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The Biggest Art Museum in the World

November 22, 2010

Disclaimer: I apologize for the somewhat haphazard nature of the photos in this post. WordPress gave me some problems.

Graffiti takes on a whole new meaning in the city of Berlin. In most cities, spray-can-wielding hoodlums make their marks under bridges, in small alleys or on the sides of trains. Their paintings mostly consist of an almost illegible name or word written in an infamous “graffiti font.” All of that certainly exists in Berlin as well, but there is so much more. The entire city is an exhibition of a community of creative and talented street artists. And after you’ve seen a few of their masterpieces, you’ll have no doubt that they are, in fact, artists. Many of these artists are well known around town and some have been working on their art for years, even decades. You can recognize most by specific trademarks, often in the form of an alias. Their art covers Berlin and each is unique in its own way, taking on several different styles and forms from artist to artist. This is just a taste of what you can find throughout the streets of Berlin.

As we walked the streets, we saw a lot of walls just like this; covered with a massive variety of street art, each one layering on top of another. It all seems to be a blur, but there are recognizable individuals in the mix. Some use a stenciling technique. Some have 3D elements. Some paste up their work. And still some free hand with a spray can, the old-fashioned way. Some make one-of-a-kind pieces to put up. Others have a simple trademark, which they repeat over and over again, everywhere they can. If you look in the top right corner of the first picture, you’ll see a small ‘6.’ This was done by a man named Mr. Sixes. He has been painting sixes all over the city for years. What’s the point? No one knows. Although caught by the police a few times, he finds a loophole out of prosecution because he only paints on top of things already on a wall (not directly on the wall).

This one blows my mind. Be assured, this was spray painted, with a very detailed stencil that no doubt took the artist an insane amount of time to make. Some works, such as this, are commissioned, which explains how the artists have the time to complete the paintings in such great detail.

I love these! This is actually part of a great series by different artists. You can see another example in Colin’s Cultural Countdown. It was an independent project and was not commissioned by anyone. In a dark and dangerous area of this neighborhood, a group of street artists turned it all around by painting beautiful and colorful portraits of children and other people in the neighborhood. They also painted the ceiling yellow as the sun to brighten it all up. What stops these paintings from being defaced and covered up like some other street art is the talent of and respect for the artists who created them. This area is no longer a dangerous place to walk, and is actually quite safe and beautiful to walk through. All thanks to a group of artists who, technically, are criminals.

Paintings like this, I can’t even begin to understand. Such a grand scale of painting is unreal to me. Artists of this caliber not only risk persecution, they risk their lives.Artists like the ones who made these pictures must climb to and hang from the tops of buildings. Then they have to be able to paint like that. How they finished such grand paintings without getting caught is beyond me.

The first one was right outside of our apartment and is just plain impressive. The second is a cool illusion. Everything on the wall is painted: the tiny window on the right, the vines, all of it. The third is quite clever, although you can’t see it in this picture. When it was painted, the artist positioned the astronaut’s hand in such a way that the shadow of a nearby flag was cast perfectly in his grasp when the streetlights came on.

This series of paintings can be found at the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall. Artists from all over the world came to paint the wall. Some are poignant, some are funny, some are inexplicable. I love that something that was once a great division and the culprit for so much pain is now a colorful beacon, bringing all kinds of people together.

We learned a lot of what I’ve shared about street art and those who make it on a tour. After the tour, I looked at the city in a different way. Suddenly I recognized different artists as I walked down the street and I saw building façades as canvases. Graffiti, or street art, is still illegal in Berlin. However, that is what makes some of the paintings so unbelievable. The artists have to be quick and careful as they create these works because the police have no problem taking them away for defacing city property.  Some works are humorous, some intriguing, some dark, and some pointless. Street art comes in all different forms. It’s edgy, dangerous, political, inspiring and beautiful. Much like any great art museum, there is something for everyone. So, in a way, Berlin is the biggest art museum in the world.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Maki Lane permalink
    November 22, 2010 1:19 pm

    These are really great shots! The art is amazing, it’s really neat to see what these artists do, even though its unconventional and “illegal”!

  2. mirco permalink
    December 3, 2010 5:43 am

    Hey, great article!! How did you find all of them?? just walking around randomly, or did you you take a kind of tour!?
    thhhhaannnks! and enjoy your trip!

    • Greg Josken permalink*
      December 3, 2010 3:13 pm

      It was a free walking tour (tip based), it was called the Alternative tour. After the tour though, we started spotting other art on our own. Highly recommend it!

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