The heat is in the streets

After almost a year of silence…BANKSY is back! The art world’s most famous pseudonymous takes over New York in his most recent project entitled Better Out Than In: An Artist Residency on the Streets of New York. The main endeavor of the project is to produce one artwork per day for the whole month of October in the streets of New York.

People spend too much time worrying about the myth around Banksy’s true identity. Is he a “he” or a “she”? (I will use “he” for the purpose of this article) Is it a single artist’s work or perhaps a collective of artists? Some people attempted to put a face to the pseudonym yet to this day there remains no definite confirmation about his identity. While this may sound rhetorical, many people wondered why was New York chosen as a venue? Especially when New York is a place where the mystery of his identity could seriously be jeopardized. Responding to the staff at the Village Voice Banksy wrote: “New York calls to graffiti writers like a dirty old lighthouse. We all want to prove ourselves here.”

Like many other street artists, Banksy deals with themes revolving around political and social issues. The artist most probably anticipated the mix of polemic and excitement that his project was about to generate in a city like New York. A city where he is not only renowned by name but also for the economic value of his work. For instance, on October 7 Banksy produced a red heart balloon on a certain wall in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. The blogazine Hyperallergic revealed that the owner of the wall, a man called Vassilio Georgiadis identified the stencil as a personal opportunity. The owner of the location actually placed the work under plexiglass and is planning to install lighting around it and secure the work. Three days ago, Georgiadis had no idea who Banksy was! But the excitement around the owner’s wall and the line of people waiting to take a glimpse or a photograph of the art lead him to deduct that the work is probably of great value. Plus a free investment…

Vassilio Georgiadis with his protected Banksy in Red Hook (photo for Hyperallergic)

Vassilio Georgiadis with his protected Banksy in Red Hook (photo from Hyperallergic website)

What we expect for sure is a negative critique from the large community of graffiti artists in New York. A big number of people from both the media and the art world already long condemn Banksy for being a “commercial” artist. The heat provoked by his art couldn’t have been more boosted than by the coincided demolition plan of the legendary 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center. The abandoned Long Island factory -believed to host the world’s largest collection of street art– is sadly expected to be demolished by the end of the year. The rightful owner of the property, the Wolkoffs are actually planning to develop two luxury towers instead. But in order to appease the furor of the art community, the Wolkoffs made concessions to provide alternative work studios and even walls for art expression on the future façade of the towers. A law suit is currently in place.

5Pointz

5Pointz

The very own nature of public art is at stake in both examples. Simply regarding Banksy’s work as a commodity belittles the very own nature of his work. And the demolition of the 5Pointz artistic hallmark could be viewed as contemporary art vandalization.  By definition public art is an endowment to the community at large and not an artist-owner endowment. Thus, questions of ownership have to be revisited: does the simple fact of owning the wall or land marked with a graffiti (or any other medium) makes that person the rightful owner of the work of art?

October 8 Greenpoint

Oct. 8, at Greenpoint (Banksy.co.uk)

The newest Banksy work from 'Better Out Than In' went up in New York on Wednesday, Oct. 9, at 155 Ludlow St. (Banksy.co.uk / October 9, 2013)

Oct. 9, at 155 Ludlow St. (Banksy.co.uk)

Check Banksy’s daily art progress: BetterOutThanIn

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