traditional tribute to past greats. Keith Haring’s classic “Crack Is Wack” lives on both sides of the handball wall on Second Avenue and 128th Street, and James de la Vega’s colorful mosaic and mural work can be seen up and down Lexington Avenue.
The GHF is open to the public when school is not in session — but almost every mural is visible through a chain link fence when it is.
2. Hunts Point
An industrial strip of the South Bronx hosts one of the most consistently top-notch mural collections in the city. The owner of a warehouse in the area commissioned TATS cru, a sort of Bronx-based graffiti Justice League, to keep a 200-foot-long wall free of inferior graffiti by covering it with their best work.
Although it’s something of a trek from the nearest 6 train stop, the eye-popping work here is a feast for the eyes. The walk from the subway is part of the fun: surrounding warehouses and garages are also covered in vibrant murals.
One of the most coveted surfaces in town for street artists, the large wall at the corner of Houston and Bowery was first brought to the art world’s attention when Keith Haring painted an illegal mural there in 1979. Since then, the building’s owners have invited a top street artist to repaint the wall roughly every six months.
New murals are routinely vandalized, but thanks to the vigilance of the project’s volunteers, they’re almost always scrubbed clean within days. The highly visible intersection is a great jumping-off point for the graffiti-rich Lower East Side.
The past year has seen the completion of an ambitious project to decorate the pull-down metal security gates used by businesses on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The brainchild of local artist Billy Rohan, 100 Gates keeps the neighborhood looking vibrant after businesses close for the day.
A $30,000 grant from the city covered painting costs, and the grates now play host to a staggeringly diverse array of artwork. Visit at night to experience the full range of styles on display.
Naturalist and beloved bird painter John James Audubon’s old uptown neighborhood is the home of a lovingly created series of bird murals. Sponsored by the National Audubon Foundation and the Gitler Gallery, the murals seek to capture every single one of the 314 birds on the foundation’s endangered species report.
Engaging hundreds of artists, the project covers a range of surfaces in the neighborhood, from factory walls to storefronts to private balconies — making the Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights areas two of the best places to see highly detailed bird renderings that would make Audubon himself proud.