Between aesthetics and politics: A new art exhibition at SAP headquarters in Walldorf, Germany, brings street art indoors, and presents 19 artists from eight nations.
A large purple painted canvas, and depicted centrally at the bottom of the picture in a darker shade, a tiny hippopotamus. “A lonely hippopotamus in water” – one possible name given to the painting by a couple who mused over the artwork. And why not. The works exhibited at Urban Art Unlimited are an eclectic blend of color, form and technique, and leave plenty of room for interpretation. Not every work needs to be “understood”; it’s rather a question of seeing, sensing and perceiving.
It would seem the SAP art exhibition has struck a chord: crowds of curious visitors and street art enthusiasts of all ages turned up to marvel at the works unveiled at the vernissage on May 4. Yet in the public sphere, the very home of this artistic movement, these artworks are often a bone of contention. Not everyone welcomes the artists’ creative usage of public spaces, which include concrete walls, soundproof fences, and trash cans. For the artists, it’s about beautification, for some local citizens, it’s an act of vandalism.
Protest in the Urban Underground
Having begun as an anti-establishment youth movement in New York in the 1970s, street art aimed at becoming a voice of rebellion. “The conquest of urban spaces has its roots in the graffiti wave, as well as in the rap and hip-hop culture that was emerging at the time. The artists covered walls, busses, subway stations with lettering, known as ‘tags’,” explains exhibition curator, Alexandra Cozgarea.
Art as an anti-establishment sub-culture: using bold and daring colors as well as reoccurring tag motifs, street artists attempted to send shockwaves, and command the attention of observers, often in relation to political and social matters. Yet the increased popularity and recognition of the movement has since rendered this art form, which started as an expression of protest, socially acceptable. Street art has made its way into the commercial art scene. Prominent representatives of the graffiti movement who would describe themselves as activists now see their works sell for millions. An inconsistency, or simply the way things go?
A Variety of Styles and Messages
Moving street art from its urban habitat and putting it in a contained space involves compromise regarding the techniques and formats used by the artists: “Illegally painted walls, train carriages and street signs are being substituted for portable objects, such as canvasses,” explains Alexandra. “The messages and motivations are nevertheless the same as those projected in urban spaces,” she continues. “These also vary heavily from artist to artist. Many of the works offer critical commentaries on social matters, others are more focused on aesthetics, and others strive to be a source of surprise and entertainment.”
The exhibition introduces a colorful array of different works whose shades, forms and textures excite the senses, and incite reflection. Live action highlights: French artist Zest unveils his work to the audience, and Spanish live-painters Limow und Sam3 finalize their new art works live at the vernissage.
Heart, Soul, Mind
German-Chilean artist Pau is the one female artist represented at the exhibition. Her work “Siblings” deals with her own personal story and development.
The trilogy “Heart, Soul, Mind” depicts diverse states of being and growth as experienced by human beings – symbolized by the hands rooted in the earth, and the female protagonist’s connection to the universe signified by the small stars in her hair. Pau created the work on wood; an organic material, which services to accentuate the connection between man, nature and the universe. Every individual shade of color carries meaning: a small pink dot on the painting “Heart” depicts the woman’s vulnerability, her Achilles’ heel.
“Some of the works show classical painting classiques,” says Alexandra, “and are designed to be shown in a gallery.” The boundaries are blurring between inside and out, between acts of protest and a recognized art form whose aim is to beautify public spaces. “In the cities, these art works bring about cultural transformation. However, nowadays street art requires the support and buy-in of the local citizens. For festivals and urban initiatives, for example, the artists are permitted to use large surfaces and building walls for their creative purposes, yet the building owners have a say in these decisions,” explains Alexandra.
Metropolink is an urban art festival in the Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region. As part of an artistic collaboration with Metropolink, the SAP exhibition is showing selected works by artists who are participating in the festival from June 23 – July 19, and putting their creative skills to the test in public spaces.
The participating artists are Emzari Bazerashvili, Kera, Klone, Limow, Jan Paul Müller, Marius Ohl, Pau, Robert Proch, Quintessenz, Giorgi Rukhadze, Sam3, Smash137, Stohead, Sweetuno, Daniel Thouw, Wesr, WOW123, Guido Zimmermann, Zest.