New York’s vibrant, yet ephemeral street art captures the spirit of the moment and tells the story of what is happening in the city and world right now. Unlike a gallery that can house a painting under glass for centuries, some of the city’s best art hangs on the temporary wooden barriers that surround construction sites and on the walls of crumbling tenements that are being torn down to make way for the palaces of the elite. Experience firsthand the push-and-pull between the plutocracy and the creative community that has colored New York’s art scene since back in its New Amsterdam days.
Manhattan’s Artistic Streets
There is no question that Manhattan’s art museums are some of the best things to do in New York, but don’t miss the art that loiters in subway tunnels and anonymous alleyways. You may choose to do some research on your own to find the latest Banksy or Intruder piece, but these works go up quickly and are taken down with as much vigor. One way to see what’s fresh in the street scene is to go on Graff Tours’ Manhattan Street Art Tour, which allows you to see the newest and best works on the Lower East Side and in the Bowery.
Graffiti & Hip-Hop in Harlem
Head up over 110th Street to explore the role that hip-hop has played in the local art scene. Wander around Sugar Hill to see the neighborhood that gave its name to the first commercially successful rap group. No matter where you go, you can spot graffiti—ranging from a basic tag to a more complex mural of a hip-hop icon like Tupac or Biggie. Don’t miss the Graffiti Hall of Fame, which provides the opportunity to learn all about the godfathers of graffiti, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Futura 2000. If your homemade map of hip-hop art falls short and you want to discover even more, try a walking tour with Hush Hip-Hop Tours to learn all about the Latin influence on the area’s art.
Brooklyn’s Best in Bushwick
Despite the unrelenting force of gentrification, Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood does its best to cherish and preserve the art that defines the area. Though it’s probably not on a list of top things to do in New York, be sure to check out The Radiant Madonna, a work by Owen Dipple of the Bushwick Collective that pays tribute to Keith Haring’s unique style while harkening back to the Renaissance. Buff Monster and Jerkface, also members of the Bushwick Collective, create works that seem to come and go with the season. Given the transient nature of this artwork, a great way to make sure you are seeing the top locations is to grab a guide for a private tour.
Williamsburg—More Than Beards
The hipster invasion of Williamsburg has led to higher rents, but it still hasn’t crushed the neighborhood’s artistic spirit. While you may spot wandering indie icons like Zach Galifianakis or the guys from The National, you are even more likely to see pieces from Banksy and Nick Walker. Public transportation or an Uber can get you to Williamsburg, and there are plenty of ways to walk through this area to locate all the best works. If you’re looking for an in-depth experience, the local guides from Inside Out Tours have tremendous insight that you can’t get just by looking at a mural.
An Artist’s Life
To learn even more about the art that exemplifies New York, meet some of the artists that call the Big Apple home. Graff Tours provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in a graffiti lesson with a local tagger. Beyond just teaching you to operate an aerosol can, your guide details the history of this highly visibly art form. There’s no worry about getting hassled by the cops because this area has been deemed acceptable for graffiti.
Before the art hits the streets, artists tirelessly work indoors to test out ideas that will translate to the community where their piece will reside. Art City Tours offers a chance to see 3 artists’ studios and workshops. Even though some of the featured artists hang their pieces in the galleries around town, you can observe their process to see what makes New York’s local art scene worth the visit.
Where have you spotted cool street art in the City that Never Sleeps?