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Who’s Walls? Who’s Art?

December 3, 2006

I saw an interesting story posted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the other day. It concerns a building in Downtown Milwaukee known as the Sydney Hih Building. The Sydney Hih has housed untold numbers of artists and musicians since the 1970’s within its dilapidated labyrinth of studios and practice spaces. Everyone left their mark in the form of graffiti, stickers, stencils, murals, etc… It was a legendary space, and everyone who passed through had stories to tell. The building has since been sold to developers and the colorful exterior has been painted beige. The following story concerns the marks that were left on the interior of the Sydney Hih. The story was written by Steven Potter and posted on JSOnline.
The following text and photos were taken from JSOnline. The first photo is a picture of the west side of the Sydney Hih in 2002 before they ripped down the freeway overpass and painted the building beige. The last photo is the Sydney Hih as it stands now. For more information on the development plans visit JSOnline here.

Developer Salvages Art That Was Created On The Spot:

Since being built in 1876 to house offices, a laboratory and a pharmacy, the enormous Cream City brick building known as Sydney Hih has been home to an eclectic mix of people and passions.
Previous tenants have operated a Mexican restaurant, record label, craft shops and even an underground nightclub. Most recently, the space at Old World 3rd St. and W. Juneau Ave. has been a haven for musicians and artists. And those artists left their mark on the building – literally.
“We found art on doors, windows, walls and everywhere else,” said Rob Ruvin, who bought the building last year and plans to develop it and adjacent land into retail and office space as well as a hotel and condos next year.
“Some of it’s graffiti art, some of it’s portraits, other paintings or poetry,” he continued. “It seems just about everyone who came through the doors left something behind, whether it’s just a note or a piece of art.”
Ruvin salvaged about 100 pieces and recently showcased a few at Elsa’s on the Park. “We saved it so people can have a glimpse behind the doors of Sydney Hih,” he said.
The exhibit came down last week.
“Initially, (the art) seemed kind of random,” Ruvin recalled. “But we’ve found there’s a lot of thought and heart that went into the work.”
One of the building’s more prolific artists/tenants, a tattoo artist who identifies himself as Pooh Bear, says the art holds special meaning.
“A lot of it was political or very personal; it was like my diary,” said the 28-year-old Milwaukeean. He was surprised to learn that his and others’ works were being shown in the downtown restaurant.
“We were wondering and worried about what happened to it,” he said, adding that he would either like the art returned or to be compensated for it. “Some of it isn’t finished.”
Ruvin originally planned to show the artwork in a Manhattan restaurant but has decided to contact as many artists as possible before making any decisions.
“We’ll continue to gather more artifacts, compile more history, conduct interviews and then determine the next step,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want to “do anything against the artists’ wishes.”
“We’ve thought about a number of options, possibly even incorporating some of it back into the building,” he said. “A coffee table book might be the best answer.”

Here are a few other interesting before and after pictures of the Sydney Hih I found.

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