How Zurich finally made peace with its very own Banksy

In the late 1970s mysterious paintings started appearing on walls around Zurich: created under the cover of darkness they were the work of an anonymous artist who would become known internationally as the "sprayer of Zurich".

How Zurich finally made peace with its very own Banksy
Naegeli's 1978 artwork Udine was restored in 2005.

The distinctive stick figures were a form of protest against a dull, conservative banking hub – a city very different from the lively Zurich of today.

The graffiti divided the public, with people split over whether it constituted art or vandalism. Meanwhile, city authorities were distinctly unimpressed, offering a 3,000-franc reward for anyone offering information about the artist’s identity.

In 1979, the culprit was finally arrested after he returned to the scene of one of his paintings when he realised he had left his glasses behind. He was unveiled as Harald Naegeli, a Swiss artist who had trained in both Paris and Zurich.

During the subsequent trial, Naegeli fled to Germany, the opening gambit in a legal drama that lasted nearly 40 years and involved everything from an international arrest warrant to public petitions by artists and intellectuals and even an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Read also: Cleaners accidentally throw away Swiss artist's 'Unhappy Meal' sculpture

But the long-running dispute finally ended on Tuesday in highly unusual circumstances when Zurich councillor Filippo Leutenegger and Naegeli appeared together before the media and announced they had found a way to bury the judicial axe.

Under the deal, Naegeli – now an internationally recognised pioneer of street art – has presented Zurich with a painting. In exchange, the city has dropped claims for damages of 9,000 francs related to cleaning costs for the removal of 25 artworks painted by the artist on the city’s walls from 2012 to 2013.

“We have found a non-bureaucratic solution with him and now we can draw a line under the whole affair,” Leutenegger told journalists.

Naegeli, for his part, spoke about the painting ‘Utopie-Auge’ (literally ‘Utopia Eye’), describing himself as a dedicated Utopian.

The deal announced on Tuesday comes after the Zurich district court judge overseeing the case called on the two parties to look beyond the courtroom for an answer.

As Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger pointed out, things have come a long way in Zurich since the 1970s.

Life on the run

After fleeing during his 1979 trial, Naegeli built his artistic reputation in Germany receiving commissions from the Social Democratic Party and the University of Tübingen among others.

In 1981, he was sentenced in absentia to nine months in prison and in 1984 he was deported from Germany to Switzerland where he served out the prison term.

He then returned to Germany only to start spray painting again in Zurich in 2012.

In 2005, his 1978 Zurich painting ‘Udine’ was restored.


Art project shows the scope of Switzerland’s extraordinary glacier loss

An art project has shed light on the sheer scope of Switzerland’s glacier loss in recent years due to climate change.

Art project shows the scope of Switzerland’s extraordinary glacier loss
Photo: Studio Oefner/ETH Zurich

The project looks to “visualise 140 years of glacial retreat through an interactive network”. 

READ: Swiss glaciers shrink ten percent in five years 

The project is led by Swiss artist Fabian Oefner, who has reproduced the receding glaciers using neon lines which contrast with images of the glaciers as they currently stand. 

In a collaboration with with Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and Google mapped the shrinking glaciers over time. 

READ: Swiss 'glacier initiative' collects 120,000 signatures 

“Im interested in the concept of time and how change shapes the way we see reality”, Oefner says. 

Using drones equipped with LEDs, Oefner used real representations of glacial loss as the frame for the project. 

“I looked at maps where you could see the glacier in its current state and dozens of lines drawn on the map in front of it. Each of these lines represented where the glacier was in the past few decades,” Oefner said. 

“I wanted to find a way to transport the scientific data and bring it into reality”.