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After a Theft, a Street Artist Speaks

Adam Cole a.k.a. CostDale W. Eisinger
aDSC_0774Jenn Pelly Adam Cole, the reclusive street artist who is also known as Cost, and the newspaper distribution box that he designed. The box was stolen from a street corner and Mr. Cole played a role in its recovery.

In the early 90’s, Adam Cole, a.k.a. “Cost,” hit the streets undercover. As one half of the now-mythic graffiti duo Cost and Revs, he was busy revolutionizing the graffiti world and catapulting the wheatpasting medium to an international street art phenomenon. According to Mr. Cole, he and Revs were wanted by the NYPD. He wore a mask in photographs.

In 2010, Cost’s life is different. After remaining largely quiet since a graffiti-related arrest in the mid-90s, he heads to Mars Bar for a recent interview — on the theft and recovery of his most recent work — in a Porsche. Over noontime beers, Mr. Cole explains he has done “okay” for himself with “honest work” as a small business owner. “I don’t want to run from the law anymore,” he says, each word’s articulation recalling his home borough, Queens. As one of New York City’s most infamous and enigmatic street artists, Mr. Cole found himself, in December, chasing after a thief himself.

Described by Cost as a “professional street art thief,” that Brooklyn-based criminal stole, a carefully crafted newspaper box Mr. Cole created for Showpaper, a free newssheet of all-ages DIY concert listings distributed throughout the city. The box was Cost’s largest public artwork since his mid-90s arrest, and hit Second Avenue at Houston Street one Monday last November. By the Thursday evening, it was stolen, and immediately posted on eBay with a $4,000 price tag. The box has been off the streets since—but after being recovered by project curator Andrew Shirley in December, it will return to the East Village in coming weeks.

When it first hit the East Village, the box was loaded with rocks and concrete, but Mr. Shirley, also at our Mars Bar meeting, was not surprised by its theft. “We dropped the box off around two in the afternoon, and as we drove back down First Avenue, that day, I didn’t even expect to see it then,” Mr. Shirley said. “I didn’t think it would last a day.”

“The thief represents society to me,” Mr. Shirley said. “Society is all about money —capitalism, and making a buck. The thief took the joy and purity out of the project.”
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On First Ave., A Graffiti Artist’s Return

aDSC_0774Jenn Pelly A newspaper distribution box designed by Adam Cole, the graffiti artist known as Cost. The piece is the first major public work in more than a decade by Mr. Cole, who has been largely inactive since a 1995 arrest for vandalism. Below: The reverse of the box.

A newspaper distribution box in the East Village now showcases the first major public work of art in more than a decade by one of New York City’s most infamous graffiti artists, Adam Cole, a.k.a. Cost. The work is a distribution box for Showpaper, the free New York newssheet that lists all-ages concerts throughout the tri-state area.

As one half of the graffiti duo Cost and Revs, the artist achieved mythic status in New York in the early ’90s graffiti world, for revolutionizing the wheatpasting medium and helping catapult it to a worldwide street art phenomenon.

The Cost-designed newsbox stands on Second Avenue at Houston Street, one of 12 Showpaper boxes redesigned last week by 25 notable graffiti and street artists at the Brooklyn art space Market Hotel. For Showpaper’s guerilla initiative, the newsboxes function as works of public art, with Manhattan and Brooklyn streets as their pop-up gallery. A map of locations is available here.

Mr. Cole, 41, has remained quiet since 1995, when he was arrested for vandalism. Then, The Times labeled him “New York’s most prolific graffiti-ist,” citing his arrest as, for some, “the end of an era.” Mr. Cole, of Rego Park, was 26. One irritated Times reader, however, wrote a letter to the editor saying: “The graffiti writer using the tag ‘Cost’ is probably the worst graffiti vandal in the history of New York.”

In their early ’90s unauthorized public art, Cost and Revs made use of the backs of “Walk/Don’t Walk” signs at nearly every intersection of Manhattan, with confusing slogans that perpetually included either the name “Cost” or “Revs.” (A 1993 Times piece on those curious, incognito Manhattan signs is available here.)
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