Monday, March 9, 2009

Switzerland: The Sprayer of Zürich: Harald Naegeli

This story caught my eye on I change my view daily on this topic, but before going into it, some background, once again courtesy of Wikipedia (for the most part):

Harald Naegeli was known in the 70's as The Sprayer of Zurich. He has a classic education as an artist.

Naegeli's graffiti appeared beginning in September 1977 on the walls of Zürich. He used black spray-paint to paint wire frame figures on the walls of public and private buildings alike. He painted his graffiti anonymously at night, in places all over the city. The figures provoked a heated controversy in Zürich and indeed in Switzerland in general.

So called intellectuals and artists recognized the artistic value of Naegeli's works early on, but the general public and the Swiss authorities saw it only as an illegal and malicious defacement of property. Naegeli himself later said that he saw himself as a political artist and his graffiti was a political statement against the increasing anonymity in the city. The authorities issued an arrest warrant for him, but he was apprehended only in June 1979 when he returned to one of his paintings to collect his glasses that he had forgotten there.

Until then, he had painted some 900 graffiti in Zürich. He evaded the trial by fleeing to Germany yet was sentenced in absentia to nine months in jail and a fine of CHEF 206,000. His lawyers appealed, but the Supreme Court of Switzerland confirmed the sentence in November 1981. Since Naegeli had left the country, the authorities of Zürich issued an international arrest warrant for him. 72 Swiss artists signed a petition demanding that this arrest warrant be retracted, to no avail.

Germany gave more credibility to his work and he continued to paint his artistic wire frame graffiti in Cologne and Düsseldorf, and although they were not unanimously welcomed there either they caused much less discussion than they had in Zürich. Clearly he believed that there were anonymity issues in Cologne and Düsseldorf.

In Cologne, he produced in 1980/81 a cycle of about 600 graffiti but most of these works were removed already the day after their creation by the city cleaning department. The mayor of Osnabrück even invited Naegeli to spray in his city, but Naegeli declined the offer.

The one comment I found amusing was one from an Adolf Mushg, an apparently eminent Swiss writer and later professor for literature at the ETH in Zürich and one of the 72 artists who had signed the petition, commented later: "He doesn't work on commission. He does not sell out his rage". "Sell out his rage" seems a strange choice of words to me but then I am neither a writer nor a professor so I concede maybe he was "enraged" at the anonymity of the cities that he visited…

Anyway, one thing led to another and Naegli was evicted by the Germans and he turned himself into the Swiss police. He served time and that was that… sort of…

He apparently disappeared in the late 1980s. Focussed on some more traditional forms of artwork in contrast to the more spontaneous Graffiti artwork. He apparently is a well respected man in Germany, and was a professor at the Thomas-Morus-Academy in Cologne.

Apparently the local authorities in Zurich have recognised some of his art, and in one particular case restored one of the very few of his surviving graffiti in Zürich, called "Undine". Created 1978 on a building of the University of Zürich, located at Schönberggasse 9. Interestingly they removed some of the other Graffiti around it to show off Naegli's work. I am glad I wasn't one of the "other" artists… since then it would mean that I was merely painting "Graffiti"... perhaps they asked the intellectuals about it and they confirmed what was Graffiti and what was art, I am not sure...

The reason for the post is this… apparently according to Swissinfo and a couple of other sites around, there has been another art work spotted in an underground basement which resembles that of Naegli, and one of the sites I visited stated, "The Master is back". He must be "enraged" once again I imagine… interestingly on his supposed work, another Graffiti artist has taken the liberty of adding some genitals to it. Clearly this should be commended since you cannot criticise Graffiti on Graffiti can you. Graffiti by it's very nature is destructive… or is it art?

I guess Graffiti must be art, since some of it looks good, some doesn't, it is a form of expression, it is there to be commented on, it conveys a message, and so Graffiti to me is a form of art. There is definitely a part of me which, when I look at his work is appreciative of it. It is tasteful, nice to look at, evokes an emotion (depending on which one you look at), and does not try to be anything other than that which it is. The message of anonymity is noted and I can see how he tried to convey this message. He also achieved probably a maximum impact by doing it the way in which he did, via Graffiti, in Zurich (traditionally conservative), so as an artist he probably was successful in this regard…

I do however have a major problem with 72 artists and intellectuals who believe that this should go unpunished….. For one, as an architect, I might believe that my building is also a form of art, and for another artist to deface my artwork is simply inexcusable. Further to my point above, if he had the nerve to paint his Graffiti over my Graffiti I would be incensed. Secondly, I find the comment relating to "sell out his rage" laughable, or is the fact that Naegli only wanted to convey his "Rage" anonymously. He was given an opportunity to cover a city in artwork, convey his message and make a huge statement and he declined… or perhaps the anonymity was part of the appeal for him…. Or perhaps the fact that it was illegal was also part of the appeal, or perhaps now that he was found out, defeated the message in terms of anonymity, or perhaps he was just a talented Graffiti artist who lost the excitement of the art form. Whatever it is, when I see websites of untalented, spray painters (because they are definitely not artists), exclaiming that "the master is back" and I cant help but wondering if Graffiti will ever be a true art form, or merely a way of defacing other peoples property, in pursuit of a cheap thrill...

Picture from: