Just around the time of the release of the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop British street artist Banksy created several new pieces around San Francisco. They didn’t last long. They quickly got tagged over or cleaned up: Banksy never asks permission. Property owners consider it vandalism. It is against the law. One piece was left alone for a time: a large painting of the iconic Banksy rat.
Banksy works have become well known, well loved, and he/she/they highly regarded as artists despite the shady use of space for art that isn’t precisely what you’d call “available.”
Saving Banksy follows the story of an art lover who wanted to preserve the illegally placed Banksy rat.
So I’m supposed to feel like a philistine if I think art lover Brian Greif didn’t violate an artistic ethos when he cut a Banksy rat painting off of a wall to preserve it. That’s the message of the artists interviewed in this documentary. I’m not entirely sure that’s what documentarian Colin May thinks. He doesn’t state his opinion except perhaps in the choices he makes of whom to ask. The individuals in the film that are onboard with the Banksy being removed from its site and framed are profiteering art dealers or clueless rich a******s at art shows. The noble street artists universally condemn the attempt to take the art out of the urban wild and show it in a gallery. The staff at SF MOMA said the same: they couldn’t show the work without the artist’s authentication and permission (which you can’t get because if the artist authenticates it then the police know where to find him/her/them and arrest them). That is certainly one perspective on a very complex issue.
I live in East Atlanta, where we have a strong street art scene and some of it is great, but only some of it. Most of it is crap done by tagging street rats with no skill just spray painting their name over other names. Typical graffiti here has the artistic quality and depth of territorial pissing. When you deal with garbage graffiti daily it loses its charm fast. We have neighbors who are out painting over tags every weekend. If we have spare paint from home projects we give it to them. So coming from here I don’t feel the deep reverence for the Banksy work. I acknowledge the artistic quality and intent of the work. If the work was of lesser quality and fame this would not even have become a discussion.
Who is Banksy? I did some digging, and to date nobody is giving him/her/them up. The most fascinating theory I’ve seen is that Banksy is possibly an artist or group of artists affiliated with the English trip hop music group Massive Attack (who I love). This is based on the observation that Bansky art tends to appear in times and places that correspond with where Massive Attack performs. That’s still just an unproven theory. I’ll add my deductive hypothesis to that theory: Banksy doesn’t need money. He/she/they will leave what is certain to become an instantly insanely valuable work of art on the side of a building knowing it will get tagged by other street artists or painted over by the property owners in short order. Also these works appear around the world so Banksy travels internationally with ease. This is not a person/group who’s desperate for funds. The Massive Attack theory would neatly meet that criteria.
Even if you’re a street art purist there is an element of narcissistic negligence here: while the artist clearly doesn’t care about the personal wealth that could be generated consider that if Banksy would authenticate even one work then he/she/they could turn two cans of spray paint and a paste up stencil into hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity. Cities where the art appears always have homeless and others in need. Why would you not do that? It feels like you’re leaving that money on the table just to make a point.
Brian Greif is a gentle soul and art lover who used his own finances to carefully preserve the Banksy rat and store it in his little closet. To all appearances here he’s not a wealthy person. He asked no money for its display, he just wants it to be seen. To be sure the profiteering art dealer villain of the piece is present in the slimy person of Stephan Keszler. Greif is presented with the possibility of making up to $700K on the piece which he declines. To me he’s the purist.
Banksy does fine art illegally and walks away from it knowing that any damn thing could and probably will happen to it. I think it’s legit that one of those possible outcomes is someone takes it and uses it for their own purposes.
Saving Banksy is a lively and well executed look at this question. Colin May got inside the street art world and it is engrossing to hear the artists talk about what they do. The art is simply very cool. From elaborate typography to the impressionistic, they are clearly skilled fine artists. I love that the documentary provokes such intense disagreement and unrest over the disposition of the art.
It is deeply ironic that the website for the movie shows an image of the rat in question.
Saving Banksy (2014) Directed by Colin May. Written by Eva Boros, Paul Polycarpou, Mike Tarrolly. Starring Not Banksy but these guys: Ben Eine, Risk, Anthony Uster,Revok, Doze Green, Shoe, Blek Le Rat, Hera
7 out of 10
Enjoy the Saving Banksy trailer.