Once again a piece of stencil graffiti has been spotted that has led to speculation that it might be a “Banksy”. It’s interesting how the story these days is less so about the art itself, what it says or what it depicts, but whether or not it is confirmed to be by Banksy. After such a piece is spotted, the subsequent tension over whether or not it is a “Banksy” betrays the real interest here: people don’t really care about the art. They care if its a “Banksy”. His celebrity status was confirmed years ago, and is now such that it doesn’t matter what he does, it just matters that we know its him that does it. Of course, being an internationally recognised superstar artist it is natural that news outlets would report on his latest work. But what’s more interesting is our relationship to the work. What if one of these pieces turned out not to be by him? Obviously its material worth lessens (as is the want of the international art market), but does it become less interesting? Less thought provoking?
In his debut film “Exit Through The Gift Shop” Banksy blurred the lines between reality and fiction by exploring the rise of a fellow graffiti artist (Mr. Brainwash) from his beginnings as a documentary film maker following Banksy to his emergences as an artist in his own right, through to a major L.A. show which attracts a lot of attention. Although the artist and his work are presented as being real, there is the overwhelming impression that his work (at the very least the L.A. show) is a hoax by Banksy which aims to expose the shallowness of the art world. All those people fell for a ‘fake artist’.
Banksy should take the entire project one step further and announce that half the work attributed to himself are not his. What would happen? What would be our impression of them then? If we sit and wait to see if a piece is indeed by Banksy, what happens if we retroactively remove attribution? What if one of those new pieces were posted in a few places online as being by some unknown name…would they get any traction?
I have an odd relationship with Banky’s work. As a graffiti obsessed teen who began to develop a (naive, admittedly) political world view as I entered college I became a huge fan of his stuff, which appeared to me to be edgy and unique. But as time has gone by I’ve become increasingly wary of his stock-in-trade. Many of his juxtaposed images have become so obvious and cliched, that they have sprung up various parodies, from Nathan Barley to a Twitter account. Whilst he continues to occasionally do interesting things (his altered paintings etc.) that show a growth, the standard “give a machine gun to an unlikely person”* street stencils illicit eye-rolls mainly these days.
And being a curmudgeonly contrarian, my aversion to him increases as more and more people lap up everything he does without question. The obsession with him in particular baffles me, as he didn’t even invent this style of art.
This has, however, inspired in me an idea: A Google Glass app that alerts users if they are looking at a CONFIRMED BANKSY, so that they can then choose to Instagram it or ignore it. I mean, what’s the point if it’s not a BANKSY?