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"Banksy Does New York" Review

In October 2013, notorious and anonymous British street artist Banksy did a month-long "residency" in New York City, creating a unique piece of art every day, leaving cryptic hints as to its location and providing audio commentaries for select pieces (which sound like an American performed them). The excitement surrounding this event is captured in Banksy Does New York which is available on HBO GO/NOW. (Also on YouTune, see below.)

This immediate prompted a mad rush for "Banksy hunters" to rush and locate and photograph the works before they were destroyed (some businesses painted them over), defaced (jealous graffiti artists tag over them), or sometimes cut out and hauled away. Enterprising street hustlers covered one piece with cardboard and charged spectators for them to remove it so they could see and photograph it.

One day's stunt was hiring an old man to sell small signed original spray pieces (spraypainted onto canvases with stencils) from a booth in Central Park for $60, only revealing what he'd done the next day. There was no sign indicating what they were, though anyone familiar with Banksy would've recognized his style. The film documents some of the purchasers ranging from a woman who bought a couple for her children, but only after haggling a 50% discount, to a man who bought four to hang in his new Chicago home which needed something for the walls. The total sales for the day were $420 and each piece was worth an estimated $250,000 on the market!

Another bit of stunning generosity came in the form of a painting that had been bought from a charity shop which funded homes for HIV+ people for $50. Banksy added additional elements, signed it, and had it slipped back into the shop a couple weeks later upon which he announced it was hanging there. It was immediately put up for auction and raised over $600,000 for the charity.

Some pieces were whimsical, some surprisingly dark and political, some as simple as a quit spray on a wall while others involved massive installations which somehow got put up without anyone noticing until its unveiling. ( One day's art was "cancelled due to police activity.") All of this is documented by social media videos, Twitter posts commenting on it, and post-event interviews with art critics and writers and Banksy fans. (One pair which keeps popping up is this weird and annoying couple who look like the real-life version of the rom-com trope about high school losers who agree to marry each other if they can't meet anyone in 10 years.)

There is also some discussion about the tension between the "graffiti is art/graffiti is vandalism" sides and the high dollar world of art galleries who have removed Banksy's works and sold them for many monies. One dealer, who looks like a stereotypical art culture vulture who fancies himself a Bond villain, is shown examining a large cinder block Sphinx which a trio of Latino garage workers hauled away and stashed in their grandmother's garage. They'd turned down a $50,000 offer when they took it and agree to have Mr. Art Guy handle its sale. (As far as I can see, it still hasn't sold, so they're not rich.)

I find a lot of what's called "art" these days to be post-modernist garbage with no technique or skill required other than writing a brief Leftist political manifesto on the placard. It used to require years of training and practice in disciplines like drawing, painting, light, color, etc. Now it's low-effort nonsense with no purpose but to shock the squares.

But I like Banksy because, unlike Andy Warhol who ended up making himself the brand with his signature look and mien, his work is usually instantly identifiable (which is probably why the Sphinx hasn't sold; it looks too different) and he seems to have a perspective on what he's doing and what it means. That he does it from the shadows forces the focus on the art and as Banksy Does New York shows, it's how people react to his art that becomes part of the experience itself.

Briskly-paced - cramming 30 pieces into a less than 80 minutes necessitates that - and fascinating, Banksy Does New York is a must-watch for his fans and it's also a good introduction for those unfamiliar with his style and method.

Score: 8.5/10. Watch it on HBO.

If you don't have HBO (or someone's password), here it is in SD.


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