Sunday, October 20, 2013

Banksy in NY (October 2013)

UPDATE: October 23, 2013: It appears the police, no fans of Banksy, may have shut him down, even if temporarily. Today on his Better Out than In blog, he notes that his art piece has been "cancelled due to police activity." Oh boy....

Once upon a time the artist known as Banksy was an unknown graffitist and tagger whose visual-verbal social and political commentaries, popping up in unexpected places, thrilled fans, sparked furious speculation about his identity among fellow taggers and artworld cognoscenti, and enraged police (and some of his peers). That was then. These days, Banksy is a renowned and acclaimed money-making commodity, the star of several documentaries, an artworld fixture, and so mainstream that earlier this year he publicly announced a monthlong "artists [sic] residency" in New York City, titled "Better Out Than In." His stay has included his expected graffiti pieces as well as work in other media, including a multimedia, sonic traveling caravan called the "The Sirens of Lambs" (a van driving through the streets of New York, featuring stuffed animals bleating); conceptual art and performance (a Banksy art table along the art vendors' strip outside Central Park, where he had a vendor sold all his works anonymously for $60 each); and traditional paintings-on-canvas, like the ones below, a collaboration with the Brazilian graffiti artists Os Gemeos, which are hanging outdoors beneath a High Line Park train trestle on W. 24th Street, until the end of today, adjacent to the main Chelsea art gallery district.

Guard at Banksy paintings, 24th St.
The guard and both paintings

Initially I was a bit agnostic about Banksy's visit, because while on the one hand I have followed his work for years, I also felt like these pieces would--and they have--involve a bit of chain-pulling, forcing people interested in the work to traipse around the city's five boroughs to find his offerings (or miss them, as with the Central Park art show) before building owners, art patrons, other artists, or the cops destroyed them. That's exactly what has happened. Some pieces have been painted or sanded over. Some have been defaced. And many have been mobbed, as was the case at the public installation at W 24th Street. In anticipation of this, Banksy stationed guards--I heard that initially there was just one, but I couldn't get any of the guards there, who were polite but not especially friendly, to confirm this--to facilitate crowd control and ensure that the paintings not only were not damaged, but also not carted off. I saw on Gothamist that by midday, when Banksy had posted images of the installation online, the area already was drawing sizable throngs, but I wanted to see this piece in particular since it was a collaboration with artists I also admire, and it wouldn't involve too much of a journey, so I decided to wait until the early evening, when the dinner hour might thin viewers out. It was a good choice; there was a crowd, and I had to wait for about 15 minutes until a group of about 40 people in front of me were allowed past the yellow tape, but after that, I was able to enter, view and photograph the two pieces, and leave. 

The painting on the left was mostly Banksy, enriched and tagged by Os Gemeos, while the right was the inverse. I liked the ironies of each graffitist's additions to the canvases, which visually conveyed the idea of standing out in a crowd, but also signified a gesture toward (in terms of contiguity and medium, as well as the semi-private gesture of the guards and yellow tape) and against (a public, outdoor, free display, open to the elements) the multi-billion dollar élite artworld just steps away (or rather, all around). That they also appeared to serve more as backdrops for Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, and similar social media sites goes without saying; I noted several people not really even looking at the paintings, but rather quickly posing themselves in front of them and once they had their shareable shot, they were gone. This exhibit, perhaps more so than some of the others so far, also represented in material form the trajectory of Banksy's career: a politically oriented public artist working in a medium now embraced and celebrated by many of the very people, institutions and systems that once ignored or scorned it and him. Not everyone is a Banksy fan, though; the New York Police Department is allegedly still trying to find and arrest him. Good luck with that!

The crowd outside Banksy paintings, 24th St.
The crowd outside the Banksy-Os Gemeos exhibit
The crowds near Banksy paintings, 24th St.
Looking into the space
People taking pictures near Banksy paintings, 24th St.
Posing near related graffiti
Banksy paintings, 24th St.
Before the next wave of spectators enters the space
Banksy painting, 24th St.
One of the guards
Banksy painting, 24th St.
Another guard, in front of one of the paintings
Graffiti near Banksy paintings, 24th St.
Graffiti on one of the walls
Mural, 24th St.
A nearby mural (across 24th St.)

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