John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The borough appears to have suffered a zoo break, with gorillas, chimps, and even an iguana inside building ventilation shafts.
People visiting Brooklyn this fall might get the uncomfortable sense they're being watched. A close inspection of the surrounding buildings will bear out this gut feeling: Behind windows and shadowy ventilation grates lurk a menagerie of animals, from a mighty gorilla to an angry-looking monkey to the scaly and almost smug mug of an iguana.
Did the Bronx Zoo misplace more of its inmates? Nope: These embedded animals are actually clever illusions staged by one of the granddaddies of New York street art, Dan Witz. The Chicago-born painter has assembled a collection of wildlife portraits – which to judge from his previous super-realistic artworks, are made with oil pigments and airbrush over digital media – and mounted them on buildings throughout Williamsburg and Bushwick. Now it looks like Brooklynites came out on the losing side of some great animal insurrection, with humans condemned to wander the land and all the creatures great and small enjoying our air conditioners, televisions, and other comforts of home.
Witz has been making public art in New York since the 70s, when he went around painting extremely detailed hummingbirds on walls and doors. Each one took about two hours to finish, exposing him to the risk of a police collar, but in a 2013 interview with Street Art London he recalls the resulting mind games made it worth it. "If there was a consistent theme running through the past 35 years," he said, "it would be a wish to stop people in their tracks and make them go, 'WHAT THE FUCK?!!?'"
The indoors animals are part of a new series that Witz calls "Natural History Street Art." The painter has dabbled widely in social activism, executing pieces about unjust imprisonment and U.S. terror policy, and an art critic might read into these most recent works a blast against zoos and primate experimentation. Or maybe they're simply fun little Easter Eggs to bug out the more attentive New Yorkers. Witz got in touch Wednesday to give his blessing to run these images, but being a busy guy hasn't had time yet to expound on a deeper meaning.
Without ado, here is the "Gorilla Grate":
A "Mean Monkey," obviously upset because it can't reach that carpet-cleaning coupon:
Another ape-thing, rolling its eyes:
Look, Nicolas Cage isn't the only one to see a phantom iguana:
Do not open this door lest the aquarium inside drain out:
These are a couple of Witz's earlier spins on current events. The first was part of a recent collaboration with Amnesty International to highlight the unjust persecution of people around the world:
And if you look closely enough, one of the members of Pussy Riot is peering out from behind this fortified window, no doubt as the actual musician is doing right now inside a Russian gulag: