Banksy Does New York is an HBO documentary that covers Banksy’s residency (Better Out Than In) in New York. In 0ctober 2013 Bansky created 31 works and displayed them over 31 days. Each day he would post a photo of the work along with an audio commentary on Instagram with a clue on where to find the piece. Alongside his staple graffiti art he created dioramas, an art exhibition, a truck filled with stuffed animals and various other multimedia works.
The film is composed of footage sourced from the Internet, from mobile phones and hand-held footage, which helps to re-create some of the atmosphere that must have been over New York during his residency. Banksy essentially turned New York into a giant playground for an easter egg hunt. There’s a couple in a van who drive around and film themselves looking for the pieces and I couldn’t help wonder how many people had to skive off work to hunt for Banksy pieces. The documentary is a great way to get to experience the event which until now I never knew even happened.
My favourite stunt during the residency was when Banksy got an older man to sell “spray art” at $60 a painting. He sells hardly any pictures throughout the day, a couple at a reduced price, one to a man who wants to decorate his new home and two to a lady from New Zealand. The next day they were priced to be worth $250,000. His wit and knack for pointing out bullshit is incredibly on point and to imagine how many people would have been furious over this is hilarious.
As well as showcasing his art the film follows the Banksy Hunters and gallery owners who try to sell Bansky’s work. It’s crazy the lengths people would go to to secure themselves the (public) artwork but when a couple of ghetto-thugs start charging people to take pictures I kind of felt like it was set-up, just like when the police suddenly turn up on the very last day and basically “arrest” Banksy (it’s a blow up balloon of his name). Still entertaining stuff though!
The film also dedicates a bit of time to the cultural importance of New York in inspiring graffiti artists around the world and how one of New Yorks icons (5 Pointz) was white washed to make way for apartment complexes.
Although the documentary is a ball of fun there are the typical Bansky topics at play: the value of art and ownership of public works, corporate greed etc. There’s a lot of debate about whether there is any meaning to his works which I kind of call bullshit on. I think he is a very good PR man, our generation’s P.T Barnum. I think this is a critique from Bansky on us, he is doing/giving us the very thing that makes us ignore these larger social and political issues: entertainment, distraction etc.
There’s interviews with art critics and curators but it was almost laughable when an art critic from a fancy magazine thinks Banksy is kitsch and worthless and doesn’t understand why anyone pays him attention and almost gloats how his magazine didn’t cover the residency. Although I think Banksy is kitsch and does appeal to the lowest common denominator there is such wit in his work that makes it not worthless, it’s just sad that a lot of people don’t get the irony. For example he has a truck driving around delivering “Calm” but it’s doing anything but as large crowds gather and cause a ruckus trying to get photos. To me it’s always been the “theatre” around the art that makes Banksy so interesting. The art world can have their elitism but these Bansky fans are having a lot of fun and the documentary manages to recreate that experience New Yorkers had wonderfully so we can all have a piece of it too.
Worth checking out if you were a fan of Exit Through The Gift Shop and if you haven’t seen that film then order both.