The British street artist Banksy has been stenciling and installing subversive street art for two decades, and to much greater effect than any of his contemporaries.
After spray-painting a ladder onto Israel’s barrier with the West Bank, placing hooded Guantanamo Bay prisoners on a ride at Disneyland and winning an Oscar nomination for Exit Through the Gift Shop, he has solidified his status as an art world superstar.
Banksy had been laying low the last couple of years, but all that changed last month when he announced Better Out Than In, a month-long residency on the streets of New York. The artist planned to install one work on a random, undisclosed city street for every day in October.
The pieces varied from hastily stenciled riffs on graffiti, to lovingly painted paeans to rebellion, to trucks that drove around the city packed with subversive and ironic sculpture. One thing all the pieces shared: hype.
“It wasn’t an event of art,” New York Magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz says. “I would call it an event of promotion.”
“Banksy is basically a photo-realist who takes an artist’s style and brings it to the street,” Saltz explains. “I give him a lot of credit for doing that.”
Still, he wouldn’t call Banksy a great artist — just a really successful one that gets people talking about art.
“When somebody provides a local campfire for everyone to gather around and throw their two cents in, I’m for that,” he says. “The Banksy itself was irrelevant.”