An abandoned, derelict four-story building in the East Village was converted into a temporary art gallery Friday evening.
The secret, one-night group show dubbed Surplus Candy featured dozens of street artists and a handful of graffiti writers who spent six previous days and nights inside, covering the ramshackle ruins with vibrant murals, wheatpasted posters, tags and stencils.
By word of mouth and invite only, roughly 400 people made their way past a single doorman and explored the freezing, creaking space inside. No one revealed the address, as attendees were just as complicit in a potential trespassing charge as those who illegally decorated the walls.
The exhibit was the brainchild of the lighthearted street artist Hanksy, his name riffing off world-renowned stenciler Banksy and Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks. He’s known for creating punny, celebrity-infused art.
Hanksy acquired an old set of keys from “a friend of a friend.” The locks were never changed. “Besides my semi-clean record, what else did I have to lose?" he said.
Artists assembled organically – Dee Dee, Cern, Icy and Sot, Alice Mizrachi, Moustache Man, Bishop and more.
“I try to say yes to every opportunity to share my artwork in fun and interesting ways,” said Wizard Skull, 36, who treated the crumbling interior like the streets and worked quickly. “I wasn't at the space long. I'm used to wheat pasting my work up without permission.”
“I participated because I really enjoy art shows where the artists take over a space and the fact that it was illegal,” said Royce Bannon, 38. “It was more about having fun instead of selling art."
Nothing was for sale. It’s possible that everything will stay up until the place is demolished — text collages by El Sol 25, psychedelic portraits by Tony DePew and KC Burney’s mischievous skeleton dangling a painted knife through a shattered window.
Despite the atmospheric constraints of slow-drying paint and the legal risks involved, artists greatly enjoyed the leeway and free rein.
“It was an incredible opportunity to take over an entire room without restraint,” said Gilf. “I didn't have a gallerist trying to make it sellable, or a building owner trying to micromanage my concept. This freedom is what drew me to making work in the streets years ago. It felt very natural.”
Hanksy remained humble about his own art, saying "Like most of my work, all my pieces for this show were fairly insignificant.” One was a prominent, witty "Home Alone" homage “Stairway to Kevin”; another, a cartoon phallus labeled “David Bowie-ner.”
On a stairway door, Cosbe’s giant block letters read “I can’t afford to live here,” echoing the sentiments of many New Yorkers.
Hidden in plain view, in the heart of one of the most thoroughly gentrified neighborhoods of the city, this doomed building was given a final breath of life – for art and for kicks – if only for one night.
"Much like graffiti, it was transitory,” Hanksy said. “You were either there or you were not, and that was the point of it all."