A New Company Is Framing and Selling 'Ownership' of NYC Street Art

A curious splash of color in the concrete jungle?
A curious splash of color in the concrete jungle?

Who in New York City doesn't have $150 or so kicking around that they want to blow on something crazy? I mean, we're all trust fund kids and Russian oligarchs at this point, right?

So thank God for Wall-(m)Art, a mysterious online gallery/performance art project/racket that will take any graffiti you see on the street, frame it, and put up a plaque declaring its new owner: you! Shell out from about $100 to $300 and you can make like a dog and metaphorically pee all on your favorite street art in the city.

So far the company has sold four pieces to friends -- two have been framed in Williamsburg (ugh), the other two in Bushwick (ughhhhhhh) -- and one to the Voice. We purchased the cheapest work available -- a $111 job titled Ouch, Charlie, Ouch that features a sketch of half of Charlie Chaplin's face -- to see if Wall-(m)Art would make good on its promises.

See more: Famed Graffiti Artist Adam Cost Arrested by NYPD Officers Obsessed With Adam Cost

Wall-(m)Art, which, according to the Post, is run by an ad agency creative director named "John," is promoting the idea of "vandalism [getting] vandalized." And given the flouting of the law that is involved in such a venture, it's a pretty mysterious operation. "We make no claims about the legality or illegality of stuff therein," the site's FAQ page states. A Wall-(m)Art spokesperson, who talked with the Voice only via email, and on the condition of anonymity, says the goal of the venture is to "give support and appreciation to [local graffiti] artists and help bring attention to their work."

At Wythe and North 6th streets, in Williamsburg
At Wythe and North 6th streets, in Williamsburg
Katie Toth

The company's online shop features some obviously photoshopped frames on images of the pieces Wall-(m)Art plans to "sell," so prospective buyers can get an idea of what they'll be getting.

But beware: Once the frames are up, we're not talking museum-quality hanging and upkeep. We swung by to view one of the pieces in Williamsburg and saw a gold-painted wooden frame that had already been tagged by another graffiti artist. Vandalism on vandalism on vandalism -- a true palimpsest.

But if you're in the graffiti-purchasing game, that's the risk you take. Whatever happens after you buy a work is on you. Be it frame thievery, inclement weather, bureaucrats deciding your precious object is a quality-of-life crime, any events outside of the company's control are, according to the site's terms and conditions, considered force majeure. Translation: If something happens to our $111 picture of Charlie Chaplin, we're screwed.

In fact, it's happened already to one of the pieces Wall-(m)Art has sold. A once-framed poem that has been featured on the online gallery is now little more than sad scraps of a poster. And neither frame nor plaque festoons the wall at North 5th and Kent any longer.

But hey, vandalism is illegal, so one has to lower one's expectations about these things.

At Kent and North 5th streets in Williamsburg, someone's purchase stands defaced.
At Kent and North 5th streets in Williamsburg, someone's purchase stands defaced.
Katie Toth

And where does the company find its art of largely unknown provenance?

"We started out by just finding works we liked and putting them on our site, but have also started reaching out to artists in the hopes of involving them and learning more," the spokesperson writes. "We also welcome artists to contact us with work they would like to see in our shop."

As far as our buy, so far we have received a confirmation of purchase, and the work is listed as "Sold Out" on the site. We'll keep you updated once our frame and plaque are up.

Sold! To the Voice for $111!
Sold! To the Voice for $111!

Send news tips to ktoth@villagevoice.com Follow @kat_toth on Twitter

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