The infamous British graffiti artist Banksy is making his New York gallery debut this month at Vanina Holasek.
Or is he?
Known for smuggling his art into places like MOMA and London’s National Gallery, Banksy claims on his website that this current show is not authorized and that he “does not sell photos of street graffiti or mount exhibitions of screenprints in commercial galleries, so please don’t complain here if you found them disappointing.” Well, then who created all the signed works displayed at Holasek? Banksy’s website also invites visitors to freely download his witty caricature images—British coppers snorting coke off the street, Queen Victoria getting her you-know-what licked, smiley-faced grim reapers, gangsta rats, etc.—and asks for not a penny in return. These same images cover Holasek’s walls and floors in the form of prints, T-shirts, and posters, with a few original spray-painted objects (wall sections, a pantry door, and an old filing cabinet) also on view. Likely, Banksy’s disclaimer is just a ploy to maintain his anti-establishment persona.
The gallery is filled with tacky props like caution tape, police gates, fake shrubs, faux–graffiti drips, and a giant stuffed rat. Even the actual works are hung deliberately askew. While such efforts to compensate for the nullifying effects of the white box are certainly well-intentioned, the Disney-esque atmosphere of urban street chic here is as edgy as a Gap ad.
That won’t stop anyone from making a profit, though, least of all the artist, who must be getting a cut (nowhere on his website does he say he won’t take donations). Everyone needs to eat. And as Banksy’s incisive image of punk kids lining up to buy a T-shirt with the slogan “Destroy Capitalism” on it (not in the show) cynically conveys, iconoclasts can be hypocrites, too.