Banksy was here last year, so the secret’s already been out since at least then—Greenpoint is on the map for its galleries, artists, and street art, and is generally considered cool. But we all knew this already. What we didn’t know, L’Hourloupe Art Tours is here to show us: our neighborhood has wonders like a 17,000 year old public art sculpture and award-winning art hidden in plain sight at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
I signed up for last Sunday’s tour and met the guides, Theresa Hioki and Joseph Gross, on the corner of Box and McGuiness in the shadow of the Pulaski Bridge. We did quick introductions in a circle, and then our group of eight started the walk towards the banks of Newtown Creek. Joseph led the way, iPad in hand, and Theresa carried a shopping bag of KitKat bars (Two guides accompany each tour for traffic safety reasons, and Joseph and Theresa alternate giving the tours). They were friendly, knowledgeable, and engaging so I went ahead with the questions:
GPers: Where does the name of the company, L’Hourloupe, come from?
Joseph: Our name comes from John Dubuffet’s series of works that includes Group of Four Trees, one of the stops on our Lower Manhattan Tour. Dubuffet pulled the word from a children’s book, and said it means something like a grotesque wonderland. We think New York is a grotesque wonderland, so we decided to use it for our name.
GPers: Is there a little known fact about Greenpoint that you think is cool?
Joseph: Greenpoint Avenue was at one time a plank road.
GPers: When did you launch?
Theresa: We launched in September , but we researched and practiced for a few months before giving our first tour to the public. And, we both had to study for and take the sightseeing guide exam, which we both passed with gold stars!
GPers: What inspired you to launch?
Theresa: Our inspiration came from a few different places. We both studied with Harriet Senie, a well-respected critic and historian of public art who teaches for CUNY City College and Graduate Center. She exposed both of us to the issues regarding public art and inspired us to create a tour that would not only inform people about the history of public space in New York, but also promote a dialogue about the bigger issues.
GPers: Is there a mural or public artwork in Greenpoint that you particularly like?
Joseph: My favorite public art piece in Greenpoint is the Newtown Creek Nature Walk. I don’t think a lot of people take the time to explore it, so that’s why I’ve included it on the tour.
GPers: What’s a “New York” story that everyone should know?
Joseph: One of the many pieces we’ve come across while researching for our tours is the large Sol Lewitt wall drawing, Loopy Doopy, housed inside the Conrad Hotel in Battery Park City. Completed in 1999, it is actually the largest of Sol Lewitt’s wall drawings created before his death in 2007…
…This version of Loopy Doopy was painted in sections inside of a large studio at the Brooklyn navy yard before being brought to the Conrad. Although it is installed inside of a hotel lobby, everyone is welcome to venture inside to see this massive, dizzying, wall drawing. It is a hidden gem of public art and it just happens to be one of the sites on our Lower Manhattan public art tour.
The tour left Newtown Creek, went down Franklin, and stopped at Greenpoint Terminal Gallery, Bunker 259, Owen James Gallery, and Calico. At each of the galleries, we had time to ask the owners questions and, in the case of Bunker 259, the artist herself discussed her artwork with us (I’m giving the gallery stops away since, as Joseph said, each Greenpoint tour will always be a little different).
“I really enjoyed Bunker 259,” said Mike O’Neal, “I thought it was really special to get to speak to the artist about her work. Like going back stage at a concert.” Along the tour, Joseph also pointed out familiar places (like BK Label) and explained the history and architecture. It was like going into a time machine to a far-away Greenpoint—rope and pencil factories, plank roads, and workers strikes and explosions where galleries and design studios now stand. Amazing, I realized, the signs of this old (and new) Greenpoint are there; you just have to know where to look. †
L’Hourloupe leads public walking art tours in Greenpoint, Fort Tryon and the Cloisters, & Lower Manhattan. The tours generally last two hours and tickets cost $30. You can order tickets here. When not giving tours, Joseph and Theresa like to hang out at Transmitter Park, The Black Rabbit, and Christina’s. Follow the tours IG @lhourloupearttours or Facebook: L’Hourloupe: New York Art Tours.