Taking art out of the buildings and onto the streets.
Art can be post-modern, conceptual, classic, abstract, or experiential. It can create a narrative, challenge hegemony, or debunk a stereotype. Indeed, art can do all these things, but if it’s stuck behind the walls of an pricey museum entry fee, it can’t do them for everyone.
That is why we love street art. Simultaneously controversial and accessible, rebellious and democratic, street art greets us when we least expect it. It can evoke proletariat angst, urban renewal, or a wicked sense of humor, all while we wait for the bus or walk to work.
Street art is quickly gaining wider recognition as a legitimate art form, much to the distaste of law enforcement and city officials. The first major exhibition of street art appeared last year at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), followed by similar shows organized by Australia’s National Gallery, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and the UK’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
Marcus White, co-creator of the Brooklyn-based All City Street Art app and website, explains how certain neighborhoods end up becoming hot-beds of graffiti creativity.
“Industrial areas have always been good spots for graffiti as they tend to be rather desolate in the off hours, as there are little to no storefront areas or residential spaces, making them perfect for late night bombing missions,” White told EcoSalon. “[They] become areas for artists to have studios and form communities.”
So, in celebration of all things industrial, street-level and beautiful (if not entirely legal) here’s a list of graffiti and street art hot spots around the world:
Athens: With an youth unemployment rate of more than 50 percent, the young people of Greece have plenty to be aggro about. As austerity measures have become more severe, the street art of Athens has flourished, directly addressing themes of government accountability, greed, and high-level thievery.
Brooklyn: The rich history of New York City’s street art scene is at least partially owed to the subway system, which artists and taggers began using in the 1970s to communicate and spread their work across the city’s five boroughs. However it is in NYC’s most creative borough, Brooklyn, where the modern NYC street art scene is most expressive. Brooklyn’s diverse mix of ethnic backgrounds contributes to this, and the borough’s walls manage to beckon artists from Europe and elsewhere who want to get in on the scene.
London: Thanks to the iconic, elusive, and still anonymous UK artist Banksy, London and street art have become synonymous. There are several neighborhoods to check out, including the Big Smoke’s Brooklyn-equivalent, East London. London is also home to Global Street Art, which is boldly trying to create a “global photographic archive of street art online” and to create more spaces for artists to paint.
Detroit: The newly launched Detroit Beautification Project is using a simple tool to address the chronic problems of what was once America’s most prosperous city: spray paint. In its attempt to revitalize Detroit’s aesthetic through street art, the project has of course gained some critics, but the artists involved insist their intention is simply to create a more beautiful city.
Berlin: Berlin’s street art scene has its roots in the Berlin wall. During its tenure as the dividing line of Europe from 1961 to 1989, the wall’s west side was covered with graffiti conveying messages of politics, revolution, and the state of Germany. When the wall finally came down, Berlin’s street art scene exploded, as artists finally had free reign over an undivided city. Years later, the German city now earned a reputation as “the most bombed city in Europe.”
Rio De Janiero: Brazil’s second largest city made the progressive step of legalizing street art in 2009. As the art form has developed there over the last decade, graffiti has become “an agreement between the population and the city,” as one art student put it, and can be spotted throughout the city, from favelas to rich suburbs.
Miami: According to Marcus White of All City Street Art, Miami is home to a fast-emerging and important street art scene. The Wynwood Walls Project, conceived in 2009 by artist Tony Goldman, is an attempt to create a “museum of the streets.” Inviting artists from around the world, Goldman and his co-curators (one of which went on to become the museum director of LA MOCA), see the city’s walls as a giant canvas.
Austin: For a city that’s relatively small, Austin has a particularly vibrant street art scene. Its walls are known to feature the work of famed artist Shephard Fairey (creator of the iconic Obama Hope image and the Obey Giant) from time to time. The city’s Castle Hill neighborhood plays host to both up-and-coming artists and veterans alike.