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Looking Back at Manhattan's Street Art Mecca, 10 Years Later

Before being swallowed by condos, Eleven Spring Street was a five-story work of art.

by Ray Mock
Dec 11 2016, 12:50pm

11 Spring St in its heyday. Photo by Jake Dobkin

In December 2006, nearly 100 street artists converged on a building at the northeast corner of Spring and Elizabeth Streets in Manhattan. For one weekend, they turned it into a must-see destination, plastering the entire five-story structure, inside and out, with art. It symbolized a last hurrah for 11 Spring Street, a long-time Lower Manhattan street art hotspot, before its conversion into luxury condos, like so much of the Lower East Side.

The event drew huge crowds and brought together renowned street artists, like Shepard Fairey, Faile, Swoon, JR, D*Face, and stencil pioneer Blek Le Rat. To commemorate its tenth anniversary, curators Sara and Marc Schiller are releasing a new book, Eleven Spring: A Celebration of Street Art.

Visitors waiting to enter 11 Spring during its short run in December, 2006. Photo by Andy Towle

“It was an amazing group of artists,” Patrick Miller and Patrick McNeil, known collectively as Faile, tell The Creators Project. “There was just such a strong lineage coming from that spot that it seemed only right to go big and celebrate it.”

The duo repeatedly adorned the outside of 11 Spring Street in its heyday, along with a cache of other venerable artists who were committed to covertly installing their work on the street, where it was free to the public—at least, before it was inevitably cleaned off, covered over, or removed by “collectors.” The artists claimed a chunk of the wall facing Elizabeth Street, along with fellow artists Bast and JR.

Work by Faile, JR and Bast outside 11 Spring. Photo by Jake Dobkin

“Perhaps it’s best that the most lasting memories were made on the walls that made the building what it was,” namely those facing the street, Faile adds.

The website run by the Schillers, Wooster Collective, was to street art what 12 Oz Prophet was to graffiti. When they approached then-fledgling stencil and woodcut artist Brian Adam Douglas, known as Elbow Toe, to participate in the event, he was “incalculably grateful and terrified” to match the work of his more established peers. He created an oversized wheat-pasted woodcut featuring extensive carving. “My goal with the piece was to pay homage to an aspect of the scene that I always loved—the boards that were bolted to [utility] poles around town, except my board would be 14 feet tall by eight feet wide.”

Next Level by the Skewville brothers along with other artwork inside 11 Spring. Photo by Donald Dietz

At the time, a number of artists were already transitioning to gallery careers, but putting their work on the street wasn’t merely a stepping stone to other ventures. “We didn’t really look at it as a career move,” Faile notes.

Nonetheless, the scope of the event cultivated buzz among street art aficionados and benefitted many of the participating artists. “I would not be a working artist today if it had not been for that show,” Douglas says. “A few dealers came to the show and poached a number of us for a group show at Leonard Street Gallery in London.”

An installation inside 11 Spring by judith Supine and Davide Zucco (AKA R3kal). Photo by Donald Dietz

Faile believes young artists today can still learn from older generations of artists and benefit from working on the street. “The spontaneity, the integration with the public, and the elements and the sense of impermanence all give you a freedom to be less precious and experiment with the way you create.”

Elbow Toe’s contribution to 11 Spring entitled Everybody’s Got One. Photo by Brian Adam Douglas

Perhaps a new generation of street artists will be inspired by the artists who left their mark on 11 Spring to buck trends, shun social media, and venture into the long and arduous journey of making art for art’s sake. “The period when I was fully engaged in street art as my primary means of artistic expression was by far the most fruitful stretch of creativity I have experienced to date," Douglas says.

An installation inside 11 Spring by Swoon. Photo by Donald Dietz

To learn more about the book, Eleven Spring: A Celebration of Street Art, click here

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The Impossible Quest to Catalog a Decade of NYC Street Art

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Street Artist Swoon Brings a Spiritual Installation to Detroit