Artist Harald Naegeli receives 2020 Zurich city award

A recent Naegeli figure in Zurich, June 2020. Keystone / Alexandra Wey

The 80-year-old “sprayer of Zurich”, has received this year’s city art prize for the gangly stick-figure graffiti that he has been leaving on walls and buildings for decades.

This content was published on July 9, 2020 - 12:16

The “exceptional artistic personality” will receive this year’s CHF50,000 ($53,303) prize for his “pioneering” work from the 1970s to today, the Zurich authorities announced on Thursday.

Significantly, some of his older work – six figures which he sprayed in Zurich parking lots almost five decades ago – will also be elevated to “artistic” status.

Naegeli, though enjoying an international reputation (he also left his mark in Germany), has often been pursued by the law, and he was handed a nine-month prison sentence in 1981 for vandalising buildings.

Even now, for his most recent graffiti on a schoolhouse in Zurich, Naegeli has a fine hanging over him. Another of his coronavirus-period figures, a “dance of death” design he painted on wall of the city’s art gallery, was since removed and charges dropped.

The Zurich authorities said in their announcement on Thursday however that their attitude towards unauthorised graffiti remains the same as ever – that is, it is officially punishable.

As the Keystone-SDA news agency put it, “in short: if your name isn’t Naegeli, then you won’t be getting an art prize from the city, you’ll be getting a fine for vandalism”.

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