Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Banksy's New York Show

One of the first graffiti pieces Banksy did in New York in October 2013
In October 2013, the British graffiti artist Banksy presented his artwork all over New York City. For the whole month, he produced a different piece in a different location, which he announced that morning on his website with a cheeky audio guide to go with it.

His fans, art collectors and those who happened to come across it, rushed to these places to photograph it -- or if they were too late -- to see it already painted over, graffiti-ed over by other artists, or even cut out of doors and walls as owners thought it was a free Banksy art piece.

His take on the US attack on innocent lives in Iraq
The hipster scavenger hunt was captured in a documentary called Banksy Does New York that was released in 2014 and I saw on the plane last night.

He is an elusive character -- no one knows what he looks like, and somehow manages to pull off very interesting pop culture social commentary pieces.

The documentary follows several main people, fans, journalists and art critics to discuss almost every piece Banksy did in New York, the meaning behind them, what happened to the pieces afterwards and what this says about people, art and celebrity.

Two fans in particular who are dog walkers, would jump into a car and everyday film themselves as they tried to find the latest Banksy piece. Sometimes they found it, or they got there after it was painted over, by Banksy himself? Or someone else? Or his graffiti, which defaced the wall or surface, was graffiti-ed by someone else defacing his piece. Quite ironic, but it also got people annoyed and angry that people just blatantly ruined what they felt was art. Or did Banksy care?

A Banksy sphinx sculpture an art dealer hopes to sell
Some art dealers were thrilled to see Banksy doing some interesting things, from witty stencil graffiti which he is well known for, as well as creative pieces, including a wall and car together with wild-looking horses in a reference to an attack on innocent Reuters reporters in Iraq, and you can hear the original recording of the US soldiers during the incident.

Another is a fun diaorama of a landscape scene complete with a waterfall and pond, another was a collaboration with a local graffiti artist and they hung their two canvases side by side from the bottom of a bridge like a gallery.

Towards the end he apparently bought an innocuous oil painting of an idyllic landscape from a thrift shop and painted a bench and a Nazi soldier sitting on it and "donated" it back to the shop, where they raised over US$600,000 to help families living with AIDS.

New Yorkers began having fun with his graffiti
But then there were greedy people who owned the building where Banksy left the graffiti and either put plexiglass over it to "protect" it, or even cut out the door or wall to keep it for themselves.

Wasn't it public art though? What designates it to be theirs?

Even worse was a rough brick sculpture of a sphinx that three guys just literally stole from a lot near where they worked. They sold it for an undisclosed sum to a European New York-based art dealer who thought he could sell it for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Most ironic was Banksy paying an old man to sell his stencil graffiti on canvas for US$60 each and only sold a few, and now they were worth over US$200,000 each.

How does one assign value to art, and is it only art if a famous name is attached to them?

An old man sold Banksy's pieces for US$60 each
It was just fascinating to see what he produced and how he was able to pull off such a large-scale project every day without being discovered. One reporter was able to get an accomplice to reveal that he had to sign several confidentiality agreements and that there is no way he could have done all this himself -- he must have had a team helping him to scout locations and execute all these pieces.

Which is why the reporter thinks Banksy knows what he is doing -- he is a businessman, and knows others are profiting from him, that his name has value, even though then Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated defacing public spaces was a definite no-no.

Banksy Does New York is a fun, comprehensive look at not only the graffiti pieces he made, but also the meanings behind them and how New Yorkers responded to them.

He must have found their reactions amusing.




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