Harald Naegeli, the world's most persecuted graffiti painter?

In September 1977 strange "wire frame" figures where appearing in all the concrete walls of the city of Zurich (Switzerland), always fitting in nicely with surroundings, and only painted with black paint. A vast majority of the residents of Zurich did love theses graffiti which they did see as an embellishment of the ugly grey concrete walls.

But a minority (mostly the owner of the walls...), the police and the Justice department did not see it that way.

The police went searching for the unknown painter. And in May 1979, he was arrested. About 900 paintings where then counted on the walls of the city of Zurich. Harald Naegeli fled to Germany to avoid trial. But Heinz Kreiss, the Attorney general for Zurich, was determined to get Harald in jail, notwithstanding of all protest from cultural circles and the people of Zurich.

In both countries (Switzerland and in Germany) Harald Naegeli was then seen and understood as an great artist. Museums and art galleries were exposing his work. Great artists such as Jean Tinguely and Bernard Luginbuhl did start an hunger strike in protest for the action of the Justice department. The Swiss TV made a special program to show his work. He also received a prize "for his outstanding contribution for the environment of Zurich".

Harald Naegeli was sentenced to 9 months jail and a 200'000 SFr fine. And albeit of the uproar of indignation and anger across Europe, the Zurich Justice department asked the extradition of Harald Naegeli from Germany. The extradition was reluctantly granted by Germany, and Naegeli was send back to Switzerland.

In May 1984 Harald Naegeli was sent to carry his jail term.

[ed. note by Susan Farrell: The graffiti writers in Zurich think it is ironic and unfair that so much was made of Naegeli while their own work was overlooked. Dirk sums this up nicely (photo by Susan Farrell):

Interview with Naegeli


City Walls

Art Crimes Front Page