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Doodling or Art?

Tomas Senne (jb)
May 31, 2005

A few cans of paint. A wall. And presto, there is graffiti. But whether it is just doodling or art is a question an exhibition in Nuremberg is hoping to shed light on.

Colorful, crazy artImage: dpa

Gone are the days when the rage of the young men of the '68 generation would lead them to smearing political slogans on fences and walls during the night. These days, the subversives aren't as concerned with the day's political issues, rather, they prefer running around making creations that lie in the grey area between art and property destruction.

One finds them on sides of building, on overpasses and trains -- and now, in Nuremberg's main library. They're shrill, glowing, colorful and alive.

"Graffitti is half art, that is undisputable," said Siegfried Leykamm, who has assembled this collection. "And many museums are interested in these graffiti artists. It is not considered art only because anything done outside lawful means usually isn't, no 'ifs' 'ands' or 'buts'."

At the beginning is a "corpora delicti," a 40 square-meter wood display of spray paint cans and pictures in a "legal" graffiti action. Covered with abstract figures, the board shows the exhibits off effectively. It functions as the anchor to the 150 photographs of graffiti works, most of which come from the Franconia region in southern Germany.

Spezialbild: Graffiti in Deutschland, besprayter S-Bahn-Zug
Hard to preventImage: dpa

Meaningless labels or ornaments

In one, a dog pees, deceptively real, almost like in a trompe l'oeil. On a another wall, a comic-like bear sporting a crown grins and a monster tries to make the viewer jump in terror. Sometimes, ornamental initials appearing on train cars or factory walls are elegant and curved; other times other times they are just meaningless jumbles.

The pictures in the exposition are not computer-generated photos but actual reproductions of real work. When Interior Minister Otto Schilly recently came up with an idea to use helicopters and infrared cameras to catch graffiti artists, Leykamm says it was a bit of overkill.

There are other ways to control graffiti, he adds: One has to find a dialogue between the authorities and the graffiti enthusiasts because with a ban and arrests and prosecutions, one won't solve anything.

Graffitti for centuries

Graffiti is not a modern-day phenomenon. Vikings drew pictures and scribbled little messages about themselves or their loves on sacred ancient burial sites after invading north Scotland. In this exhibition, there are photos of centuries-old scribblings etched on a 1516 built grain house belonging to a religious order - directly behind the police station there today.

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