Anyone who works in the medium of graffiti can’t be too enamored of the possibility of permanence for his or her work. The destruction or evanescence of the works is kind of built in, whether the antagonist is the cops, the weather, or rapacious developers. But as graffiti becomes a more accepted part of the art world, the hopes for longer durations rises. A year ago, in October 2013, the incredible exterior of the legendary 5 Pointz space in Long Island City in Queens, New York, was painted over in stark white, a sobering reminder that the exigencies of commerce will generally trump a technically illegal grassroots art movement.
It looks like something of the sort will happen to the remarkable murals of the Italian street artist Blu in Berlin—murals that Artnet earlier this year named one of the five most important murals in the city. The Blu murals are located on Curvystraße, in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, and were painted in 2007 and 2008. One mural shows the torso of a man straightening his tie and wearing gold watches on both wrists which are connected by a chain. The second one shows two figures trying to unmask each other, with the one holding his fingers into a W (for West) and the other into an E (East).
Graffiti art has a special status in Berlin. Since 1989 the city has been defined by squatter culture, after the unused living spaces of the then-squalid Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg neighborhoods in East Berlin were occupied by young people—that tone has come to define the famously “poor but sexy” world capital. I visited the city in the summer of 2013, and the preponderance of graffiti was a little bit mind-blowing, it’s clearly semi-legal there and a source of scruffy, anti-establishment local pride. I was strolling in Kreuzberg when I happened upon a tour group that was on the theme of urban art and local left-wing activism—you’d be hard-pressed to find such a tour in New York City, let me tell you. I followed the group for the second half of the tour, and in fact the guide showed us the number three entry on Artnet’s list, the “Cosmonaut Mural” by Victor Ash on Mariannenstrasse.
It was reported last week that real estate investor Artur Süsskind and the architectural firm Langhof plan to tear down the buildings and replace them with 250 apartments, a kindergarten, a supermarket, and an open air terrace facing the Spree River. Not to be deterred, Berliner Jascha Herr has launched an online petition calling for the artworks to be protected under Germany’s monument protection statute. As Herr writes, “The city of Berlin loves to promote its alternative scene—and more precisely the cultural value of its artists—but it simultaneously discards them. It is simply about selling to investors who only see personal profit in the alternative landmarks of the city. But the cultural identity of the city belongs to all of us.” Unfortunately, it would be unprecedented for the landmark protections to be extended to artworks as young as seven years old.
Here are two time-lapse videos of the murals coming into existence: