What the Extended Eviction Moratorium Means for New York

The Times’s Hilarie M. Sheets writes:

How does an unknown artist capture a broad audience? “Location, location, location,” said Otis Houston Jr., applying the real estate adage to a strip of pavement alongside the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive in Harlem where he has delighted and perplexed motorists since 1997 with his performances, banners and assemblages of found objects.

Having developed a cult following along the highway over the years, Mr. Houston is now represented by Gordon Robichaux and will have a star turn in the gallery’s booth at Frieze New York, the blue-chip art fair on view at the Shed starting Thursday.

“It feels great. It’s my time,” said Mr. Houston, 67, who works by day as a custodian in a Midtown office building and returns to his spot on the F.D.R. Drive during off hours.

At Gordon Robichaux last month, where his second solo show was on view, the charismatic performer recounted his unlikely path into the art world. He grew up in Greenville, S.C., where his father, grandfather and uncle worked as plasterers. After moving to Harlem in 1969 as a teenager, he fell in with a bad crowd and was imprisoned twice, for a total of more than seven years in the 1970s and ’80s, on drug charges.

[Read more about Mr. Houston and his one-of-a-kind work.]

Living in public housing near East 122nd Street after his release, and seeing from his terrace how the traffic on the highway slowed and narrowed to one lane before the Triborough Bridge, he spotted his stage.

There, spray-painting messages on old towels from a gym where he once worked and arranging tableaux of flowers, fruit and toys, he might strike a pose with a book in one hand, a broom in the other and a watermelon rind on his head. “Knowledge. Work,” said Mr. Houston, leaping to his feet to pantomime his stance. And the watermelon? “I’m just showing off, good for the attention,” he said, laughing heartily.

Mr. Houston said the police have given him more than 60 tickets, citing things like “giving gang signals” and littering, all but two of which he has managed to have dismissed in court, one by a judge who the artist said pronounced “Art for art’s sake!” with a gavel bang.


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