Making Sense of the Banksy Backlash

The world-famous street artist is weathering jokes and criticism midway through his monthlong "residency" in New York City

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Banksy invasion of NYC on day 12, Cooper Union
Derek Storm / Splash News / Corbis

Concrete confessional

Banksy has received his fair share of attention for his current New York project “Better Out Than In”— but not all of it is positive. The pushback has ranged from defamatory tweets to outright vandalism of his work. Whether in the digital or the real world, why do so many have a beef with the world’s most acclaimed (if provocative) street artist?

The usual spate of more pedestrian graffiti artists have already defaced many of Banksy’s New York works: a side profile of a man washing off pink lettering reading “What we do in life echoes in Eternity” saw most of its words crossed out and replaced with black paint. An abandoned car that Banksy had painted lost its doors. On one security gate, Banksy sprayed “This is my New York accent” in gangsta-style lettering; beneath it, in elegant print, “normally I write like this.” A vandal scrawled over it asking “SO WHAT?”

The Twittersphere has been just as eager to bash Banksy, albeit less aggressively: casual haters applauded when comedian Jake Fogelnest tweeted, “Did you guys hear the one about Banksy if he was a dog? He would be Barksy.” One Buzzfeed editor joked that the artist is a colleague.  And from one Salon writer:

But perhaps the most pointed Banksy critique has come from Trustocorp, a fellow anonymous street artist (or group of artists) known for their street signs, which are stylized to look municipal but present such phrases as “Don’t Feed the Hipsters” and “You Are Not Cool.” Their two latest works take swipes at Banksy’s fame and fortune:

Perhaps this is really why Banksy rankles some: his work brings in top-tier prices despite their accessible medium. Graffiti is supposed to be democratic and lowbrow, but Banksy’s “Love Is in the Air” sold for $249,000 at auction this summer. Another, “Space Girl and Bird,” sold for $576,000 in 2007. A Banksy collaborator sold off some of his works in Central Park for $60 a pop this week—a very cute publicity stunt, and certainly a  poke in the capitalist eye, but at a profit of $240 for one day’s work, he’s still out-earning your average street artist. If Trustocorp is annoyed at all the press Banksy has received this week, which rivals even Damien Hirst’s polka dots, we can chalk it up at least in part to jealousy. At a certain point, the underdog becomes the establishment—and that’s when the haters swoop in.

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1 comments
j_bamford
j_bamford

People have reason to question the current state of Banksy's work. He has gone from being a genuinely subversive British street artist to a somewhat bland global brand that, while mildly "anti-establishment", is no longer subversive and is really now just part of the establishment. Anyone familiar with the work Banksy was doing 10-15 years ago knows how smart and powerful his work can be, so it is sort of a shame that he's going in the direction he is. While the artist collective is right to question him, it is amusing how banal and obvious their pieces are. Yes, they're taking Banksy slogans and subverting them, but the content and presentation is very predictable. A younger Banksy would skewer today's Banksy with a single piece 1,000 times more interesting than these pedestrian pieces.