The best art isn’t always behind velvet ropes. Graffiti, once a punishable act of pavement protest, has become a bona fide art form. It’s been the subject of major exhibitions at institutions like London’s Tate Modern and MOCA in Los Angeles, and has turned taggers like Banksy and Shepard Fairey into international superstars.
Travelers with an artistic eye can check out the movement’s seminal works and rising stars on city streets, crumbling edifices, and all manners of alleyway. From Berlin to Buenos Aires, here’s where to spot global talent in the top 10 cities for street art.
By Emily Saladino
New York City
From Basquiat to Poster Boy, New York has produced decades of influential graffiti artists. Long Island City’s 5"> has over 200,000 square feet tagged by local and international painters. Other top spots include the Bronx Wall of Fame on East 173rd St., Victor Goldfeld’s Ol Dirty Bastard memorial in Bed-Stuy, and Manhattan’s Bowery">, which was inaugurated by Keith Haring in 1983, and recently housed a mixed-media collage by the Bronx’ Tats Cru.
In BA, street artists can legally tag any building so long as its owners consent. The result is an abundance of top-tier graffiti throughout the city, including works by France’s Jef Aerosol, Aryz of Spain, and America’s Ron English. Subject matter ranges from political commentary by Italy’s Blu to celebratory portraits of Argentine soccer victories by local Martin Ron.
There is no shortage of major urban artwork throughout greater LA. Banksy, arguably the best-known graffiti artist in the world, has a number of pieces along La Brea Blvd., as does celebrated muralist Retna. Shepard Fairey, who designed the iconic Obama "Hope" poster in advance of the 2008 election, has a sweeping mural on Melrose Avenue. Recently, pieces by JR and Lister have been cropping up in Culver City and Downtown LA.
Australia’s second city takes street art seriously. The government’s Graffiti Management Plan carefully monitors it, reviewing applications from new and established talent, commissioning pieces and dismantling illegal installations. Spot state-approved works by Anthony Lister and Rone throughout Hosier and Caledonian Lanes in the Central Business District.
Brazil’s chaotic industrial center has a thriving street art community that has attracted international artists, such as urbanhearts and Paris’ C215. Works by local luminaries Os Gêmeos and Vlok converge in Beco de Batman, or "Batman Alley," a graffiti corridor with rotating works in the Vila Madalena neighborhood.
London’s streets are a veritable Who’s Who of contemporary graffiti. Installations by internationally renowned painters like Shepard Fairey, Grafter, and Banksy span the Square Mile. Check out emerging talent in the city’s eastern districts, like Shoreditch, Brick Lane, and Camden, where Ben Slow has been known to tag.
The best place to check out rising stars in the Chilean capital is hip Barrio Bellavista, where political cartoons, kaleidoscopic graphics, and murals mark nearly every flat surface. Graffiti is technically illegal, but the government adopts something of a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tag policy: so long as artists confine their works to certain neighborhoods, like Bellavista, officials turn a blind eye.
A UNESCO-designated City of Design, Berlin is a magnet for artistic energy. The majority of top-tier tagging is in eastern Kreuzberg, home to Italian artist Blu’s controversial political murals, which stand four stories tall on Cuvrystrasse, and Victor Ash’s large-scale astronaut on Mariannenstrasse. In spring 2013, France’s revered JR added a mural installation on a clock tower on Kreuzberg’s Gustav Meyer Allee.
Colombia’s sprawling metropolis has miles of murals, but the best are in La Candelaria, a historic quarter full of candlelit cafes and university students. From psychedelic panorama, to strongly worded invectives against former president Alvaro Uribe and FARC, graffiti adorns nearly all of La Candelaria’s sidewalks, buildings and cobblestoned plazas.
Street art is revered throughout Cape Town, having made international celebrities of locals like Faith7. In suburban Woodstock, private homes and public spaces such as Searl Street Park host commissioned work by budding artists, including New York’s Cern and hometown hero Freddy Sam, who organized a global graffiti exchange program called A World of Art.