The worst part about cars is the aesthetics of their necessary infrastructure, and no bit of automobile architecture is uglier than the highway. In Brooklyn, we’ve got a hideous doozy: the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a brutish elevation connecting boroughs. Thankfully, Brooklyn residents have for decades tried to brighten this blight with art, above and below, so that both those unfortunate enough to drive over it and those more unfortunate to pass beneath it can have some respite from its barbarity.
You can see the line “We Are Not Government Issued” as you pass this Sunset Park mural in a car, but only from the street can you also see the rest of its message: “Arm Yourself With the Knowledge to Think for Yourself.” It was created by Katie Yamasaki as part of her Voices Her’d project, in which she works with teenage girls to express issues in their communities, with the cooperation of Groundswell.
Remember how shitty the Bush years were? How hopeless all social progress seemed? This Greenpoint mural was always a (small) source of comfort while driving toward Queens and all points beyond. Recently, the piece was
buffed dissed by CHE, which at least one Flickr commenter described as a “toy move.”
When we started working for this company, the offices were in DUMBO, and we took the F train there. An ordinary person would probably have walked to Main Street along Front Street, but for some reason we preferred York, even though (or maybe because? We’ll ask our analyst) it’s an unattractive, highway-adjacent street. Nowadays, though, you might be considered peculiar not to walk on York: last year, a project called DUMBO Walls brought together eight notable artists (including Shepard Fairey) and had them create murals on BQE walls along a four-block stretch.
In September 2011, artist Ellie Balk worked with locals to paint this 130-foot mural in Clinton Hill underneath the BQE, “created by working with 9 pianists and drawing the distance between their hands as they played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to create a musical landscape,” according to the artist’s website.
This 120-foot mural livens up the BQE underpass at the end of Atlantic Avenue, “a notoriously dreary walkway,” according to Brownstoner. It was painted last year, one of several murals produced in 2013 by Groundswell, an organization behind many recently painted murals in NYC.
We’ll let Janet Braun-Reinitz and Jane Weissman, via their history of community murals On the Wall, describe Kit Sailer’s witty 1985 piece near the Williamsburg Bridge:
Occupants of cars traveling on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway through Williamsburg, Brooklyn, had no idea that the three giant men in [this piece] “buttressed” the highway from the underpass below. Only at street level could passersby appreciate the Herculean efforts of the muscular caryatids that supported the faux concrete trestle. Some viewers might have needed a second glance to notice the ever-widening “crack” at the top of the structure. Sailer’s elegant throwaway gesture was perhaps a comment on New York’s crumbling transportation infrastructure.
The Legacy of Mother Cabrini: Story of Immigration
This mural went up in 2012, documenting “the history of Italian immigration in the South Brooklyn area… on the BQE Service Road known as Hicks Street,” according to the blog Lost City. “The only people who are going to see it are the oddballs (like me) who sometime walk down dirty, dusty Hicks instead of the commercial strip Columbia Street or the picturesque Henry Street.” This mural was also produced by Groundswell.
Say Yes to Rugs
The best part of being on the BQE.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart