Updated May 29, 2019
When it comes to hunting down the best street art in NYC, there’s more to it than just finding massive murals and famous street artists. It reflects New York City’s values and shines a spotlight on its diverse neighborhoods. Street art in NYC is mostly temporary by nature, with only a few iconic pieces preserved for posterity. So the best strategy is to visit a street art gallery instead, where the murals span multiple blocks and feature a number of street art styles and artists. Whether you’re looking to discover the newest talent or to simply locate a dramatic backdrop for an Instagram post, here’s a definitive list of the best graffiti locations in NYC.
The Bowery Wall Mural
Tracing its roots back to Keith Haring, the Bowery Wall is iconic and continues to showcase the works of established artists and up-and-comers. The wall’s storied history includes a showcase of how some of the greatest street artists in the world have used the space. The wall has also courted its share of controversy over the years as well. From an ill-fated decision to commission an artist with allegations of a history of sexual assault to tackling such volatile and dramatic themes as gun violence, you’ll find no shortage of compelling twists and turns.
Other great street art can be found in close proximity to the Bowery Wall, too. Our guest post for Street Art Chat features a few of our favorites, like the First Street Green Art Park and The New Allen.
The Museum of Street Art (MoSA)
The Museum of Street Art at CitizenM Bowery Hotel is a tribute to the legacy of 5Pointz, the once vibrant Long Island City, Queens mural space housed in a former factory. Although you’ll see many references to the legendary outdoor graffiti space in several of the street art galleries named here, this is the only one that has verifiable, tangible ties to it. Besides a show-stopping entrance, the museum spans the stairwells of 20 floors and features numerous high-profile artists who were contributors at 5Pointz.
Pro Tip: The museum is free and open for self-guided tours, but you’ll need a reservation.
World Trade Center Street Art
Street art galleries are often about repurposing a space and giving it new life. At the World Trade Center, that carries more meaning than anywhere else in the city. In the years since the 9/11 tragedy, New York City has turned the space where the Twin Towers once stood into a daily celebration of life. One WTC stands proudly as the tallest building in New York City and the United States. The Oculus Transportation Hub is a stunning structure resembling a dove–the symbol of peace–designed by world-renowned architect, Santiago Calatrava. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum honors the the lives lost in the 2001 attack as well as the 1993 bombing.
When 3 World Trade Center was scheduled to open in 2018, Silverstein Properties realized they had a unique opportunity. The heating and cooling system of the 80-floor skyscraper was housed in a structure covered with rather unsightly corrugated walls, so they partnered with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to organize a mural project. Well-known NYC street artists like Hektad and Stickymonger were invited to liven up the space. Now bright splashes of color and messages of hope cover not just the corrugated metal, but boring construction areas and otherwise bland fixtures.
Kobra Street Art
No single street artist has made a bigger splash during his residence in New York City than prolific, world-famous street artist, Eduardo Kobra. He first captured the imagination of locals and visitors alike with his iconic “The Kiss” mural, viewable from the High Line back in 2012. He returned to the city six years later and painted 18 individual works over just a few months. His works are primarily in Manhattan, with a few notable exceptions in Brooklyn. Track down every single mural with the handy map in this post.
Audubon Mural Project
John James Audubon is the famous author and artist behind Birds of America, considered by many to be the standard to which all wildlife illustration is measured. (A rare copy originally printed some time between 1827 and 1838 sold at auction in 2018 for $9.65 million.) His path to success was not a straight one, but after he finally received recognition for his immaculate work, he settled in New York City. To be specific, he purchased an estate on the Hudson River in what we now know as upper Manhattan. He remained dedicated to encouraging young scientists until his death in 1851. He is buried in the Trinity Church Cemetery on 155th St and Broadway.
In tribute to its namesake, the Audubon Mural Project features murals of birds threatened by climate change in and around Audubon’s old neighborhood. The Audubon Mural Project map includes information on the species of the bird as well as the artist who completed the artwork, making a self-guided tour akin to a fun, educational bird hunting session in our urban metropolis.
Pro Tip: The New York Audubon offers a paid guided tour of the murals monthly. Groups are limited to 20 people and often sell out in advance. Bring binoculars!
Street Art for Mankind
Street Art for Mankind is a non-profit organization bringing together street artists, local government, international organizations and corporate sponsors to raise awareness about child labor, slavery and trafficking. In 2019 they partnered with the NYC Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-based Violence, the NYC Administration for Children’s Services the International Labour Organization to create two sets of murals: the Freedom Murals in Lower Manhattan and the ILO100 Murals in Midtown Manhattan. The Freedom Murals tell the stories of survivors of child trafficking, while the ILO100 murals depict global challenges to stable employment. Download Street Art for Mankind’s Behind the Wall app, follow these maps, and take a self-guided tour of the murals at your own pace. The app provides the story behind each work, information about the artist, and statistics related to the topic. There’s also information on how you can help.
When it comes to exploring Brooklyn graffiti you will undoubtedly discover Bushwick street art and the name synonymous with the scene: The Bushwick Collective. Bushwick has become so deeply associated with street art that when we conduct a search of the term in Google Photos, it actually pulls up images of street art not just from Bushwick, but from all over the world.
