How many times have you been walking around New York City, seen a mural on the side of a building or a sculpture in the middle of the street and thought, I wonder who made that? It’s not always easy to find out. Often the work is a temporary installation funded by the Public Art Fund, such as Rob Pruitt’s fittingly garish and metallic Andy Monument in Union Square. Your favorite sculpture brightening that daily commute may be a permanent piece commissioned by the city through the Percent for Art law, a law requiring that “one percent of the budget for eligible City-funded construction projects be spent on artwork for City facilities,” like Jeff Koons’ Red Balloon Flower outside 7 World Trade Center. The piece you stumble upon on your stroll through the park is probably funded by the city’s Art in the Parks Program, the fund that also brought you Peter Woytuk on Broadway, a whimsical menagerie of animal sculptures lining Broadway from 59th Street to 168th Street (you’re a true hardcore New Yorker if you do the whole walk.) Rarely is the piece that catches your eye privately commissioned by a business owner who simply wanted to “spread love” in the community.
Such is the case for the new Biggie Mural in Fort Greene, a massive kaleidoscopic painting on the side of the Brooklyn Love Building, which replaces the face of Che Guevara from the famous pop art print with the face of rapper Notorious B.I.G.. The work was commissioned by Sean Meenan, owner of The Brooklyn Love Building, the adjacent solar-powered restaurant Habana Outpost, as well as the notoriously trendy Habana Café in Soho. Meenan hired a Parsons student, John Garcia, to design an image “where Biggie looks like Che.” Meenan then hired legendary New York City subway artist Lee Quinones to paint the mural on the building, and Quinones hired the graffiti artist known as Cern One to assist him. Controversy arose when Mr. Garcia protested that none of the media coverage acknowledged his contribution, and that he was denied a credit on the mural, which he claims was promised him in his negotiations with Mr. Meenan. In fact, the only credit on the mural is given to Mr. Meenan’s website. The only other text on the building is the Habana “H” Logo, and the Biggie lyrics “Spread Love It’s the Brooklyn Way.”
It is unfortunate that Mr. Meenan only saw fit to put his name on the mural, and not the names of any of the three artists who created it, especially considering Mr. Quinones and Mr. Meenan are “longtime friends.” However, it’s not every block in Brooklyn that can boast a brightly painted building honoring a local hip-hop icon painted by world famous artists. Meenan says he commissioned the mural to give back to the community and make people smile. In a comment on the coverage of the controversy by The Brooklyn Paper, one Brooklyn resident disagrees: “He doesn’t do —— for the community unless there is a photo op for him involved. Good luck getting your name on anything he’s PAID for.” Another commenter adopts a more laissez-faire attitude: “Either way, another dope mural in The Fort.” I’m inclined to agree. It is pretty dope indeed.
– Judith Dry