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De La Vega Builds His Brand Online

DSC03593 copy - Version 2Suzanne Rozdeba James De La Vega puffs on a cigar outside the former home of his East Village Museum.

James De La Vega, who shut down his East Village museum in August of last year and left followers wondering where he’ll end up next, has taken his brand online.

“De La Vega is now writing on the sidewalks of cyberspace,” said the artist, famous for his street art, often adorned with the catch phrase, “Realiza Tu Sueno / Become Your Dream.” In January, Mr. De La Vega said he was working on a “digital experience.” Now, that experience has been revealed: an online store, featuring De La Vega T-shirts, tote bags and even an organic baby body suit with his signature fish jumping out of a bowl. An assortment of coffee mugs, shot glasses and water bottles range from $10-$18.

Mr. De La Vega remained confident that his followers — who see him as an artistic prophet of sorts — would follow him in his new, commercial direction.
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Traces of De La Vega

DLV - China Star_3Kevin McLaughlin
DLV - Stromboli_2Kevin McLaughlin Pieces by James De La Vega.

The thick white chalk etched on an East Village sidewalk read:


East Village artist James De La Vega once brought this existential aesthetic — and his occasionally controversial thoughts — to the streets of the East Village and then for five years to his “Museum” on St. Marks Place, which closed last year citing rent increases.

A self-described “pessimistic optimist,” his presence in clever quotes and imagery remain part of the neighborhood’s urban adornments; goldfish holding umbrellas underwater and his signature “Realiza Tu Sueño” (“Become Your Dream”) are still found throughout the area. Places including the facade of The China Star restaurant on First Avenue, the garbage cans outside Stromboli pizza shop and Porto Rico on St. Marks Place all bear the traces of his noticeable absence.

Mr. De La Vega has since moved on to new projects and has bittersweet feelings about the area: “The East Village is a powerful neighborhood,” he told us. “The locals were my favorite but I don’t miss the neighborhood.”

Mr. De La Vega’s work resonates with simple, but profound, images and rhetoric, yet he also addresses various socio-political controversies, often through illustrations and commentary on behalf of his Latino heritage. He once addressed the gentrification of East Harlem through a painted a mural stating: “Don’t think for a minute that we haven’t noticed the 96th Street boundary moving further north.”
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From De La Vega, A Digital Dream

Artist James De La VegaBernardo After closing his museum store on St. Marks Place in September, the artist James De La Vega says that he is moving toward a “digital experience” for his work and that he is no longer selling his art. Below: Some of Mr. De La Vega’s work.
Artist James De La Vega
Artist James De La Vega
Artist James De La Vega

When last we heard from James De La Vega, he had just closed his museum store on St. Marks Place and was answering questions about why someone was threatening the proprietor who replaced him.

Now, four months removed from the East Village, the iconic street artist told The Local earlier today that he is moving into a new “digital experience,” and that he is no longer selling art.

“America’s moving in a bad direction, in a deeper sense than economics. Right now, we have to focus on building trustful relationships with people,” said Mr. De La Vega. “There’s no interest in selling anything. I’m not doing that now. We are committed to a more powerful message, one that was given to me.” Mr. De La Vega said he’s instead been giving away his art – which is frequently adorned with his slogan “Become Your Dream” – as gifts.

As for plans for another New York store, he said, “We have too many enemies out there. There is no store. For all of 2011, De La Vega will totally be a digital experience. De La Vega will explain his work in a language that you will understand.”

His message, he said, still resonates with his followers. “The De La Vega message is a bigger thing. People are identifying with this concept as a form of fighting,” he said. “It reminds people that they can be powerful and they go out there and create. They don’t have to live within the uniform that life imposes on them.”

He and his team are in “a total planning process. Right now, I’m building a powerful team to continue into our next phase. There’s a story going on.”

A Threat at De La Vega’s Former Store

JunkSuzanne Rozdeba Amy Sidney, inside her St. Marks Place store earlier this month, said that she was threatened Saturday by someone who was apparently upset at the space’s previous tenant, the artist James De La Vega.

Street artist James De La Vega was used to getting threatened in his St. Marks Place museum store. He chalked it up to people not liking his quirky art or his bold messages. But now the new tenants of his former storefront say that they, too, have gotten a taste of those old threats.

Amy Sidney, the co-owner of Junk on St. Marks Place, said a man recently walked into her shop on Saturday and threatened her because he was apparently upset at Mr. De La Vega.

Mrs. Sidney said that a clean-cut looking man, in his late 20s or early 30s, came into the thrift shop at about 8 p.m. and asked if this was “De La Vega’s new place.” Mrs. Sidney said that after she replied no, the man threatened her.

”The guy said, ‘If we find out you have anything to do with him, we’re going to break your windows,’” she recalled. “I was startled, but I tried to play it cool, and said, ‘Go ahead, I have insurance.’ The guy said, ‘Then we’ll keep breaking your windows,’ and walked out.”
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On St. Marks, Junk Replaces Dreams

Junk on St. Marks PlaceSuzanne Rozdeba Junk, 102 St. Marks Place.

James De La Vega’s funky museum art store has been replaced by Junk.

Amy Sidney, took over the St. Marks Place store as a space to sell her collection of things tossed aside. She calls herself a gatherer of memories, of stories behind the items she personally picks to sell. She calls her thrift store Junk.

The store’s name was created on a simple rule of marketing.

“I studied marketing, and the rule was the acronym KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. You have two or three seconds to catch someone’s eye. Eve and I came up with ‘Junk.’ We thought, ‘What a great name,’” laughed Mrs. Sidney. The store’s rent and overhead cost come to $8,000 a month.
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The Day: On Bedbugs and Junk

Street Art on the corner of 9th St. and Ave CC.C. Glenn

Good morning, East Village.

The Neighborhoodr blog has very worthwhile links to stories about a proposed extension of the restaurant smoking ban and a new form that landlords are required to give potential tenants disclosing earlier infestations of bedbugs, one of the most vexing – and cringe-inducing – issues in the neighborhood.

The news about the disclosure form prompts The Local to refer you the video below, which was created during the summer by NYU journalism students, who moved out in front of the bedbug story before The Local East Village launched.

We’d like to hear your stories about bedbugs – where you’ve found them in the East Village (with enough reporting from the community, we can map them for future reference) and whether you think landlords should be required to disclose prior infestations.

And here’s another a link that might resonate deeply for the nostalgic: EV Grieve posted photos of Junk, the new clothing store that now occupies the site of the former De La Vega Museum. The Local spoke with Mr. De La Vega about the museum’s closing in one of our inaugural posts.

A Dreamer Departs St. Marks Place

De La VegaSuzanne Rozdeba James De La Vega.

The closing of the De La Vega Museum on St. Marks Place isn’t the last the city will see of James De La Vega. He said he is going to make a New York City comeback, just not in the East Village.

“There will be another museum in New York City,” said Mr. De La Vega, whose colorful and comfortably claustrophobic museum was filled with the street art and inspiring messages that made him famous. “I don’t know yet what neighborhood, but the ones that make sense to me are Latin neighborhoods. My stepfather shared the culture of Puerto Rico with me. I have an interest to build those people up, listen to their stories, their powerlessness and frustrations.”

He also has plans to write a book filled with his observations on corruption, gentrification, poverty and love, he said.

Mr. De La Vega, 38, said he has his reasons for saying goodbye to the museum after five years in the East Village.

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