Another jazzy art-circus has hit town. World-famous British graffiti artist Banksy has brought his high-profile brand to New York. All this month, the superstar known for adorning outdoor walls with black-and-white realistic images of balloons, Ronald McDonald, Mickey Mouse, military actions, street protests, and the like — he’s also the subject of a big-time documentary film— is making a work of art a day in various New York locations. It’s all well-publicized. The placement of the paintings gets tweeted out; fans rush to the site to be the first to see the work; they take selfies with it and tweet those out; then more people show up, flash-mob style. (Note: For an interactive map of all the Banksy work around town, click here.)
Since Banksy arrived in town, he’s been covered as if he’s a one-person government shutdown. TV stations from all over the globe have been sending reporters into the field to track down potential Banksys. Twitter and TV are lit up with Banksy sightings. The clips are all pretty much the same. Reporter shows up, shoots the Banksy, and sticks the microphone in someone’s face. In one piece, we see a fan look at the work and say, “It’s cool.” Interestingly, those were the same words a newscaster used to describe how Banksy had an old man set up a stand and sell real Banksy works for about $60. I saw one report about workers at some plant in Brooklyn as they tried to cover up the Banksy on their front door so that they could get on with their jobs and rid themselves of the hubbub. Some yuppie offered the poor workers $1,000 for the door. After they ignored him, he smirked to the camera that a Banksy has sold for more than a million dollars at auction.
Not to be a spoil-sport, but to me Banksy is mostly uninteresting. Anarchy-lite. Art-direction. Shtick. That doesn’t mean I can’t see why he’s such a phenomenon. He (I so wish “he’d” been a she) tweaks typical pointy-headed art-world appropriation art, mixes it with edginess, and brings it to the street, all with jokey wry political Pop commentary and a cheeky masked-man renegade anonymity. Accessible to all, Banksy is the easy-access photorealist of graffiti artists. Which not only makes him different from, but better than most graffiti artists. By now most street painters are unflinchingly conventional and subscribe to the same formal dictates and ridged visual rules: flaring calligraphic lines, spray-painted shapes, everything outlined and in Day-Glo colors. The image is either the artist’s name or some bromidic political picture.
Banksy has brought panache and professionalism to graffiti. He’s a fun bankable product. People see one of his things and get to feel the frisson of being around something famous, maybe slightly bad-boy. While he’s nowhere as original or interesting as so-called graffiti artists Swoon or Barry McGee, he’s still way better than Shepard Fairey, who other than his pitch-perfect Obama Hope is nothing more than an unoriginal layout poster designer.
Bottom line? I don’t care about his work, but I’m happy for Banksy, the New York treasure-hunt aspect of the whole thing, reporters covering the crap out of him, and his name-brand art. I wouldn’t want one on my building — although, you might want to go out to Brooklyn one night and maybe see a guy about a door.