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Banksy deserves better, New Yorkers

October 18, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • A man walking his dog in New York checks out a work by Banksy this week that has been defaced.
A man walking his dog in New York checks out a work by Banksy this week that… (Jason Szenes / EPA )

Banksy has taken New York, but some New Yorkers are obviously not taken with Banksy. Or, to use the old adage: Art is in the eye of the beholder.

Banksy, the world-famous and famously anonymous street artist, has been in New York for a month, creating various works, both street paintings and other projects. And he’s still at it. As my colleague David Ng reported:

On Friday, Banksy posted on his official website what he claims to be his latest work: a faux art gallery located on West 24th Street in Chelsea, the neighborhood famous for its tony gallery scene.

“Are you the sort of person who enjoys going to art galleries, but wished they had more gravel in them?” the artist wrote on his site. “Then this temporary exhibition space is for you. Housing just two paintings but also featuring a bench, some carpet and complimentary refreshments. Opens today through Sunday 11am til midnight.”

So, OK, Banksy has a wry sense of humor.

What shocked me, though, was the photo gallery accompanying Ng’s story. A number of Banksy’s works in New York — which, admittedly, I find well done and interesting, even though, yes, they’re painted illegally on the sides of buildings and the like — had been quickly defaced. And not in a clever way — simply spray-painted over, sometimes with someone’s “tag” and sometimes just obliterated.

As a Banksy fan — my youngest son got me interested in his art when we visited London a couple of years ago and we sought out some of his works — I found myself offended by this “disrespect.”

Which, of course, is irrational, because like you, I often cringe at the graffiti that is seemingly everywhere in Los Angeles.

And so, of course, I find myself trapped in that age-old argument: Just what is art?

Banksy himself seemed to get at that very question in one of his stunts this month in New York. He set up a booth in Central Park in an area where professional and amateur artists sell their work to pedestrians. Banksy wasn’t there, of course, but he later posted a YouTube video that, as The Times reported, purportedly showed “the art stall, which sold $420 worth of art (or the equivalent of just seven canvases) on Sunday. The video identifies one buyer as a man from Chicago who needed to decorate his home and who ended up purchasing four canvases.”

Which ain’t bad, considering that some of Banksy’s works have sold for more than $1 million. In L.A., in fact, a gas station owner spent two weeks sawing out a 9-by-8-foot section of a wall that contained the Banksy work “Flower Girl.” He reportedly hopes to sell it for upward of $300,000 at auction in December.

But does the fact that some people are willing to pay a lot of money for it make Banksy’s work art? Or is it still just graffiti? After all, when no one knew the difference, a guy from Chicago got a real bargain on some Banksys.

There’s no real answer to the question. Probably as far back as when prehistoric men (or, as we now know, women) started painting in caves, there were those who said, “Hey, nice bison!” and others who said, “Hey, why are you messing up my cave!?”

In the end, here’s what I think: I like Banksy’s work, and I wish the talentless clowns in New York who spray-painted over it would just go find something else to vandalize.


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