Street art changes every night, comes from the people up and not the system down, is naughty, playful, political and colourful.
Street art is responsive and a fast medium to communicate new ideas. If you want to tour the scene, you need to wake up early to find out what happened overnight, on the streets of our city. Like so much popular culture, its origins lie in Black Americans and their endless desire to re-imagine dancing, fashion, music, art and language itself.
At the same time, street art is often forbidden. We will look at the difference between graffiti (which means handwriting in Italian) and street art (which is often associated with gentrification). What is legal? What do the pigeons mean? Who paints it? How much does it cost to ask them to decorate your space? How many women are on the scene? What is the connection between graffiti, drugs and gangs? How many people actually do this as a job full-time? Do they make any money?
In celebrating its street art scene, Vienna has raised its international profile as a modern, creative, rebellious place. The look of the city has changed a lot in the past 20 years (also because of good new public space, more lively streets, vaping shops, shisha bars, the revival of street markets, food delivery cyclists, new public transport and more international people).
There is now even a festival of the best sprayers in the world, every August, in Calle Libre. And this festival has a different theme each year, to which the artists must respond. You can watch the art take shape, meet other obsessives and attend some fine parties. The city of Vienna asks residents which walls should be painted each year, so if you have a grey wall you want decorated and illustrated, please contact them.
Why Mariahilf? Because it is a pioneer Bezirk when it comes to street art, has many secret pieces to discover, and is a joy to walk around.
Only since 20 years is it legal to make street art here. The move to legalise graffiti was unpopular with both the press and public, but there is much less resistance now that our city looks less grey and more wild. In street art we see humour and politics, cool visions of the future, and a more feminine direction. We have a visionary city council to thank for this development. We must also congratulate Tom Grötschnig for documenting the local scene in books, and his collection of all the key players on viennamurals.at. He keeps buyers in touch with the underground artists, who mostly remain anonymous.
We should also recognise the fine role Kunst im Öffentliche Raum (KöR) plays in commissioning and promoting good new public art on the streets, across different media. They are adventurous and cool. And this is mostly financed by Stadt Wien, which is definitely not the case in other cities. We are privileged to live in a place and time where the authorities see and value the part good art plays in social evolution.
And finally, who is Banksy? – currently on show at a full-scale inauthentic show in Vienna. This is his real identity. But the fascinating thing is that many people just don’t want to know who s/he really is, since the mystique and romance is then lost, and the speculation ends. So keep on fantasising, y’all, while the rest of us know the truth.
This walk is a part of Wir sind Wien.Festival, from Basiskultur Wien, which moves to a new Bezirk in the first 23 days of June each year.