Eight geotag journalists exploring your city. This week: Contrasting London.

The secret of value

By Ramona Fischer

In London the most expensive paintings in the world clash with street artworks that are freely accessible to everyone - and often hidden in plain sight.

It was painted in only one day - and went under the hammer for £65.5m in 2010.

Pablo Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust 1932, currently on public display at the Tate Modern, is the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.

Have a closer look at the blue and lilac canvas. Its two-dimensional style, the simplistic round shapes.

Now forget for a second who the painter is and lift the canvas up, take it out of its frame, out of the gallery and put it onto a brick-built wall in the streets of London.

Now step back and look at the painting again in its new context. How does that feel?

"Living city"

The East End is the epicenter of London’s street art scene.

In Hackney and Brick Lane you can find detailed drawings, abstract paintings or hand-crafted sculptures, such as mushrooms or Indian gods, being applied to walls, doorsteps, lanterns, street signs and even trees.

There seem to be no limits. Artists crouch down in the darkest corners and climb up on the highest roofs, covering the rough facades of the city with a myriad of artworks that might be as tiny as a bubble gum or as tall as a house.

"What makes Street art fascinating is that you normally don't see it if you don't look for it", says a local, who knows the streets around Brick Lane by heart. "And even if you know what you are looking for, it will always be half seeing and half discovering."

While artworks in museums are a permanent hung, street art is a constantly evolving medium. Our newly created street-Picasso might be here today and gone tomorrow, and not only because of the capitals perennial bad weather.

Hidden masterpieces

"This work was created last night and is already destroyed", the local says, pointing to the ruined display of a dog that had been painstakingly applied onto a door using tiny pieces of paper. "It's such a shame. Framed in that classical doorway it was kind of a masterpiece."

There are many reasons why people destroy street art, he says. Some pieces are removed or painted over on official order and sometimes residents just don't like it.

Many street artists don't sign their work and never reveal their identity. Instead, they create remarkable symbols that identify them all over the world like a brand.

Some street artists such as Invader, Banksy or Stik are so famous by now that people are removing their artworks from the facades in order to sell them on eBay.

Street art "tiptoes around", says artist Pedro Cardoso Leão. The student of fine arts believes that street art is more authentic than traditional art forms: "Street art is directly accessible. People can put their own value on it, whereas museums like Tate Modern often need experts to tell visitors why their art is valuable."

The value of secrets

If we look back to our Picasso on the brick-built wall we might want to ask ourselves: Does the value of an artwork increase once we put it in a gallery?

Would Picasso's painting be as important if he had painted it on a wall?

Almost certainly not. One reason that makes Pablo Picasso's canvas stand out is the strong story behind it.

Nude, Green Leaves and Bust 1932 is considered to be Picasso's favourite canvas. It is a painting of the Spaniard’s secret lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter.

The artist kept it hidden from the public all of his life. When it went on auction in 2010 it was revealed for the very first time in 50 years.

And the painting still keeps secrets. Just like some mysterious street artists the unknown buyer never revealed his identity.

Sometimes the secret of value is the secret itself.
Back to top