Culture is future » Territorial attractiveness and social cohesion


The art of a thousand tricks

"You don’t have to go to college, drag ’round a portfolio, mail off transparencies to snooty galleries or sleep with someone powerful. All you need now is a few ideas and a broadband connection. This is the first time the essentially bourgeois world of art has belonged to the people. We need to make it count" 


It is perhaps the most hunted artist in history. A mystery he polishes carefully. His work is sought, literally, as its venue is by definition random. The street artist Banksy, one of the most publicized and admired of his generation, returns to the front of the stage. Every morning in October, the New Yorkers discover one of his new pieces: Brooklyn, Lower East Side, and Manhattan... Each time a new surprise, an amazing and (sometimes) sarcastic creation.

At the beginning of this month, Banksy opened his New Yorker season. October 5, he transforms a delivery truck into a kind of Eden: rainbow sky, jungle, Tahitian music, etc.. He slowly wanders in the streets at dawn. Does the artist drive it by himself? Someone surprises the driver out of gas, and takes a photograph of this unknown man. In the blink of an eye, his face is everywhere. It is included in all major French national newspapers (Le Monde, Le Figaro, and others). Banksy finally unmasked? Such is the success of this artist, who tricks the "media hype" and every market mechanisms to compose an original and unique work.

For Banksy is a ghost. Nobody seems to know his identity, yet one that has been designated as the greatest British artist living by his peers continues to work quietly, alternating months of prolonged silence and moments of grace. Several probable identities circulated: some even supposed he might be the alter ego of Jeff Koons – a mere example of a global hysteria.


But beyond the issue of identity, who is really Banksy? An artist who has invested all fields of modern and classical culture, who got his art out of the streets and out of the museums to go everywhere. From a hacking of the Tate Gallery to a passage on the Israeli- Palestinian wall, from sketches to sculptures, from a major exhibition in Los Angeles to a major investment of the Bristol’s museum, his hometown, Banksy is omnipresent but never where you expect him to be. A “God complex” maybe? In reality, he has become a Robin Hood of art.

First simple tagger, Banksy began to be known in Bristol, with amazing frescoes. A protester throwing a bouquet of flowers as a molotov cocktail becomes its emblem. Shortly after, he invests the major London museums and deposits fake Monet Water lilies decorated with shopping carts and other miscellaneous waste, landscape of Turner with specific details (a monitoring tower, a barrel of toxic waste, a member of the Ku Klux Klan hung at a tree, etc.). Afterwards, he makes an exhibition in his hometown in 2009, which is not the richest in England, and which knows a monumental success as the artist asks for a one pound fee. Then a movie, Exit through the Gift Shop, where he puts the art world in front of its own contradictions with a huge hoax.

Renown worldwide, the street artist became bankable, and all the street art with him. The art market acknowledges Banksy, his works are sold at exorbitant prices. In 2007, he sold a co- signed piece with Damien Hirst for $ 1.8 million. This does not prevent him last Sunday in a market in Central Park, from selling anonymously signed original stencils $ 60 a piece. He sold only a few, once again attacking the art market and its methods.


Apart from countless anecdotes, true and false, which run on the character, Banksy opens another path to a culture of twenty-first century, urban, physical, and committed. His work, free and democratic in essence, is based on the idea that art should carry a message, but that this commitment must remain imbued with assumed subjectivity. His pieces, contradictory and provocative, always imply a double meaning which neutralizes and reduces it to pure poetry.

In New York, in October, Banksy takes another step in making the city a (ephemeral) museum. Every day is found a new work, along with a phone number, free of course, which is affixed near the new graffiti, as an audio guide. Through his work, Banksy has made an immemorial practice an art in its own right, he made himself the flag bearer of a counter-culture that seeks to integrate no system except the one of contradiction. Elusive as the Homeric Odysseus that the gods themselves do not know if he tells the truth or a lie, Banksy gently introduced into the art market a real Trojan Horse.


Roman Kudelka