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Jeffrey Deitch's "Coney Art Walls" Exploits Artists for Real Estate Ploy

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Gentrification in New York City used to be about how close you were to downtown Manhattan, but no more. Today, Coney Island—the birthplace of the roller coaster and one of New York’s poorest and farthest flung neighborhoods—has succumbed to the same cycle of gentrification that Disneyfied Times Square and turned Williamsburg into a mecca for “luxury loft living.”

Art, once again, is being used to gussy up the results. This time, it’s courtesy of former dealer and ex-MOCA LA Director Jeffrey Deitch, the property developer Thor Equities, and their bland summertime display of street art. Fittingly, the venture is timidly titled “Coney Art Walls.”

To call “Coney Art Walls” an art exhibition is to commit what philosopher Gilbert Ryle would have termed a category mistake—a semantic error where things belonging to one category are presented as if they correspond to a different order of things. Though Thor Equities and Deitch have erected 25 concrete slabs to serve as temporary walls for murals by more than a dozen artists, their collaboration resembles little more than a real estate marketing ploy.

Ditto for the art on view. Uniformly colorful murals that individually deploy some of street art’s standard motifs—bright hues, stencils, and graphic punch—but engage in neither activism nor neighborhood politics, the Walls constitute perfect PR for gentrification’s nasty middle passage. That’s the part where neglected urban squalor is tarted up as fun-loving Bohoville.

Located at 1320 Bowery Street, on one of Thor Equities’ vacant lots that straddle the boardwalk in the shadow of the defunct Parachute Jump, “Coney Art Walls” shares real estate with a more established youth-oriented entertainment complex—Smorgasburg, a business that provides overpriced craft beer and artisanal foodstuffs for folks of remarkably similar ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.