Banksy may be taking up a month-long residency in New York City, but the Big Apple doesn't have a monopoly on the graffiti artist. His presence is still very much felt down here in Miami -- not on street walls, but inside one new hotel.
The Riviera South Beach Hotel, a new hotel owned and operated by the South Beach Group that also runs boutique properties like the Catalina and the Whitelaw, opened its doors for the first time this week. What makes this hotel unique among all the others lining the avenues of Miami Beach? Banksy himself designed graffiti-inspired art to be turned into tile and featured throughout the property, according to the hotel.
UPDATE: The tiles at the Riviera may not be Banksy designs, despite the hotel's claims. Read on for more information.
But Banksy's art is not being proudly displayed in the lobby or on the walls of certain rooms. Instead, it lines some bathrooms and stairwells -- not exactly ideal placement. We wonder if Banksy knew about the placement of his art before agreeing to the project. Perhaps there are other tiles in other rooms of the hotel, but judging by the photos we saw you can enjoy original art while you use the toilet.
The artwork mostly features those big, round letters we've come to expect from typical graffiti, and only a few stenciled images that are more Banksy's style.
Another oddity with the Banksy-art-inside-hotel deal is that his stenciled pieces are usually done in open, public places for all to enjoy -- not closed off behind bathroom doors for select few to ponder. This is the guy who's known for drawing on illegal surfaces, so what could have possibly drawn him to paint tile for a fancy new hotel?
According to the hotel press release, Banksy was "commissioned" to create the artwork, which implies the artist was paid for his work. Earlier this month, in an exclusive interview with New Times' sister newspaper the Village Voice, Banksy said, "commercial success is a mark of failure for a graffiti artist." But what can be more commercial than a hotel, or designing tile specifically for one with the end result being monetary profit?
We have so many questions. Riviera South Beach hotelier Nathan Lieberman was unable to speak with us in time for this story, but we'll keep trying. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: The folks at the Riviera still aren't returning our calls, but a reader pointed us to this line of tile by Spanish company Peronda, which looks strikingly similar to the tile in the photos provided to us by the hotel:
Peronda describes its "Bansky" tiles as "graffiti-inspired," but not explicitly commissioned or designed by Banksy, which would explain why they look very little like the artist's existing works (and also why they've misspelled Banksy in the name of the tile).
We're still waiting to hear whether these are the same tiles at the Riviera. Here's how the hotel described its relationship with Banksy in its press release:
Banksy, the renowned British-born street artist, has his new graffiti-inspired tiling installed at the hotel ... The renowned British-born artist, Bansky (sic), was commissioned to make the hotel's décor come to life through his signature surrealism and larger-then-life abstract artwork featured on the tiling throughout the property. (Emphasis ours.)
UPDATE: South Beach Group President Alan Lieberman issued the following statement via email Wednesday night in response to our queries:
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Banksy was commissioned to do a series of different large tiles. There are a dozen different graffiti drawings of his most familiar and popular work. I was aware of his art being made available and contacted his agent and then placed the tiles throughout the new Riviera South Beach Hotel building's common areas. Banksy's style of subversive art and expression complements the sexy urban tone of the Riviera South Beach Hotel and allows guests to experience a unique installation rarely seen by an artist of this stature within a modern day boutique hotel in Miami Beach.
Sources at the hotel maintain that the tiles were purchased directly from Banksy's people, not from Peronda.
We've reached out to Jo Brooks, Banksy's agent, for more details.