University of Melbourne Magazine

Five key moments in street art history

  • 5. Pompeii and Herculaneum

    The word “graffiti” originally referred only to writing discovered on the ruined walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum. What the Romans were writing 2000 years ago proves that the more things change, the more they stay the same. “If anyone does not believe in Venus, they should gaze at my girlfriend” bragged one Ancient Roman graffitist.

    4. The Berlin Wall

    During the 1980s the western side of the Berlin Wall became a canvas for highly political street art, while the eastern side remained spotless. In the late 1980s, famed street artist Thierry Noir would jump through holes in the wall to spray the eastern side before jumping back to the west, engaging East German soldiers in cat-and-mouse chases. “It was time to show those soldiers that an era had finished,” he says.

    3. Banksy’s New York residency

    The elusive Banksy held a one month “residency” in New York City last year. Every day he announced via Instagram the location of his latest work. Among many stunts, an unknown elderly man established a Central Park stall claiming to sell Banksy canvasses. Only three people bought works from the highly suspicious seller. When the canvasses were proven to be authentic, their value shot up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    2. The 5 Pointz NYC building is demolished

    The 5 Pointz NYC building.

    The 5 Pointz NYC building. Credit: Ezmosis.

    For over a decade the walls of the 5 Pointz building in New York City were a massive open air gallery of street art from all over the world. Earlier this year the building was torn down to make way for a high-rise residential complex. Google’s Cultural Institute have a fascinating insight into 5 Pointz’s history here.

    1. Melbourne Now exhibition

    The National Gallery of Victoria’s Melbourne Now exhibition aimed to provide a snapshot of the immense amount of art currently being created in Melbourne. Two street artists, Ash Keating and Lush, were featured in the exhibition. According to University of Melbourne street art researcher Dr Alison Young, “this would have been unimaginable only five or six years ago”.


    Want to read more about street art?

    See an article by alumna and street artist Kaff-eine on why it matters to her.

    Or read University of Melbourne researcher Professor Alison Young’s views on why street art is so popular in Melbourne.



    – Anders Furze