The Brewing Turf War over Plywood Protest Art in SoHo [PHOTOS]

Posted on: June 29th, 2020 at 5:00 am by

Photo: Eddie Panta

WestWood Gallery released a statement describing its original intention and that it was operating in “non-profit capacity.” Late last night, though, WestWood Gallery followed up explaining that they would take a “backseat” to the effort to create an exhibition that would benefit the artists and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“After a meeting today with individuals and organizations, we decided Westwood Gallery will take a back seat in this project,” Margarite Almeida stated in the email to us. “The mention of the gallery creates a perception of commercial activity, which was never our intent. As you know we were targeted with hatred, violence and racism by individuals who created a false narrative.”

WestWood Gallery had been fending off highly critical comments, and even violent threats, on Instagram since news of the gallery’s involvement was picked up by the media. Not all artists were surprised, though; and some were actually eager to participate. At the June 20 unscheduled press conference Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer pleaded with Art2(HEART), SBI, and the WestWood Gallery to work together to preserve the protest art across the streets of SoHo.

However, it is important to note that co-owner James Cavello is also on the board of the SoHo Broadway Initiative (“SBI”) and serves with the title of Community Outreach and Communications. Cavello has been a gallerist for 30 years and his gallery which is now on the Bowery, was at one time on Broadway in SoHo.

Photo: Eddie Panta

Either by design or chance, SBI now finds itself as the middle-man between the storefront plywood and the artists who created the work on it, at least temporarily. But the BID did indeed solicit its services to store the plywood on the Instagram accounts of the artists.

Collectively, WestWood Gallery, SBI, and Art2(HEART) said they are happy to give any artists their work back once they can verify authorship.

SoHo Social Impact did not respond to inquiries as to whether they were in possession of any plywood street art at the time of this article. But the group had been posting flyers petitioning building owners to allow them to remove the plywood barricades for free in hopes of mounting a future exhibition. SBI has done the same by stapling cards onto the plywood on Broadway.

SoHo Broadway Initiative, and WestWood Gallery did, however, obtain permission to create art on the plywood of some storefronts on the Broadway retail corridor and have assigned artists from the Art2(HEART) roster to paint on those specific locations. Whether or not artists signed agreements for these more curated art panels remains unclear.

Maxi Cohen eventually backtracked on the initial press release statement that the Art2(HEART) mission was to “reclaim SoHo,” which many interpreted as reclaiming SoHo from the luxury fashion world. Instead, Cohen explained that her intention was really to reclaim the artistic spirit of SoHo in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether the revolutionary protest graffiti scrawled on the bare plywood will end up a more accurate depiction of the time, or the subsequent work, that no matter how inspirational, still owed a big debt to the predominately African-American graffiti street culture of the 1970s. But the idea of a BID with an anti-graffiti clean-team, aiding and facilitating protest street art is just one of many ironies currently on display in SoHo where it is not uncommon to see real-estate broker signage advertising a long-empty storefront as a “Retail Masterpiece.”

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