Banksy does New York (2014)

Research reveals Vincent Van Gogh did sell a painting but he didn’t sell many. When he died at 37, he was relatively unknown. 

A lot of this was down to poor marketing. Vincent was mentally troubled and upset people. After viewing the HBO documentary Banksy Does New York (2014), I wondered how Vincent would have gone in the present day? Would Instagram and the like have helped Van Gogh succeed? 

Contrast this tragic career with that of Banksy, the English street artist whose fame is universal. Since becoming known in the early 1990s, Banksy’s graffiti has been devastatingly successful, a lot due to a genius at creating interest in something that is not nearly as special as ‘Starry, Starry Night’ or ‘The Potato Farmers’. 

Banksy’s artwork is characterized by striking images, often combined with slogans. His work often engages political themes, satirically critiquing war, capitalism, hypocrisy and greed. Common subjects include rats, apes, policemen, members of the royal family, and children. In addition to his two-dimensional work, Banksy is known for his installation artwork. One of the most celebrated of these pieces, which featured a live elephant painted with a Victorian wallpaper pattern, sparked controversy among animal rights activists. 

Full biography follows:

By remaining anonymous and announcing the location of his newest work in social media, the artist has developed a following that magnifies with each viewing by each of these people sending the work to their network of friends and contacts. Banksy plays on the current lust of sharing information. It is the new (or perhaps dated and I’m catching up) advertising/public relations. 

Thus, when the artist announced he was taking a residency in New York and would provide a new work every day of October 2013, the New Yorkers began what the film describes as a giant scavenger hunt. Subtle clues were left on social media and the hunters chased down the locations. 

Some of the work was akin to clever cartoon but others, including installations making deep social comment, were inspired in their conception and execution. 

Viewers could have wondered if Banksy was a corporate institution or an artist acting alone amidst a small band of helpers? 

It didn’t matter to the hunters. They wanted their piece of Banksy and came in their thousands to see it. 

Banksy Does New York raises many questions about the art world and who owns the art if it isn’t portable and laid claim to by the artist. Indeed it appears Banksy doesn’t really care and he is on record for criticising the buyers of his work at auctions, some paying millions of dollars for works he considers paltry. 

Certainly the most telling part of the film was a street stall set up with Banksy work selling for $60 each. The stall was the only piece of work during the 31 days that came without announcement or clue. While the hungry hunting pack tried to get their little bit of Banksy for profit, or esteem at its finding, there were Banksy originals on sale in NYC. Total sales: $420 for eight items. The first to a woman who negotiated two for $60; a young woman from New Zealand bought two; and a man from Chicago, who just needed something to cover the walls of his house, bought four. The paintings are said to be worth $250,000 each. 

El Dorado was in front of the hordes but they were too blinded by their smartphone screens to see. 

That this installation was filmed raises the question of the documentary’s authenticity. If this was a secret stall, how could it have been filmed all day (each sale was recorded over the eight hours it was open) without Banksy (or his backers/helpers) having some hand in it? The movie begins with a disclaimer that Banksy had nothing to do with its contents but one feels ‘he protesteth a little too much’. 

Film-maker Chris Moukarbel created the documentary using internet footage and hunters’ personal visual and audio records of the 31-day residency. In doing so, he has crafted a movie that held keen interest for its duration and the use of graphics and incorporation of interviewees made for great entertainment. 

Truth is stranger than fiction and you could not cast some of the characters depicted in this film. The two dog walkers who covered their own hunt for Banksy works are just normal Joes with the male driver especially interesting. 

The Latino family who took Banksy’s ‘Sphinx’ to hide and put on the market are a hoot. Their arrival in their cringingly twee Sunday best at a swanky Southampton gallery to view “their” piece was hilarious. But take a sit back and think of the footage Moukarbel has just shown of the gallery crowd. They may be chic but they too dress in outlandish fashion. I like to think that some groover saw the outfit on the head Latino and tried to emulate it for the next gathering he attended. 

Banksy Does New York makes many social comments, notably by Banksy through his installations, but it also questions art, its value and who owns it. 

Given Moukarbel compiled this film in the editing room using others’ footage, he is opening the question to how much of his art is actually his property, not that of the originals who filmed it on their phones and other technology. 

Irrespective, he has made a good film and I loved it. 

Read on for interview with Chris Moukarbel which I didn’t watch before writing the above. Apologies if he agrees/disagrees with everything I have written: 545a6b0802a76027210001bc

Score: 4.5 

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