“Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet.” – Banksy, Wall and Piece
The first thing that struck me about this street in deepest Harlem, was how starkly beautiful everything was. I had been warned that 146th street was situated in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Manhattan; but nobody told me that the street itself would also be one of the most aesthetically pleasing and serendipitous.
146th Street is like an outdoor museum. Everywhere I turned, there were beautiful community murals and works of graffiti art, painted by schoolchildren in the many elementary high schools in the vicinity; and by the wealth of creative talent that calls this small piece of northern Manhattan their home.
The architecture in this street was also stunning, ranging from the elegant turn-of-the-century mansions situated in the the historic Sugar Hill District, which this street cuts through; to more functional but no less historic tenement apartments, to startlingly contemporary post-industrial flourishes to existing facades. The walls along the street – the word for “wall” is “mur” in French, from which the word “mural” is derived” – with their alternately elaborate baroque ornamentation juxtaposed against sheer panels of glass and steel, are also works of art in their own right, adding to the general “museum-ness” of the street.
Finally, between les murs and the murals, one also stumbles upon set pieces of everyday life that have composed themselves into pieces of installation art – a silent children’s playground; an abandoned shopping cart; the rusty gates to a once popular public swimming pool; a cloud pattern above fire escapes. These too, are pieces displayed in this Museum of Mur/als.
There are five galleries in this museum, each anchored by a signature piece of street art. Together, they provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives lived along this most artistic of my 12 Streets in Manhattan. They are:
- Gallery 1: Playground In Da Hood
- Gallery 2: Man Up In Harlem
- Gallery 3: Jazz Age Architecture
- Gallery 4: Convent Girl
- Gallery 5: Black Hood
I hope you enjoy your visit to the museum.