Two years ago, the European Central Bank gave permission to a group of local artists from Frankfurt to paint a fence that surrounded the construction site for its new headquarters. During this period, a number of fantastic murals have been popping up around the E.C.B, turning the space around it into an amazing outdoor public art gallery. The instructions for the mural’s themes were given ahead – no violence and no pornography. But what arose in that next period was something they didn’t predict. A large caricature of German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, and the bank’s president, Mario Draghi, appeared alongside critiques of the euro zone and capitalism. And in one scene, an ape looked quizzically at a fistful of euros.
However, surprisingly enough, no one from the E.C.B. seemed to care about the topics. “The only reaction was positive,” said Andrea Jurges, senior communications officer of the E.C.B., said about the bank’s response to the disparaging artwork.
Also, Stefan Mohr, the founder of the group that organized the effort said he wasn’t expecting politics to dominate the murals, but he wasn’t protecting against it either. “A lot of young people are being affected,” he said of the financial crisis in the euro zone. “Sometimes you have to paint it.” The fence quickly became a tourist attraction and gained a lot of media attention, even doing a great PR for the bank, presenting their move in a very positive way.
But the bank’s support of the artwork hasn’t stopped there - they even bought one of the panels to hang inside its new headquarters: a pair of scrawny roosters facing off, poised to peck each other to shreds. The author of the piece, German artist called Case, found all of this quite funny. Most of his works are politically involved and he thought of the image of the rooster in front of the bank’s headquarters was very convenient. “The animals are trained to fight each other,” Case said.
However, Frankfurt wasn’t the first city with the idea of promoting art this way. An artist named Pasqualina Azzarello has made a flower mural back in 2006 on a construction fence in Dumbo. Since her political statement was subtle, she was invited to do more. In 2007, she painted a fence around Hudson’s development of a new dorm for New York University. The site previously housed a Catholic Church, and Azzarello painted a mural of sleeping children. This way she evoked the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal, which was being widely reported in the press that year.
By the end of this year, the new headquarters for the E.C.B. should be fully completed, and until it’s done, Frankfurt’s mayor, Peter Feldmann allowed fences to be painted with murals. Meanwhile, the murals have gained big popularity among business people, so that the plan is to auction off the graffiti panels later this year, after the construction is complete. Stefan Mohr said: “We learned what the people like. Provocation.”
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