Street artist Banksy's "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is… (Mario Anzuoni, Reuters )
Is Banksy in town, doing some unique publicity stunts for his Oscar-nominated documentary, "Exit Through the Gift Shop"?
Street-art buffs and bloggers have been abuzz this week with sightings of new paintings that appear to be the work of the mysterious British graffiti master.
There's the one in Westwood that's been dubbed "Crayola Shooter," on the back of an Urban Outfitters in the UCLA neighborhood. Then there's one known as "The Charlie Brown Firestarter," spotted on Sunset Boulevard, that features the Charles M. Schulz-created character with a cigarette in his mouth and a can of gasoline in his hand. Soon after the "Firestarter" went up on the side of a fire-damaged building, someone cut it off the side of the structure.
A third piece, depicting a girl with a sledgehammer, has also been an object of speculation.
Banksy's website (www.banksy.co.uk/) offers some clues. There, you can see his latest works, and pictures are included of "Crayola Shooter," "Charlie Brown Firestarter," a billboard on Sunset and Laurel Avenue featuring inebriated versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and a dog urinating on a wall in Beverly Hills. Evidently, the piece depicting the girl holding a sledgehammer is not a Banksy original.
The sudden rise of his art is causing quite a hullabaloo — and not just for the street art cognoscenti. The billboard on Sunset and Laurel featured an advertisement for the Light Group, a Las Vegas-based management company that operates many restaurants in the city's casinos. According to a Light Group spokeswoman, the company was thrilled that Banksy chose to turn their "generic billboard" into a piece of art.
"We thought it was really flattering," says Beth Bartolini, director of public relations. "We picked a great spot for our billboard, and he thought so too. It was one of our generic billboards. It's much cooler to have Banksy tag it."
But that honor was short-lived as CBS Outdoor, the company that owns the billboard, took down the sign Wednesday afternoon. Bartolini says the company was never called and asked if it wanted the billboard removed. CBS Outdoor said the defaced billboard was removed because "it did not meet our standards." It was unclear if Disney, the company behind Mickey and Minnie Mouse, asked CBS take down the sign. Calls to Disney were not returned.
No word on the meaning — if any — of all these new pieces though. Though it seems rather un-Banksian for the artist to participate in an Oscar campaign, ballots for the Academy Awards aren't due until Tuesday. Maybe those involved with the film figured a little eleventh-hour buzz never hurt.
As for what will happen to the billboard, the Light Group plans to take good care of it. "It's our billboard, and we will have it back. We don't know what we'll do with it yet. But it's art. We want to make sure we do the right thing."