Street artists revamped the Aqueduct Racetrack with murals. Credit: Aymann Ismail/Animal
"Horse racing has been the same for decades. It’s time to shake the tradition up a bit,” says street artist Joe Iurato, standing next to his collaborative mural with artist Logan Hicks at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.
It’s a dramatic, photorealistic black-and-white image of horses and their jockeys reaching the finish line, applied immaculately through layers and layers of stencils with spray paint over the course of a few late nights last week.
There are more than a dozen murals splashed across the formerly beige walls, between the terminals and above the betting crowds. The racetrack turns 120 years old next year. The New York Racing Association commissioned the project and recruited Iurato, who brought together an international group of 11 street artists from Brooklyn, New Jersey, South Africa, Australia and more to dress up the place with 14 vibrant, graffiti-influenced tributes to racing.
“Very cool,” says Peter, who has been going to the track for 20 years since coming to New York from Jamaica. “Racing is my game!”
No one here tells us their last names, but Peter says Hicks and Iurato's piece is his favorite. Others say they liked the close-up horse and jockey portrait sprayed in bright red, black and grey by Los Angeles artist David Flores and the abstract, colorful “A” design covering both sides of the escalator walls by Rubin from Sweden.
“Ten times the upgrade,” says Anijah. “It livens up the place!” said one older gentleman who declined to give his name. He comes to the track four times a week.
“They’re here to bet, not to look at art,” a security guard says. “The art is OK, I guess. I used to write graffiti when I was young.”
The betting crowds by the terminals occasionally erupt in chants and stomps. Tiny mountains of discarded betting forms are beginning to gather on the floor. A pigeon flies through the building.
The Saturday night artist reception is almost unnoticeable in the regular bustle. A DJ table is set up near the entrance, a bit far from the main concourse.
“They’re beautiful. They’re beautiful,” says Miguel, nodding. “I like them because I’m also an artist,” his friend chimes in. Their eyes are locked onto the terminal. Miguel points at the murals, still looking at the screen. “They’re making money and we’re losing money,” he laughs.