In an exclusive Village Voice interview last week, street artist Banksy explained his struggles with issues of art and commerce. But in his residency in New York City, during which the anonymous stenciler plans to create a new work on each day in October, he's doing more than just talking.
After telling the Voice that "commercial success is a mark of failure for a graffiti artist," Banksy attempted to sell his own stenciled works on a NYC street -- at the laughably low price of $60 apiece.
This, after all, is an artist whose works have earned as much as $1.8 million in sales at auction; who's collected by celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Not that Banksy himself benefits from much of that trade. Most of Banksy's stencils are street works painted on public or private properties without permission. They are often removed from their original public locations, either illegally or by the owners of the properties, like the Slave Labour wall that was up for sale in Miami in February and ended up earning at least $1.3 million at auction.
So $60 doesn't seem like much in comparison. But in the video above, posted on Banksy's website yesterday, New Yorkers weren't impressed with the pieces, which weren't advertised as Banksy originals.
It's an interesting take on the value of street art, especially in light of Banksy's comments to the Voice last week. On its face, the stunt seems to confirm art world outsiders' suspicions that the whole scene is just a fame-whoring circle-jerk, in which names mean more than talent. (Most New Yorkers passing by hardly noticed the art; compare that to the massive numbers of people who attended CONTEXT Art Miami during Art Basel last year to see walls explicitly advertised as Banksy's work.)
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But the context in which Banksy staged this scene has its own layers. Here's a street artist, a person who usually installs his work on public walls to high acclaim, turning to the more traditional medium of paint on canvas. The style of the stencils is pure Banksy, but there's something lost in the translation, isn't there? Removed from their usual surroundings, and placed in a more gallery-esque setting, the black-on-white works just don't pack the same punch.
So maybe it's meant to underscore the heinous removal of Banksy's street stencils from the private eye. Maybe Banksy wanted some non-millionaires to own a piece of his work. Or maybe it's just a giant fuck you to New York art snobs. Either way, we're cool.
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.