I spent all day schlepping around New York in search of the latter day mountebank with a spray can and stencil, known as Banksy. The mysterious artists' paintings command thousands, but every day in October, his palette, the concrete canyons of New York... to the glee and chagrin of its inhabitants. The city is alive with the possibility of a pop-up Banksy. Our eyes are contorting existing graffiti: "Could it be... ?"
For me, the Banksy phenomenon, "Better Out Than In" is not so much about the destination, as it is, the journey. Everywhere I go there are invitations on empty walls, "Banksy please draw here", even Stephen Colbert has put in his request. It seems to me, the party pooper here is Mayor Bloomberg with threats of arrest. But, conspiracy theories abound and perhaps Mayor Mike is in on it as some master tourism plan. Intentional or not, it's working, and it is so much fun.
By the time I got to the McDonald's on Essex and Ludlow the other night, all evidence of Banksy's irreverent statue of Ronald McDonald getting his big red shoes shined, was gone. There were a few bystanders with iPhone photos of the excitement, the van being loaded, the New Jersey license plate on the rented van, the NYPD asking if the shoeshine needed an ambulance. But, like Keyser Soze, Ronald and his bright, red shoes, were gone, leaving behind, only the myth of his existence.
I do believe this is Banksy's brilliance. There is much speculation as to the British graffiti and street artist's motives -- traveling across the pond, the ubiquitous and canny illusionist, erecting stealth tableaux every day (or night) in October, on the walls, underpasses and vacant lots of New York's boroughs. There was a pop-up sale of actual Banksy prints in Central Park going for $60, only to be out sold by fake prints, replete with a certificate of 'inauthenticity.'
As a latecomer, I spent much of the day hunting down the remaining, albeit demolished, Banksy installations. Say what you will, the man is a PR genius. One might surmise, the 'artist in residence on the streets of New York' caper, was so elegantly conceived, as to invite the irresistible defacement by other graffiti artists -- this IS New York after all. That perhaps, the 'reaction' to the art and in some cases destruction of is actually part of the artist's original intent. As I took a picture, over my shoulder, a dog walked right in front of the stenciled dog -- life imitating art?
When I arrived at the only remaining piece in my area code, "The Peeing Dog" on 24th and 6th Avenue, there was no one there. It was fairly discreet and I couldn't figure out why Mayor Bloomberg was so anxious to "Get Banksy" shouting from the New York Post headline. As a veteran of Occupy Wall Street, I'm well aware how the soon to be former administration feels about freedom of speech. As far as I could see, there hasn't been any 'property ruined"; those walls and lots had graffiti on them before Banksy came along, it isn't like he does it on the walls of The Plaza.
But as I started filming and taking my own picture in front of what was unmistakably a dog peeing stenciled on the wall, a couple of guys showed up doing the same thing. We started laughing and they said they had flown from Bologna to see a Pearl Jam concert -- two nights, and they were trying to catch a Banksy or two before their plane that afternoon. We took pictures with our iPhones and it was such a shot of joy as we each posed and acknowledged how perfect each post was, it's hard to explain, it was such a sense of connection and community... a New York-ness about the whole thing.
They told me the painting under the Highline was now gone, saving me a trip and I set off for Concrete Confessional at Cooper Union. As we exchanged email addresses and parted, we declared, "New York is the best city in the world." Thank you Banksy for reminding us.
Armed with Twitter, hashtag #Banksy and an interactive map, I proceeded on my fool's errand to find what was left, or perhaps be lucky enough to stumble on one before it was dismantled, or happen to be on a street when "Sirens of the Lambs" did a drive-by.
When I got to the cement blocks at Cooper Square, I mistook the painting of a man behind bars, protesting the first tuition in the history of Cooper Union -- after I took a gazillion pictures until I was informed Banksy's Cement Confessional, was gone here too. But we laughed, and talked about that travesty and about the purpose of art and protest.
A passerby gave me directions to the empty lot at 159 Ludlow street behind Katz's deli and when I got there, it was in fact... just that, an empty lot!
The whole day was like a scavenger hunt. I hiked for miles; it was exciting at the prospect of purloining a photo, but to no such luck.
As the day progressed, it was such a grand adventure, I had more and more respect for this guy, as an artist, prankster, PR guru and social activist.
The Banksy buzz reminds me of a show I saw 5 decades ago... it was the opening, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, of Ed Kienholz's "Back Seat of a 38 Dodge" in 1964. It was in fact a 38 Dodge with chicken wire and at the time, quite controversial, shut down twice before the opening, sighting pornography... needless to say, there were lines around the block.
But I just love what Banksy is doing, his art attack appears to be a smashing success, for me anyway. I'm won over. I've shared laughter with a bunch of new friends, and that's a good thing. If you haven't gone to see one of them, I urge you to try. Simply go on Twitter and put in the hashtag #Banksy or #BanksyNY and check out the time of the most recent post. Don't be disappointed if you miss it, you have another week's worth on his dance card.
The whole experience has reminded me what I love about this city. I am his newest fan, it's also made me look at the graffiti that's already here, that I always kind of ignored. I'd love to know more about how the illusion is pulled off. How big the team is, if in fact he's even in New York. That would be something wouldn't it?
I like to think he's watching, maybe he's standing next to me and laughing at the whole thing, at his masterful chicanery. But wait, the plot and Krylon thickens... it seems Banksy took a day off,: "Today's art was cancelled due to police activity.' and there were rumors of his arrest Or is it all part of the masterful plan?
"... anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." -- Verbal Kint, The Usual Suspects