Oscars Shun Banksy
In perhaps the most telling moment of his recent career, the street artist ‘Banksy’ was denied permission to attend the academy awards in costume, and subsequently did not appear at all. Nominated for directing the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, the notoriously secretive man (or, debatably, collective) released a statement saying: “This is a big surprise. I don’t agree with the concept of award ceremonies, but I’m prepared to make an exception for the ones I’m nominated for.” However, when faced with the apparent risk of multiple men in disguise accepting the award – which is to say, a scene — organizers barred him from entry.
This is the latest step for a former icon galloping along to obsolescence. At the turn of the millenium, graffiti art moved beyond the big colorful scrawls and letters depicted in the 1983 documentary “Style Wars” to more complete visual works – eclipsing the legal term “graffiti” and becoming, in 2008, defined by the Tate as “Street Art.” Still fundamentally illegal in nature, these works were sometimes whimsical (see Mr. Hou and Julian Beever), and sometimes inflammatory. The king of this latter movement was Banksy.
His work was the very definition of cool and edgy — Mona Lisa with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, rats spilling paint, the Queen of England getting a rather regal muff ride from one of her maids. Some argue the thrust of the work was pure vulgarity; a predominantly younger crowd saw commentary on the power of imagination in fighting totalitarianism, and the risk to that power presented by corporate incursion to daily life.
His breakout came in 2005 when he ‘tagged’ (Street Artist term for the act of graffiti drawing) the world’s most famous wall: Israel’s West Bank barrier. Banksy exploded onto the global stage, and with him all of the movement. Street Art could now be sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars and placed in ‘legitimate’ museums.
This shift from a unique form of expression to appropriation by the money-driven art world is documented in Exit Through the Gift Shop. Thierry Guetta, eccentric French citizen, attempts to make a documentary about Banksy and Street Art. When he fails, Banksy takes his footage and makes a documentary about Thierry Guetta and Street Art – telling Thierry to go do some art of his own.
Thierry — tempered and trained by years of filming other Street Artists – proceeds to hire half of LA’s art world on a day rate, helping him pump out avant-garde pop drivel by the pound. This is a man who sees Street Art as synonymous with branding, and as such adopts the appropriate moniker: ‘Mr. Brainwash.’ His show developed into an intensely popular, profitable, and in the end, meaningless venture — he becomes the twisted incarnate of a movement that’s lost all relevancy and original vision.
Where Banksy could once sell half-million dollar works to Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Christina Agulera, a recent piece to appear in LA was carved out of the cement wall and sold on Ebay for a meager eight grand – the gap in the wall replaced with a poster proclaiming “Banksy is Dead.” Funnily enough, another piece – a little boy in a flower field of childish scrawls, wielding a chain-gun with Crayons for ammunition – was covered with paint and tagged ‘Mr. Brainwash.’ Reports from Twitter say it’s currently being cleaned.
When placed in the context of an auction (or, say, awards show), Banksy’s work becomes bankrupt of its original flair, venom and power. He’s become like any other wad of poppy Big League Chew – devoid of anything but a slight juvenile streak and tokenized gimmick, in the same echelon as artist Stan Murmur. Failing to win the award, we were denied whatever oh-so predictably flashy prank he had prepard, but perhaps for the best; if he seeks to reclaim legitimacy or relevancy he should stick to the streets.
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