Is there anything more annoying or unsightly than unwanted graffiti tags? Public art is constantly the target of vandalism, and graffiti adds to the problem. It often destroys artwork or, at the very least, imposes a clean-up burden on already tightly squeezed public maintenance budgets.
While harm prevention is always the best method of preservation, once an artwork has been tagged, quick response is essential. Here are my three steps to reducing harm to artwork from vandalism and graffiti.
Locate the work carefully
While no public place is entirely safe from vandalism, install artworks in well-lit, public spaces where vandals will be deterred. Works placed in open spaces such as public squares, along busy roads or near well-patronized buildings are at decreased risk for vandalism. Works placed in areas that encourage loitering, such as parks, are often targets at night when the area becomes dark.
After graffiti removal
Use protective coatings on the work
Commercial anti-graffiti coatings can be especially useful for protecting artworks such as public murals and stone monuments. They add a protective barrier between the artwork surface and any unwanted graffiti and are a cost-effective way to protect artworks. While not appropriate for all materials, they are often well suited to painted or porous surfaces, such as stone or concrete, which can be difficult to clean once they have been tagged. Coatings were previously made from polyurethane, but new ones on the market are made from polysaccharides and are removable with hot water, adding to the ease of graffiti removal. Consider consulting a conservator or the original artist before applying a coating, as it is important to ensure compatibility with the surface.
Act quickly to remove graffiti or other types of vandalism
Quick action has a twofold effect. First graffiti attracts additional graffiti. So, the more quickly tags are removed, the less likely a work will become a frequent target. Second, spray paint dries very quickly and becomes more difficult to remove the longer it is allowed to set.
Several options are available for cleaning graffiti. These include doing the job yourself, using a commercial graffiti removal product (these work best within the first day) or hiring a graffiti removal company or art conservator. Whichever approach you choose, aim to remove tags within the first 48 hours of damage.