Provo­ca­teur stirs up de­bate in N.Y.C.

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - THE SOCIAL PAGE - By Beth J. Harpaz

NEW YORK — Se­cre­tive Bri­tish street artist Banksy ended his self-an­nounced month­long res­i­dency in New York City with a fi­nal piece of graf­fiti, a $615,000 paint­ing do­nated to char­ity and a de­bate: Is he a jerk or a ge­nius? Banksy, who cre­ated a new pic­ture, video or prank ev­ery day of Oc­to­ber some­where in the city, spent his last day like thou­sands of graf­fiti artists be­fore him: he tagged a build­ing near a high­way with his name in gi­ant bub­ble let­ters. The twist was that th­ese let­ters were ac­tual bub­bles: bal­loon-like in­flat­a­bles stuck to a wall near the Long Is­land Ex­press­way in Queens. As if to un­der­score his dual iden­tity as both a street punk and an art-world dar­ling, he also do­nated a paint­ing that was auc­tioned off Thurs­day night for $615,000. The orig­i­nal paint­ing first sold for $50 at a Man­hat­tan thrift shop that ben­e­fits Hous­ing Works, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that fights home­less­ness and AIDS. Banksy added a Nazi sol­dier to the land­scape scene and Hous­ing Works sold it in an online auc­tion. Through­out his 31 days here, Banksy put pic­tures of his work on BanksyNY.com, with clues as to lo­ca­tions, but noth­ing pre­cise. That spawned a trea­sure hunt by fans, who tracked the works down, shared lo­ca­tions via so­cial me­dia, then swarmed to see them. New York­ers were di­vided in their opin­ions. Some tweeted “Go home, Banksy!” Oth­ers de­clared their ad­mi­ra­tion. The turn­ing point for many was an es­say he wrote crit­i­ciz­ing the build­ing re­plac­ing the World Trade Center. Banksy called the new de­sign “vanilla ... some­thing they would build in Canada,” and added, “It so clearly pro­claims the ter­ror­ists won.” He of­fered the es­say to The New York Times. The pa­per wouldn’t print it, so he posted it on his web­site. “The ter­ror­ists won” com­ment up­set many New York­ers, in­clud­ing Brian Ma­jor, 51, of Brook­lyn. A life­long New Yorker, Ma­jor says he un­der­stands graf­fiti cul­ture, and he also ap­pre­ci­ates fine art. But he doesn’t think Banksy’s art is all that good — “though I’ll give him credit, he’s a good mar­keter.” But Sean Lynch, 25, of Staten Is­land, said Banksy is “one of the more cap­ti­vat­ing artists of our gen­er­a­tion.” Lynch said it was mag­i­cal vis­it­ing Banksy sites around the city and hear­ing con­ver­sa­tions about art that the works in­spired, with “peo­ple of all dif­fer­ent walks and cul­tures shar­ing opin­ions, shar­ing sto­ries. ... The walls started to talk to them, in a way.” Banksy, who re­fuses to re­veal his full iden­tity, be­gan his ca­reer spray-paint­ing build­ings in Bris­tol, Eng­land. In New York, the art ranged from a sten­cil of a dog lift­ing his leg on a hy­drant to a video of a “slaugh­ter­house de­liv­ery truck” filled with stuffed an­i­mals. Some works were de­faced by other graf­fiti artists. But in­ter­est grew with each piece, and at least one Banksy street work was cov­ered with Plex­i­glas to pre­serve it. He also sold some pieces, un­ad­ver­tised, for $60 on the street. Rad­hika Subramaniam, a pro­fes­sor at Par­sons The New School for De­sign in Man­hat­tan, says Banksy is part of a long tra­di­tion of graf­fiti artists like Keith Har­ing and Jean-Michel Basquiat whose work ul­ti­mately earned recog­ni­tion from the art es­tab­lish­ment. But he also fits into a con­tem­po­rary trend of open­ing up pub­lic spa­ces to con­ver­sa­tions about who owns them and what can hap­pen there — es­pe­cially in to­day’s cleaned-up New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg, when asked about Banksy, called graf­fiti “a sign of de­cay and loss of con­trol.” OK, but is Banksy any good? “There’s plenty of wit in what he does, as well as some thor­oughly or­di­nary, some­times pleas­ant, some­times ba­nal, but some­times sweet things,” Subramaniam said. But he’s also “not a naif in the art world. Af­ter all, who would care if you or I were to set up a blog and en­act a res­i­dency like this? It’s only be­cause he’s able to mar­shal this kind of PR and mar­ket­ing that ... cat­a­pults his res­i­dency to another level and elic­its th­ese po­lar­ized points of view.” In a fi­nal ges­ture that was si­mul­ta­ne­ously se­ri­ous and self-mock­ing, au­dio com­men­tary posted Thurs­day on Banksy’s web­site called his fi­nal piece — his name in bub­ble let­ters — “an ho­mage ... to the most preva­lent form of graf­fiti in the city that in­vented it for the mod­ern era. Or it’s another Banksy piece that’s full of hot air.”

ALYSSA GOOD­MAN / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A graf­fiti work by Bri­tish artist Banksy is beng pro­tected by the own­ers of the build­ing, who in­stalled a metal gate to pre­serve the art­work ‘so it can be viewed and en­joyed.’

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