By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Tom Sellar
By Tom Sellar
By Jessica Dawson
By Tom Sellar
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
Banksy says he visited New York "a couple of months ago" to scout locations for the October show, but he "returned to find most of the empty lots I planned to use have got condos built on them already." He is now living in the city—not surprisingly, he won't reveal where he's holed up or how long he plans to stay—and he hints at a lack of a formal plan for when and where new pieces will be installed this month.
"The plan is to live here, react to things, see the sights—and paint on them," he writes. "Some of it will be pretty elaborate, and some will just be a scrawl on a toilet wall."
Early pieces were scattered across Lower Manhattan. Following The Street Is in Play, he scrawled a squiggly white tag on a steel shutter door in Chelsea that read, "This is my New York accent," with the words ". . . Normally I write like this" underneath in plainer text. On October 3 in midtown, he stenciled a dog pissing on a fire hydrant, the latter emitting a thought balloon reading, "You complete me . . ." The following day saw a triptych of sorts: existing tags in Brooklyn that read "Playground Mob," "Occupy," and "Dirty Underwear," to which Banksy added the identical script-stenciled tagline "The Musical."
The Chelsea piece was defaced within hours, and the hydrant stencil painted over with a small silver tag. "Occupy" didn't eclipse the 90-minute mark before it was eclipsed.
Conspiracy theorists have speculated that Banksy himself is intentionally spoiling the pieces after the fact. The artist flatly dismisses the rumor. "I'm not defacing my own pictures, no," he says. "I used to think other graffiti writers hated me because I used stencils, but they just hate me."
The fleeting nature of Banksy's art is part of its appeal. Brooks says a new piece each day in New York "turns the city into a giant game of treasure hunt." Each work is a precious commodity that can disappear overnight. He wants them to be discovered in alleys next to dumpsters, not displayed in a sterile museum.
The more permanent element of the works—and the part that helps to confirm their authenticity—is an accompanying toll-free phone number that dials an "audio guide" created by Banksy. The first recording features cheesy elevator music and a stoned-sounding narrator welcoming listeners to Lower Manhattan. The male voice casually warns that the work has "probably been painted over," and informs listeners, "You're looking at a type of picture called 'graffiti,' from the Latin 'graffito,' which means 'graffiti' with an O."
"What exactly is the artist trying to say here?" Banksy's narrator asks. "Is this a response to the primal urge to take the tools of our oppression and turn them into mere playthings? Or perhaps it is a postmodern comment on how the signifiers of objects have become as real as the objects themselves. Are you kidding me? Who writes this stuff? Anyway . . . you decide. Please do. I have no idea."
The audio clip continues Banksy's tradition of wagging a playful middle finger at the mainstream art world, in this case even slyly mocking fans who care to track down his work. Listeners are presumably hearing the spiel while standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk, rather than a wing of MOMA or the Met.
"The audio guide started as a cheap joke, and to be honest that's how it's continued, but I'm starting to see more potential in it now," Banksy explains. "I like how it controls the time you spend looking at an image. I read that researchers at a big museum in London found the average person looked at a painting for eight seconds. So if you put your art at a stoplight you're already getting better numbers than Rembrandt."
Asked to elaborate on the two paintings reproduced on this week's Voice cover—specifically, about how he intends to display the works, both collaborations with the Brazilian graffiti twosome Os Gêmeos (aka identical twins Otávio and Gustavo Pandolfo)—Banksy responds, "To be honest, I'm not sure. I'm figuring a lot of this out as I go along. Which is one way to keep it fresh, I suppose. The idea to make a stencil saying 'The Musical' only came up when I saw the 'Occupy' graffiti."
Banksy's repertoire is not limited to graffiti in the traditional sense of the term. On October 5 in the East Village, he rolled out a grimy, tagged-up 1992 GMC delivery truck with a sculpture installed inside. A virtual paradise, the piece included (as the audio guide describes over the tinkling sound of Hawaiian steel guitar) "a digitally remastered sunset that never sets, a waterfall pumping over 22 gallons of water a minute, and some plastic butterflies duct-taped over a fan that move around a bit."
The following day, Sunday, Banksy posted a video to his website that shows a pair of insurgents wearing turbans firing a surface-to-air missile from a bazooka-like tube. Their rocket launches into the sky with a streak of gray smoke. The fighters shout, "Allahu Akbar!" as their target plummets toward the ground: Dumbo the flying elephant. The animated Disney character crumples into a smoking heap. A child appears, approaches the dying cartoon, contemplates the scene, then turns and kicks the man with the rocket launcher in the shin.