Street art in Soho livens up vacant city lot with colorful collages, providing something ‘light, happy and unexpected’

Soho resident Wendy Friedman with her art on a Grand Street fence. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

BY GABE HERMAN | New Yorkers will post art in any space they can find, and in Soho that includes a chain-link fence outside a barren city lot. The street art on the fence, at Grand and Lafayette Streets, is a collage of various materials, including crocheted yarn, plastic bottles and stickers, many found on the street and reused by the creator, Wendy Friedman.

The lot is a Department of Environmental Protection water tunnel shaft site, one of several in the city that helps distribute water coming in from upstate. The underground tunnels prevent building development on the site, which has left the space barren.

But Friedman has tried to liven up the fence with her colorful display, which she started a few months ago. And she adds to it all the time, treating it as a constant work in progress. She said was able to get DEP’s permission to keep the art up. DEP did not respond to a comment request for this article.

The collage art on the fence is a constant work in progress. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

“I like dealing with trash and things going through the world,” said Friedman, 66, of her style. She said she likes to be spontaneous in her art, often finding objects and figuring out how they can be used to make an interesting figure, or perhaps planting flowers in them to grow out of.

The world can be a complicated place, and so can the human mind, she said, and this is a way for her to make sense of it all. “I think most of my art deals with layering things,” she said. “I’m trying to deal with all the chaos.”

Friedman makes figures from discarded materials that she finds. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Friedman has lived on Grand Street since 1987, just next to the lot, in a 19th century cast-iron building. Her huge loft is a classic Soho apartment space, high ceilings and all, and she earns a living by renting it out for events and photo shoots, through her company SoHoSoleil. She has hosted some impressive visitors for photo shoots over the years, including David Bowie, Neil Young, Seth Meyers and actress Shailene Woodley, to name just a few.

Every room of her home is also filled with her colorful collage art. She is constantly on the lookout for interesting discarded items as she walks through the city, including peeling off stickers that catch her eye for reuse.

Her daughter will often say to strangers looking curiously at her mom, “Don’t worry about her, she’s the Soho sticker lady,” Friedman recalled with a smile.

Some of Friedman’s art hanging in her home. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Friedman includes her company’s name on her fence art, as a bit of savvy branding, along with her Instagram page @floweringeye. She recently named the fence art “Soho Oasis.”

As with most street art, though, this work won’t last.

A public park is in the works for the empty lot. The Parks Department is partnering with DEP to design, construct and operate the space, which is fully funded and in the design phase, according to a Parks spokesperson. The designs are scheduled to be finished in October.

A proposed design for a new park on the lot, which the city presented in June 2019 to Community Board 2. (DEP/Parks)

Friedman has been advocating for the park for years, and said she is excited for it to come. She added that she always knew the artwork on the fence would be temporary.

“I just wanted to bring something light and happy and unexpected,” she said.

Plants growing out of reused objects that Friedman collected. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Friedman said she has met so many interesting people who have noticed the art on the fence and stopped to chat. She has met tourists from all over the world, and on a recent afternoon she struck up conversation with a woman, Niyla, who stopped to marvel at the art.

Niyla, a dance student from Alvin Ailey, loved the creativity. “Soho is already colorful,” she said. “And it’s cool to see natural elements play into the art.”

Friedman remembered another time when a man told her how much he liked the art, because she was doing it without wanting anything in return. “That’s about the best compliment I ever got in my life,” Friedman said.