Buenos Aires is a veritable smorgasbord of street art. There are hotspots to be found in Palermo, La Boca and San Telmo, but you can find street art, large and small, almost anywhere in the city. There is a vibrant mix of street artists, the majority of whom seem to be home grown with foreign artists added to the mix. The effect on the city is huge, with artworks frequently found covering whole buildings. Given the global nature of street art, and competition between cities, Buenos Aires must be in the street art premier league.
I’ve been fascinated with urban art of the more or less illicit type for years, ever since I moved to Hoxton in London, the former stomping ground of Banksy. While much street art in Buenos Aires definitely falls into political and socio-economic categories, there is also plenty that is purely decorative. Businesses commission works to promote hotels, restaurants, bars, galleries and boutiques. It makes for a melting pot of messages and styles, freedom of expression seems paramount.
The city authorities have actively promoted street art in recent years, but even without that support life is made easy for artists as they only need the permission of a buildings owner to create a work. It explains why there are so many massive artworks dotted around. If there is a lot of political work, there is also a lot that is whimsical and surreal, not to mention out-and-out baffling. This is Argentina, so it’s also no surprise to come across the country’s most famous number 10s, Maradona and Messi, adorning walls – especially in La Boca.
Street art has been around in Buenos Aires since the mid-20th century, largely used to promote political parties – as it still is today, occasionally with stencils handed out to political cadres. A decade of military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s extinguished free speech and crushed freedom of expression, but there was a slow flourishing in the wake of the overthrow of the junta. Street art in the city came of age in opposition to the financial crash of 2001 which dispossessed millions. The city still seems to be riding that wave today.
The sheer scale of work makes walking through the city an exercise in discovery, where street art reveals itself at almost every turn. There are plenty of companies providing tours to some of the more famous works, but I enjoyed stumbling across pieces of art by chance. Given the transitory nature of an art form designed to have no permanence, randomly exploring a city that has transformed itself into an open air street art gallery seems fitting.