Amid the massive racial, social, and economic inequalities in the Western world, street art might have been a less effective, less visible response had it not become incredibly sophisticated.
Arguably its greatest practitioner is the anonymous Banksy, whose elaborate, multilayered stenciling technique defines the form the way Andy Warhol’s soup cans crystallized Popism in the early 1960s. His paintings appear in high-visibility public spaces around the world, sometimes with the consent of building owners, but usually applied guerilla-style under cover of night.
Saving Banksy, in documenting the struggle of art consultant Brian Greif to preserve a single Banksy painting — one of the artist’s trademark Che Guevara rats — inadvertently demonstrates that nearly every response to Banksy’s work is wrong. Municipalities like San Francisco issue citations to building owners for failing to remove what they call graffiti; greedy art collectors steal Banksy’s work from their sites (and contexts) and sell them for millions at auction; museums refuse to accept the work from preservationists like Greif, ostensibly because Banksy is unavailable to offer authentication (to do so would be admitting to a crime). But the curators at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art also seem cartoonishly dismissive of street art, a form they can’t referee.
The film includes interviews with top street artists, critics, and one absolutely psychopathic collector who once ripped Banksy’s work from the Palestine side of the West Bank barrier wall. Indeed, even Greif’s preservationist response is somewhat misguided, since the painting was made to occupy a specific place. The only appropriate response to Banksy’s art, one perhaps impossible, is to look at it and leave it for others to see.
Directed by Colin Day
Candy Factory Films
Opens January 20, Cinema Village
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 18, 2017