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This past October, pseudonymous British artist Bansky took to the streets of NYC. Every day, locals and tourists scoured the streets to discover everything from stencilled graffiti to larger than life statues and moving installations. The often dark and characteristically satirical works received mixed reactions. Created right under the noses of the NYPD who remained none-the-wiser, Banksy continued to use his art to criticize the government’s labelling of graffiti as vandalism.
On October 13th, Bansky set up a stall in Central Park. Advertised simply as ‘spray art,’ authentic signed Banksy pieces were sold for $60 each. In a video posted on the artist’s blog, an older man is shown making his first sale to a woman who negotiates a 50% discount when buying two small pictures for her children. A tourist from New Zealand buys two additional canvasses and a man from Chicago who has just moved houses buys four.
What made Banksy $420 in a day collectively made these unsuspecting people an estimated $160,000 richer. Perhaps ironically, artists selling similar graffiti art with a ‘certificate of inauthenticity’ in the same spot a few days later sold out in less than an hour.
When a replica of the Sphinx of Giza appeared in Queens on October 22nd and was confirmed to be authentic, the man who found it sold individual bricks for $100 each before claiming it as his own and taking it. In East New York, graffiti art aficionados found the little beaver they were attempting to view covered by a piece of cardboard. The poorer residents of the area were demanding pay-per-view. In the Bronx, owners of the building featuring Banksy’s ‘Ghetto 4 Life’ piece have seen it protected by a sheet of glass and a roll-down gate.
In yet another exhibit, stuffed animals in a slaughterhouse delivery truck toured the meatpacking district. Entitled ‘Sirens of the Lambs,’ the piece was accompanied by an audio guide. In an attempt to follow it, one hopeful person attached a tracking device. Unfortunately this was discovered and the artist attached the tracker to a car service in Queens. A second delivery truck, grimy and covered in graffiti had it’s interior transformed into an unnatural mobile garden, including a rainbow, waterfall and butterflies.
The most controversial work of all was arguably his rejected op-ed piece for the New York Times. Paired with graffiti in Greenpoint reading ‘this site contains blocked messages,’ Banksy writes that ‘the biggest eyesore in New York is not the graffiti, it’s under construction at ground zero.’ This has caused outrage especially amongst the American press.
Yet what makes Banksy’s residency in NYC so significant is more than just the often wry and more importantly, apt message of his works. With something as public as street art, it is the interactions with and reactions of the people that contribute to making the meaning complete. From tourists venturing onto obscure, unfamiliar terrain for a glimpse, locals seizing opportunities to make profit, those that disregard it completely to the NYPD reviewing security camera footage: Banksy manages to make a caricature of the personality of an entire city.