Writing on the Wall: San Francisco Graffiti vs. MOMA

Surreal San Francisco

Plight of the Migrants, on a fence

Angels & Demons

I am not a city person. In my travels, am most often drawn to farthest edges of rural America. Both my brother and sister are city people. I say that in the best way possible. They’re both artists who draw endless inspiration from the swirl of the city environment.

Last year, the three of us spent four days in New York City, four of the best days I’ve ever spent with pavement beneath my feet. This past Christmas we all met up in Freiburg, Germany. This week we’re in San Francisco. My brother Paul lives here; he’s earning his master’s in classical guitar performance at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. A few weeks ago, my sister Sarah, who lives in Germany, called to ask if I would meet her in California if she bought a plane ticket. So I steered the Teardrop West.

San Francisco D.O.G. That’s the Full House house – used for the exterior set on the early 90′s TV show – on the right.

I’d been to San Francisco twice before, but I had yet to cover much ground in the city. So we decided on a treasure hunt: find the six Banksy’s installed throughout the city. What’s a Banksy?! Banksy is an infamous British street artist known for stenciling striking images and scathing messages on walls all over the world. In May 2010, on the eve of the San Francisco premier of the street art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy allegedly created six new installations throughout the city in one night.

If at first you don’t succeed, call an airstrike. China Town Banksy, still standing.

Banksy’s creations have sold for six figures and made their way into art museums, including the Louvre in Paris, but in the U.S., many cities classify street art as graffiti. In San Francisco, the Office of Public Works graffiti removal ordinance requires property owners to remove any and all installations within 30 days or pay $500 for the City to remove it for them, even those painted by Banksy himself.

Freshly painted white wall, former site of a Banksy on Haight Street

Alas, three of the four Banksy’s we sought out were gone, painted over, white-washed. The fourth, located near City Lights Bookstore in China Town, is still standing. We may have gone one for four on Banksy’s, but in the course of canvassing the city, we stumbled upon two alleys filled with graffiti – Clarion and Balmy Alleys – as well as dozens of other installations.

Clarion Alley, off Valencia in the Mission

Capitalism Is Over. YOU WANT IT.

My new favorite panel.

In Memoriam

Strike! Irrelevent (sic)

Birdman Saint in Clarion Alley

Warhol ATM/ Thank You

Luxury Tax, sidewalk stencil in the Castro

Entrance to Balmy Alley/ I Like You

Then, we headed to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. What a contrast! After spending all day discovering vibrant, clever, dynamic street art, most of the museum pieces seemed obtuse and stuffy. The Office of Public Works may disagree, but I’d have a Banksy on my walls long before most anything at MOMA…

Sarah at MOMA. Yep, that’s a painting, a very famous, expensive painting. Right…

Love graffiti? Me too! Check out my previous Writing on the Wall posts: Freiburg, GermanyFlagstaff, ArizonaUtah Petroglyphs; Sego Canyon, Utah and Navajoland. My sister makes her living as a painter. See her work at www.mcraemorton.com.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently traveling the backroads from New Mexico to Alaska, writing and living out of a tiny Teardrop camper. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Writing on the Wall: San Francisco Graffiti vs. MOMA

  1. jensine says:

    thanks for sharing, love these

  2. Lagos says:

    I mean I respect modern fine art but sometimes less is really less. I’m shocked the San Franciscan government wouldn’t take the walls out and frame them. Someone should go on strike or something.

  3. I would also take any of the street art (especially the Banksy and the T-Rex!) over some stuffy art museum painting. They seem to have much more character. :)

  4. evea192 says:

    Looks very nice, some people have great talent.

  5. Beautiful – thanks for posting this!

  6. Pingback: Writing on the Wall: Freiburg, Germany « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  7. Carrie says:

    What a great tour of a great city!! MOMA is one if my favorite places.
    Thank you!

  8. P. C. Zick says:

    Of all the cities to visit, SF is my choice always. I’ve seen the art near City Lights; can’t wait to go back and discover more. Thanks for post.

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  10. Klbexplores says:

    I loved this posting. I too am a sucker for interesting graffi or painted murals. One of my favorite little towns is an old west town, Toppenish, Washington located on the Yakima Indian Reservation. Each year they add a new one day paint of a mural to a building in their town. The murals represent historical or cultural significance. Here is a link to a library of past murals http://www.toppenish.net/toppenish/default.aspx?pg=6392829f-658b-454f-bfe3-067e70fff49b happy travels!

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