By Lee Quinones 

This summer, Coney Island — the legendary oceanside land of cheap thrills and bright lights — is unveiling its Coney Art Walls exhibition for the third year in a row. Colorful, striking, and created by some of the world’s most famous street artists, the walls are bringing new energy and excitement to the old fairgrounds, which we will explore on our upcoming tour:
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This year, there are eight new walls to view, created by the artists Lee Quinones, Crash, Alexis Diaz, Jim Drain, Ganzeer, Shantell Martin, Marie Roberts, and Chris Stain.

Here are the brand-new, never-before-seen murals:

One of this year’s new murals, by Marie Roberts

Chris Stain’s remake of a classic Martha Cooper photograph

The walls rise out of the pavement like mirages and fit perfectly with Coney’s dreamlike aesthetic, which always seems to exist at the seam between dream and nightmare.

Coney Island was once America’s playground. After losing two of its major parks throughout the 20th century, it has since faded into a sort of half-alive memorial to what was once. But slowly life is being pumped back into its veins.

The Coney Art Walls project is presented by Joseph J. Sitt and Jeffrey Deitch. Curator Jeffrey Deitsch has a long-standing interest in street art, as he curated the exhibit “Art in the Streets” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2011.

Part of a work-in-progress by Alexis Diaz

By Shantell Martin

On the project’s website, Joseph J. Sitt writes, “Thor Equities’ and my own connection to Coney is a personal one. For me, it was the summer hangout of my youth. Coney Island has struggled for decades and lost a lot of the sparkle that once drew millions each summer from New York and beyond. In the long term, we aspire to return the luster to Coney and bring it back to being a playground not just for New Yorkers, but for the world.”

Sitt is the president of Thor Equities, an organization that works in development and leasing around the world. It owns much of the land at Coney Island, and is attempting to implement zoning changes in order to build more infrastructure on land that is currently held by the city.

By Mark Bodé

By Jim Drain

The Art Walls exhibition has managed to bring some life back. In its first year, the Coney Art Walls drew a crowd of roughly one thousand people on its first day, and food vendors and music created a festive environment. The walls quickly became popular backdrops for Instagram posts, and they feature some of New York’s most famous street artists.

This is one of Thor Equities’ first successful movements towards Coney Island rehabilitation. In the past, the organization was criticized for allowing empty lots to remain unfilled all over the area. Still, there is a strangely beautiful duality to the half-decrepit state that Coney Island finds itself in today; the place seems to ache with nostalgia and a kind of desperation; the empty beach feels haunted by the spirits of the millions who filled it in decades past.

By Ganzeer

The murals seem aware of this; on one hand, they are emblems of new color what was once a dull grey industrial plot. On the other hand, they are two-dimensional pop-ups that will be taken down in the fall. They are simultaneously movements towards a future and players in a present that is growing more and more ephemeral.

The murals themselves are mostly vivid, full of movement, emblazoned with loud and garish designs that seem charged with all the adrenaline of a summer night at the fairground. Many are striking and intense, and require a few moments to take in before they can really be seen.

Take “Handsome Brother and Mermaid” by Aiko, for example — a mural that displays a sailor holding a red-haired woman with a scaly tale – will probably never lose its whimsical magnetism. It’s based on an ancient Japanese folktale that tells the story of a man who rescues a turtle on the beach and is rewarded by a trip to a fantastic underwater castle. Aiko’s contemporary retelling shows a sailor who rescues a mermaid and is rewarded by being transported to a magnificent palace.

By Aiko

The other side of the mural, closer to the sea, displays an enchanted dragon palace complete with the words “Other World.” The whole thing may well be a tribute to Coney’s very magical ability to transport anyone who visits far away from the grit of the New York streets, to a land of fantasy and endless color.

By Aiko

There’s the striking “Riot” by Ben Eine, a popular Instagram backdrop.

By Ben Eine

There’s the complex, tenuously aquarian chaos of tiny lines and figures that is “Catch of the Day,” created by artists How and Nosm. These two identical twin brothers are in high demand for the murals they have created all over the world, and apparently are so in sync that they finish each others’ sentences.

By How and Nosm

And there are many more, each with its own mystique:

By IRAK Crew

By the London Police

By Haze

By Daze

Detail, By Miss Van

Detail, By Buff Monster

By John Ahearn

by eL Seed

By Tristan Eaton

By D*Face

By Nychos

Detail, By Thrive Collective and Marie Roberts

By Thrive Collective and Daze

All of the murals seem to want to leap off the wall, to join the fray of beachcombers and vacationers who wander the surrounding boardwalk and shores. They burn with an inner fire that seems to reflect the pulse of all of Coney Island. They are all half-whimsical, half-terrible; half-celebratory, half-ominous.

In celebration of their work, all of the artists came together to sign the Art Walls’ new mascot, affectionately called Luigi.

As the mermaid parades and light shows start up this summer, Coney Island will do what it has always done: it will be a home for the freaks and the madmen, for the adventurers and the dreamers.

These murals fit into many of Coney’s long-standing traditions. They are open to everyone, and are free to enjoy all summer long. They hit the pulse of contemporary culture while paying homage to the past, and they point towards a future that continues to grow brighter.

Tour the Secrets of Coney Island: Past, Present, Future, & Unknown
To learn more, check out 15 of Coney Island’s most unusual attractions and make sure to join us on our tour of the Secrets of Coney Island.