Best of 2013: Eight Inspiring Examples of Urban Art

We rounded up some of our favorite urban interventions from 2013—both legal and otherwise.

Even though street art is finding its way more and more in the mainstream (Walmart just began selling knock off Banksy posters), it is still being produced in the streets. Many think of urban art and graffiti as beautiful interventions vital to bringing a new lift into both cities and suburban areas. Yet there are some that think the opposite and vilify the medium as vandalism. To counter this view, earlier this year, revered art blog Wooster Collective shared with us the 10 things we can learn from street artists including: "It’s important to take risks; Give without expecting a return; Challenge the norm; Collaboration enhances productivity; Question everything; Creativity is a universal language."

So in this spirit, we rounded up some of our favorite urban interventions from 2013—both legal and otherwise.

The Illuminator

Photo via the Illuminator

Made famous during the Occupy Wall Street protests for shining a massive Batman sign against the Brooklyn Bridge, the Illuminator has been staging political "light" interventions ever since. After the bombings at the Boston marathon, the team behind the Illuminator projected messages of solidarity to Boston on the Brooklyn Academy of Music. "As soon as people saw the pictures on Facebook or Twitter, they rushed to the space to gather with the community—their neighbors—to mourn, talk, and share. Rather than seeing people run inside their houses in paranoia and fear, the space became activated. That's a key thing that The Illuminator tries to do with its actions: to reclaim public space for the community," said the activists.

Detroit Crisco

When the city of Detroit announced its bankruptcy in July, local artist Jerry Vile offered his satirical response. He placed a massive vat of Crisco underneath the iconic Joe Louis fist, to, according to the artist, "help ease the pain of Detroit's bankruptcy."

Banksy Takes New York


For the entire month of October, the elusive Banksy turned New York City into his own private gallery, or "artist residency" as he called it on his website. Over the month, the British artist staged interventions around the city, stenciling, tagging one liners, setting up a sphinx built out of rubble in Queens, hiring an older man to sell his prints anonymously for less than $100, and of course, "The Sirens of the Lambs,” a truck that drove around Manhattan with sheep and cow heads poking through the slats. Judging from the sound of their squeals, they were on their way to the slaughterhouse.

Wynwood Walls

Photo by Martha Cooper for Wynwood Walls

The Wynwood Walls is a group of murals in Miami's gallery district that comes alive when the annual Basel art fair takes over in December. This year the walls were given to female street artists to celebrate the underrepresented group and their growing importance in the graffiti/street art scenes around the world. The results were stunning.

JR Goes Inside Out


The Inside Out Project by JR is "A global art project transforming messages of personal identity into works of art." The project, allows people to share a portrait of themselves and say what they stand for. So far, Inside Out has included 120,000 people from more than 108 countries. It has traveled from Ecuador to Nepal, from Mexico to Palestine, inspiring group actions towards themes of hope, diversity, gender-based violence, and climate change. In May, portraits of New Yorkers took over Time Square inviting tourists and locals alike to reconsider this famous shopping area as a space for art and exploration.

The Fallen 9,000

Photo via The Fallen 9,000

To commemorate International Peace Day, and honor the civilians and Allied forces that lost their lives in WWII, British artists Andy Moss and Jamie Wardley worked with thousands of volunteers to stencil 9,000 human figures on beaches in Normandy where D-Day took place. Of the project Wardley summarized, "The idea is to create a visual representation of what is otherwise unimaginable – the thousands of human lives lost during the hours of the tide during the WWII Normandy landings on June 6, 1944. there will be no distinction between nationalities, they will be known only as ‘the fallen’."

The Kiss Seen Around the World

Photo via Facebookby Ihab Aljaby

In response to the devastation in Syria from al-Assad's regime, Damascus-born artist Tammam Azzam staged an incredible reimagining of "The Kiss" by Gustav Klimt, superimposed onto a war-torn building. Klimt's masterpiece, which lays on top of a crumbling edifice riddled with bullet holes, reveals the country's struggle between beauty and destruction, as people cope with a civil war that shows no signs of ending. The artist's powerful image gives the hopeful feeling that beauty will win out, if we keep talking—either literally or visually—about what is happening in the region.

Punching a Wall 27,000 Times in Honor of Nelson Mandela


Art and boxing don't often intersect. But Belgian-born Shanghai-based artist Phil Akashi married these two subjects when he created a stunning tribute to Nelson Mandela—using boxing gloves and traditional Chinese ink paste. By punching a wall 27,000 times with the characters 自由 or "Freedom," the artist produced this homage to Mandela, who at the time was still hospitalized in critical condition.