Back in 2014, the street artist Jim Bachor started filling potholes in Chicago with beautiful mosaics. In the Windy City, his work was met with popular and official approval–and since then, he’s gone on to create pothole mosaics across the U.S., as well as in Finland and Italy. His pieces not only fixed hazardous holes, they added whimsical artworks on top, featuring flowers, patterns, and notes like “This is not a pothole, anymore.”
Recently, Bachor set his sights on beautifying the potholes of New York City with a series called Vermin of New York. But instead of floral motifs or slogans, the series features detailed mosaics of dead rats, cockroaches, and Donald Trump.
“I like to surprise my followers a bit and not be too predictable,” Bachor says, talking about the artistic process behind the series over email. “A lot of my stuff is upbeat, fun, light, juxtaposing what I call universal truths: Everyone hates potholes while everyone (more or less) likes flowers or ice-cream novelties from their youth.”
In New York, he wanted to do something a little different. “[This city] has a lot of great things going for it, [so] it was fun to produce its ‘less great’ things in an elegant way,” he explains. The infilled mosaics included a dead cockroach on Bleecker Street, a dead pigeon on Pacific Street in Prospect Heights, and Trump’s face in the East Village. The pieces are quite beautiful, even if they depict the city’s most disgusting native pests.
Like Chicagoans, New Yorkers love his art. But unlike Chicago’s Department of Transportation officials, who told the Chicago Tribune that they appreciated Bachor’s art even while cautioning that pothole fixing was better left to professionals, New York’s own Department of Transportation is less than amused. In a New York Post article, DOT spokeswoman Alana Morales argued that not only Bachor was “putting himself in harm’s way in the middle of roadways, [but] the artist’s adding of artwork in the street is a danger to all road users, which poses safety hazards should drivers become distracted by the art.” She also said that the art would be promptly removed.
She wasn’t kidding, Bachor tells me. The city obliterated the Trump portrait, the flowers, and the cockroach out of existence after Morales’s declaration to the Post. “I was stunned by the city’s reaction in New York,” Bachor says. “I have installed pieces all over the country with no blowback like this.”
While Bachor understands that he has no right to fill potholes, he finds New York DOT’s reaction disproportionate to the situation, adding, “they used a sledgehammer when only a flyswatter was necessary.”
Could the city’s response have to do with the fact that the art equated Trump to pests, and allowed people to drive and walk over his face? “It’s an interesting question,” he tells me, “I assumed everyone in N.Y.C. hates him so it would be cool. My Trump piece [LIAR, which features the word in capital letters over the Russian flag] in Chicago is over a year old. Maybe that says something . . . I’d love to know the answer to this question.”
“The latest chapter in this story is that the NY DOT reached out today [to talk] about some sort of art collaboration,” he says. “They told me about their program where you can pitch pre-funded ideas for 11-month temporary public art projects in the city–most likely this wouldn’t be worth the effort for me.”
Come on, bureaucrats! This is exactly why New York today feels like a Disneyland for tourists, devoid of any soul.