If you are visiting Rome or Barcelona with EF then you can be assured the chance to go inside St Peter’s Basilica or wander around the Parque Guell. One of the things guides will tell you to enjoy is the astonishing mosaics in these places, works of detailed craft and painstaking arrangement. So far so good, however, other cities have other mosaics worth looking for, homage to a great arcade games of the 1970s. The Space Invaders are starting to adorn various buildings across Europe, specifically in Paris.
The urban artist behind all of this, Invader, began placing pieces on buildings in Paris just over a decade ago, his artwork has now spread to over 30 French cities and others across the globe, they have even appeared on the Hollywood sign in California. You can follow a series of links on the website and even find maps of where to find the pieces, your job is then to try and track them down and photograph them.
Elsewhere, graffiti is an interesting phenomenon across Europe. Some cities have made real play of incorporating the work of urban artists into the fabric of the city, arguably nowhere better than Berlin. As a city, Berlin offered a pretty decent canvas after the fall of the wall and subsequent changes to the urban landscape over the last two decades. Old industrial neighborhoods presented themselves as an opportunity for various artists to produce large scale works, to go alongside the regular tagging. One artist to leave his mark in Berlin is England’s Banksy, one of the leaders of urban art his works have become acclaimed across the world resulting in gallery exhibitions. In Berlin, you can join tours of areas to see the best of the work and learn some techniques of your own then practice new skills. Finally, return to the streets and enjoy the game of spotting the tags of some of the world’s finest exponents, not only Banksy but the Brazilian twins Os Gemeos and local hero Kripoe.
Other cities seem to struggle with graffiti as a public art form. Rome is a city covered in graffiti, in itself it offers no definition of a good or bad neighborhood. The people of Rome seem happy to have many of their residential buildings simply tagged, you won’t find any well developed works or large-scale facades. I blame the original Starsky and Hutch TV series, still replayed on Italian TV, for allowing a generation of young Romans grow up with images of the graffiti covered NYC subway car of the 1970s and consider it to be the height of urban sophistication. In a country of art, Italy’s general failure to interweave contemporary art seems a bit of a shame.
Graffiti/Urban Art remains a source of lively debate, to some it is simply vandalism while to exponents and fans it is the next stage of cultural development. Of course, the argument is not new, it dates back centuries and there was all sorts of fuss when a glass pyramid was placed in the courtyard of the Louvre in 1989 with some thinking its presence defaced the grandeur of the Louvre. The presence of such pieces allows us a chance to really look again at cities and ask what they are for and how we want them adorned. If graffiti is going to happen then do we take the Roman course and allow simple tagging to blemish everything or do we look at the Berlin model and pinpoint certain areas and encourage greater artistic exploration? Or, as with many cities, do we struggle with something in between? Anyway, have fun if you are in Paris this Easter or summer, go find a Space Invader.
(Editor’s note: Paul Mattesini’s posts appear Tuesdays on Following the Equator. If you have a travel question for our resident expert tour director, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future posts.)