Augmented Reality App Resurrects Every Bowery Wall Mural

As we’ve seen with the recent whitewashing of 5Pointz, public art is often ephemeral, whether it’s legal or not. The Bowery Wall, which became an iconic spot for street art and graffiti after Keith Haring painted a mural there in 1982, is no different. Ever since 2008, when building owner Tony Goldman and Jeffery Deitch began commissioning legal murals on the wall at Bowery and Houston Street, it has showcased a regularly shifting lineup of artists, each going over the work that came before.

Re+Publlic, a free augmented reality app for iPhone and Android may be the next best thing to having a time machine for New Yorkers who want to explore the wall’s history. Created by Public Ad Campaign and The Heavy Projects, the app allows you to tour through the wall’s history, using your phone’s camera to display past murals from the likes of Haring, Os Gemeos, Faile, Barry McGee, Kenny Scharf, and Shepard Fairey, all on the wall itself (which is currently occupied by a Hurricane Sandy-themed piece from Swoon).

“The Bowery Wall mural site has a rich history of mural production that is lost to the viewer when they are on site,” Jordan Seiler of Public Ad Campaign told ANIMAL. “Using the app allows users to literally flip through the past productions and gain a better understanding of the mural site’s rich history all the way back to Haring.”

The app worked exactly as advertised on a trip to the wall this morning. Aside from some interference when people or cars passed between me and the wall, it seamlessly displayed previous murals on the wall as if I was actually standing in front of them.

For non-New Yorkers, the app works in other cities too, augmenting works if public art in Miami in St. Louis. It isn’t the first time Public Ad Campaign and Heavy Projects have collaborated on AR art: in 2008, they used the technology to place art on top of Times Square billboards.

Seiler hopes the app’s value goes deeper than pure entertainment. “We hope that people see the potential of a more democratic and user friendly public space through the work we have done,” he said.

“Private property laws, anti graffiti programs and a commercially monopolized public space make it difficult for the public to create media on their own streets. In an augmented public space these concerns fall by the wayside and those who wish to communicate in this new digital commons face no barriers save their imagination.”