Guerrilla Plaques Document Offbeat LES Cultural Spaces of the ’90s and ‘00s
We’ve written a lot of articles in recent years about how one has to look a bit harder to find underground art, performance and just plain wonderful weirdness in the hyper-gentrified Lower East Side climate.
Recently, anonymously made plaques appeared with the histories of some beloved performance and art spaces from the 1990s and early 2000s.
Artist, performer and writer Reverend Jen got a tip about these newly installed plaques, including one celebrating her world famous Troll Museum which had been located at 124 Orchard Street.
Other plaques Reverend Jen spotted mark the locations of performance spaces Surf Reality at 172 Allen Street (opened in 1993), and Collective:Unconscious at 145 Ludlow (opened in 1997).
The Troll Museum text reads:
124 ORCHARD ST.
THE TROLL MUSEUM
Site of the former Lower East Side Troll Museum, home to artist Reverend Jen, her companion Reverend Jen Jr., and a diverse collection of over 400 trolls.
In 2016, the Troll Museum was the site of a massive steam pipe explosion that damaged a large portion of the collection, including art pieces and the trolls themselves. Scars of the disaster can still be seen around the museum, which include warped paintings, washed out letters, and even a blinded troll. Other damaging incidents have been attributed to the earthquake of 2011, pyromaniac friends with blowtorches, and Reverend Jen’s troll-munching chihuahua, Rev. Jen Jr.
At Surf Reality, the text reads:
172 ALLEN ST.
Surf Reality’s House of Urban Savages, also known as Surf Reality was a laboratory for experimental performance of all kinds known for comedy performance, art, classic burlesque modern music, vaudeville and experimental theater. The theater also served as the home for Faceboyz Open Mic. Other acts that passed through Surf include the Upright Citizens Brigade, Todd Barry, Dave Chappelle, Maggie Estep and Jonathan Ames.
“When we first opened in 1993” says Surf Reality founder Robert Prichard, “there was a brothel in our basement, and the space now occupied by the Buestocking Bookstore.. The building also featured a pawn shop. It’s like we were a downtown mall for outlaws. There radically one could boost some goods, redeem them for a cash at the pawn shop, cop a little blow, grab a date from the basement, and then come up stairs to see a show.
Rumor has it that a group called Shadow Traffic might know something about all of this. They describe themselves as producers and curators of “immersive installations within interstitial areas of the urban landscape.” They are giving tours of these plaques from today through Sunday (November 10).
We’re not sure if any other plaques exist, but suspect there might be more strewn through the Lower East Side. Certainly, there’s a lot of almost-lost history and culture to celebrate.