The annual Bushwick Collective Block Party has grown from a neighborhood affair showcasing local talent to one of the biggest annual international street art events in the world. We’ve covered the popular street art destination several times, from its modest beginnings to the best time to visit the area. Even though the Block Party is its flagship event, Bushwick Collective is a living project, changing constantly throughout the year. There are always new murals to discover, with the borders seeming to extend farther and farther every time we visit. We’ve come across some murals dated as far back as 2002, which is a fun reminder of how deep the NYC graffiti roots go in this neighborhood.
Pro Tip: For a self-guided tour, take the L train to Jefferson Av. Follow Troutman St north to St. Nicholas St, which is where the Block Party usually takes place. This location is The Bushwick Collective’s nucleus, and there’s no shortage of larger-than-life murals here. But the artwork extends well beyond that square, so let your eyes lead the way.
Also located in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, JMZ Walls is a grass-roots community group seeking to turn the section of the neighborhood running along the JMZ subway line into a street art gallery. Following on the heels of the success of its northern neighbor The Bushwick Collective, JMZ Walls wanted to see more areas of Bushwick benefit from street art beautification. Alberto Mejia launched the project in 2014 by simply reaching out to building owners, many of whom he considered neighbors having been a local for 20 years.
Now the organization pairs artists with businesses, building owners, and private residents offering up gates, walls and spaces. Some artists like BK Foxx have made the most of the opportunity. She’s turned one of the walls into a personal rotating canvas, producing a new mural in the same space every few months. Within those four corners, the artist has addressed such social issues as screen time and the tone of public discourse. At the time of publication, the Mac Miller tribute featured at the top of this section was her latest. The space BK Foxx occupies is located on Lawton Street, which founder Mejia has dedicated entirely to female artists.
Pro Tip: Take the JMZ subway line to the Marcy Av stop and make your way along Broadway, which runs parallel to the elevated subway track.
Coney Art Walls
For many New Yorkers, Coney Island IS summer. But Coney Island isn’t just an iconic boardwalk, amusement rides, hot dogs, and cotton candy. Did you know it’s also a street art destination? If you follow New York City instagrammers, the Coney Island murals are regular features in your feed once May rolls around.
Coney Art Walls is an outdoor museum featuring the work of street artists on freestanding walls. With new pieces added each season since 2015, the breadth of work is impressive. But it should come as no surprise: one of the curators happens to be Jeffrey Deitch, the original curator of the Bowery Wall mural.
Pro Tip: Unlike many of the other outdoor galleries listed here, Coney Art Walls is strictly a summer destination with specific hours. Follow their Facebook page for updates.
Welling Court Mural Project
Welling Court Mural Project is an annual multi-block, art beautification event in one of our favorite neighborhoods of Astoria, Queens. It started as a community project in earnest. But almost a decade and hundreds of murals later, it has grown into one of the biggest street art galleries in New York City.
Welling Court Mural Project has also been a regular participant in one of our favorite annual NYC festivals, Open House New York Weekend. During the festival, artists and organizers are often on hand to lead tours and discuss their creations. OHNY even commissioned a mural in 2014 and featured it on the cover of their OHNY Weekend Event Guide.
Pro Tip: To get there, take the N or W to 30th Av in Astoria and walk or take the bus west towards the water. Most of the action begins when 30th Av meets Welling Ct, but this map will help you locate all the murals.
Arts Org NYC Top to Bottom Mural Project
The Top to Bottom Mural Project came into being when the owner of the building at 43-01 21st St in Long Island City, Queens swiped right on an app that matched potential collaborators with artists. He met Art Org NYC’s Geoff Kuffner, and expressed his desire to give the tired exterior of his building a new look. The building is three stories high and occupies half a city square block. And since it’s located in Long Island City, immediate parallels were drawn to 5Pointz. Kuffner collaborated with friend and street art curator, James P. Quinn, to bring artists from all over the world to contribute to the project.
In 2016, when the project debuted, the space was occupied by legacy NYC street artists like Crash and Daze, as well as international superstars like Iranian duo Icy & Sot and Canadian artist Li-Hill. The 2-minute video produced by Arts Org NYC above captures the energy of the collaborative process as well as the amazing end result of the initial iteration. Since then every inch of the 240,000 square-foot building has been covered, giving way to newer, fresher ideas.
Pro Tip: To get there, take the E or M train to Court Sq-23 St in Long Island City. Walk north on 21st St and you will come across the structure on your right.
The final word
Street art in NYC can be found almost everywhere you look. Wandering down an alley might present you with a masterpiece. The nook of a basement level door may offer a glimpse of the most intricately designed wheatpaste you’ve ever seen. And stickers–found on every utility pole, electrical box, along pipes and plastered on garbage receptacles–are as ubiquitous as pigeons. Undoubtedly, the exhileration of constant discovery is one of the city’s greatest virtues. But the locations we’ve provided in this post make it easy to find an abundance of the latest pieces by the best artists New York City has to offer.
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