Street art is present in every city across the world in one form or another and reflects the issues affecting the area and embodies the attitude of a city’s residents. Upon arriving in Vienna, it was clear that this city is not an exception to this claim. The most prominent art form utilized on Vienna’s streets, however, is what stands out. Here, street artists have adopted the medium of stickers to express their creativity and communicate their messages. Nearly every road sign and lamp post has seemingly been canvassed in stickers promoting a variety of ideas and calling attention to a number of issues. That being said, the most common ideologies promoted by these tiny pieces of artwork are antifascism and progressivism.
As an employee of St. Lawrence University’s Richard F. Brush Art Gallery who has assisted in cataloguing stickers like these, it was easy to spot them adorning Vienna’s public spaces. During my first night in Vienna, I realized the scale of the radical left community in Vienna and how prolific their use of stickers truly was when I decided to go out to Gorilla Kitchen, a burrito joint two blocks from my homestay, for dinner. After my meal, I stepped into Gorilla Kitchen’s bathroom and was confronted by walls, mirrors, and paper towel dispensers that had progressively transformed into an impromptu art gallery for stickers created by a variety of artists and movements from Vienna and beyond. In that moment, the seriousness and scale of stickers as an art form really sunk in. At the art gallery, I work at cataloguing individual stickers collected from a variety of cities and belonging to a variety of creators, but never before had I personally seen how creators using this medium could effectively transform any public space into a gallery, pulpit, and message board.
Almost immediately the next morning, I purchased a notebook for collecting unique stickers that I found throughout the city, and as time went on, I began to notice trends in the artwork. Intrinsically, street art is about claiming a space as your own canvas, be it a 20’x20’ mural or a 4”x6” sticker. In that respect, each piece can ultimately be connected to an anonymous creator or a movement because of the innate desire for the artists to claim their work, but in a way that only reveals association with an organization or uses an alias. This allows for specific movements and artists to be identified through their work without compromising anonymity. It also helps highlight how stickers democratize street art and make it even more widely accessible to both the producer and audience. Stickers are not an impressively sophisticated art form, but their accessibility makes them so interesting and so popular in cities like Vienna.
While such accessibility can embolden political movements, as seen in stickers produced by branches of Antifascist Action and Critical Mass, it can also give underground artists the perfect medium to produce and distribute their artwork on a massive scale. This can be seen throughout Vienna’s stickers, as one with a keen eye will begin to notice stickers of multicolored panthers created by the artist Uptown Danny blanketing the first and fourth districts, or the rather simplistic animated chimpanzees that can be found throughout Vienna and that have even been challenged by rival artists and elaborated upon by colleagues. Even soccer fanatics from across Europe have taken a liking to producing stickers as a way to leave their mark on rival cities during away matches. Vienna’s street art culture revolves around stickers, and for good reason, as any artist can seemingly disseminate their artwork and its message throughout the city and beyond in order to reach as broad an audience as possible for a limited cost.
All photos courtesy of the author.
Banner image: Street sign near Karlsplatz featuring several stickers produced by antifascists and local artists.