A few weeks ago, just before leaving for
Buenos Aires, I randomly got a recommendation
from a stranger. I was in the Golden
Crown Panaderia in Old Town Albuquerque yammering about our upcoming
vacation. Out of nowhere, a woman exclaimed,
“You have to take the Graffiti
Mundo street art tour!” She went on to tell me that it was the
highlight of her visit to Buenos Aires
and that I needed to make a reservation a month in advance. Her fervor was so convincing that I booked it
that week. Thank goodness I did.
Founded by two British expats in 2009, Graffiti Mundo leads several different tours of
unusual and fledgling street art scene.
We chose the bike
tour, which takes place on Sundays when there’s less
traffic. For $35, you get a bike rental, helmet and bike guide (all provided by Biking Buenos Aires) plus an
engaging art tour led by Graffiti Mundo.
You also get the equivalent of an international meetup. An Aussie named Kirsty educated us on art,
and the shepherding of our eight-person tour – which included Americans,
Columbians and a Dutch chick – was done with Scandinavian precision and brio by
a fellow named Karri.
|Bike guide Karri (right) keeping us hapless tourists safe. Also, you can see here that each bike rental comes with a custom license plate from that bike's "sponsor." You don't get to choose. The unfortunate plate I got: SCHMERLZ.|
Over the course of four hours, Kirsty led our merry band of tourists around the historic neighborhoods of
Palermo and Villa Crespo while Karri put
himself between our group and oncoming traffic at many an intersection. Amazingly, in this big city of speeding,
lane-shifting traffic, every car (including taxis) politely stopped when he
raised his hand or rang his tinny bike bell.
With the fear of death removed and a warm breeze wafting through the
tree-lined (and often cobble-stoned) streets, I found myself as relaxed as the
weekend vibe in Palermo, the hippest area of Buenos Aires. I was also able to see more of the city than
I had in the entire week prior. On bike,
you simply go farther – and take in more.
That was an entirely pleasant perk of the tour, but Graffiti Mundo also delivered the goods. I learned a LOT about
Buenos Aires through its street art. As a whole, it provides a fascinating psychological
study of what’s happened since
the Argentine economy collapsed in 2001-2002 – triggering frozen bank
accounts, soaring unemployment and an ongoing financial quagmire – and how art can both process and soothe the country's emotions. This is such a clear realization for Argentines that street art, which only started here after the collapse, is not considered a crime. In fact, artists can work in plain daylight without fear of arrest. In many cases, building owners welcome the artists - or even invite them to come. Case in point: the city's most buzz-worthy restaurant, Tegui, has a graffiti-covered exterior.
Below is a selection of my favorite street art “installations” with a bit of detail about each.
|A large mural by one of the city's first and best street artists, Mart, who started at age 12. Like much of his work, it feels very dreamy, fanciful...and almost French. He uses aerosol paint yet achieves very fine lines somehow. It's a very distinctive style that you can recognize instantly when you see his work throughout the city.|
|Part of a large wall by one of the handful of female street artists, Zumi. It's a perfect example of how street artists tried to cheer up the city after the economic collapse - and why the police let them do it without punishment. Animals and other universally beloved, non-controversial symbols became popular subjects.|
|A piece by pioneering street artist Ever, who often paints faces...but never the eyes. He always does something creative to avoid painting the eyes. As a result, it's also easy to spot his work right away. As for the Mao image, it made me think of how Argentina is currently inching away from capitalism towards isolationism.|
|One of several incredible, large-scale pieces we saw by Jaz, another early and influential street artist. This guy is clearly one of the most talented - he drew these bulls freehand. He's also pretty resourceful. In the early days of the collapse, street artists couldn't afford paint, so they used whatever materials they could get their hands on. This piece has no paint - it is done in mud off the ground as well as charcoal.|