Thoughts and reflections on the film ‘Saving Banksy’.

Introduction.

I watched the film Saving Banksy on NETFLIX. It’s about one individual’s attempt to save and preserve a piece of street art by Banksy. I hoped it would give me an opportunity to question the ideas within the film, reflect on several Visual Culture issues, and widen my experience of relating the visual culture course to my everyday life. Issues which I expected to emerge were those of authorship, museums, the Establishment and Postmodernism. My reflections/ questions/research about the film are shown in italics.

The summary of the film stated that ‘‘Focussing on unauthorised sellers of graffiti artist Banksy’s work, the film examines the conflicting philosophies of street art and profiteering’’ (Day, 2017).

Street artists

  • Street artists produce art which is ‘Against the Law’. If it is removed and sold at auction the artist receives no payment.
  • Banksy art sells very well at auction- making millions of dollars.
  • The names of several street artists are mentioned

 

How do street artists make money?

One way might be the production and selling of prints (see C-SON below). Banksy is certainly very famous so people will pay him well to write books, give interviews (anonymous).

Ben Eine

fig. 1

Fig. 1 . Street art by Ben Eine (2011)

  • This is street art ‘in situ’
  • Eine uses words and letters to make art
  • Street art offenders can get up to 8 years in prison for Graffiti!

Doze Green

  • The artist said that his art was about ‘Mayhem, craziness, the end of this world, the beginning of this world’

Is this a Postmodern statement, or a post- ‘postmodern’ statement ?

A breaking down the traditional values of Modern art or which art epoch??

The wording seems rhetorical and intelligent-can I explain it???

 Eine seems to suggest that his art is about a change, metaphorically from one era into another. Or perhaps he does not agree with traditional categories of eras/epochs in art (classical/modern, postmodern….). They are after all imprecise, inaccurate, arbitrary, and part of the discourse of establishment anyway.

In fact the statement alludes to this impreciseness –his art is both the beginning and the end… This is a common rhetorical structure, seen in phrases such as  ‘The king is dead-long live the King!’ and is probably classifiable as a chiasmus.

I think Eine’s graffiti art (and graffiti art in general)  could be best described as having elements of the postmodern- such as irony, scepticism, and universalism, and those of post-structuralists- such as a diminished importance of authorship (consider Banksy’s refusal to sign an authenticity certificate), discourses (eg. The relationship of artists to their viewing public and the establishment), and personal fame (eg. Anonymity)

DOZE_cson_grande

Fig. 2 C-SON (no date)

  • This is street art- made into a traditional print

Blek le rat

  • started painting street art in the early 1970’s in Paris
  • still painting there today

Rats and Banksy any connection??

Le rat (real name Xavier Prou) considers the rat universal. The rat is not just the only wild animal living in pretty much all cities, but within the word rat, there lies art. I like this anagram’ (le rat quoted in the Independent, 2008). Looking at some of le rat’s stencils, and accepting his view of the importance of the rat, I feel he must have influenced Banksy’s constant use of the animal in his own art.

 Banksy-

  • Narrator- he’s strange and he’s clever, and his hidden identity adds to his fame
  • April 2010- Banksy went to San Francisco
  • Among his SF pieces…is

h0iez39j1esndqtzhamf

Fig. 3 This is where I draw the line (2014)

  • Banksy’s rat is iconic
  • ‘This is where I draw the line’ the Banksy artwork piece connected with this film.
  • Quotes-
  • I like that it has a message to it’ MOTP about a San Fran Banksy
  • ‘The people whom run our cities don’t understand graffiti because they think nothing has a right to exist unless it makes a profit’ Banksy.
  • ‘That’s a Banksy? That’s not graffiti then- he’s a respected artist’
  • The wall owner gave permission for this piece, but it’s still illegal.
  • Banksy’s San Fran paintings were disappearing one by one as the city painted over them
  • One art collector in SF wanted to save some of them and put them in a museum, because he thought they were important art and should be saved for posterity.
  • What’s the best way to remove the painting ? Experts are brought in ….
  • After removal collector hopes it will be transferred to a gallery /museum for public display

Why is the work illegal?

It seems rational that if street art is painted on someone else’s property then this should be illegal. However does the same hold true for municipal buildings owned by ‘us all’? Surely the public should have a say in whether these art works are removed. The administration of this would probably be time-consuming, but much more democratic. It would also go some way to counterbalancing the power of the state which people see in their lives. This binary opposition of State v individual is at work in the response of a council’s reaction to street art, and a Deconstruction of this discourse will highlight the underlying imbalance within it- giving people the right to their say.

What is being denied/damaged?

If the owner of the building consents then the only thing being damaged is a person’s right not to see the image.  Of course if we see an image this may take several forms…. covered imprecisely by words such as seeing, observing, looking, gazing.  If I see the image and don’t want to engage with it I don’t have to. But let those who want to look more deeply, to examine, think about, and become excited by it, have the opportunity to do so. Some might argue that one cannot help be affected by the image- but is this not also true of the huge amount of advertising which we have to tolerate without our permission in our daily modern lives? Once again a deconstruction of the discourse, or a Marxist analysis, would state that the right of the street artist to affect our lives should be encouraged, redressing the balance away from the power of advertising.

Do we have to preserve art in order to benefit from it?

No. Looking at certain definitions of art may help to answer this. They include the ‘aesthetic value’ definition. Banksy’s art has value for many people, shown by some of the quotes I have included in this piece. This cannot be taken away by whether it is preserved or not. Another common definition is the ‘Institutional theory of art’ which holds that if an individual, or an institution think something is art then it is- and it follows naturally that they will benefit from this. Again there is no mention of preservation (Pooke and Newall, p.4-5).

Walter Benjamin wrote that although there is always something more authentic about an original artwork, a mechanical reproduction can reactivate the image and make it more powerful and democratic than the original. In this respect preserving the Banksy (for example in a museum) may encourage fewer people to benefit from it, than if the original was destroyed (Benjamin, 1999:  p. 74).

Does expertise required to remove and reassemble the work make it art de facto, even if the artist does not endorse the transferred painting?

Yes. Although a tenant of Modernist discourses, I do not believe evidence of specific authorship is necessary for an object to be considered ‘art’. The Philosopher Lucy Lippard included the technical accomplishment of the production of the art work in her defence of the controversial ‘Piss Christ’, by Andre Serrano, which some saw as obscene and blasphemous. She argues that the ‘skill, training, thought and careful preparation’ shown in the work puts the work in an artistic context equivalent to a notable master like Goya (Freeland, 2003).

What happened after the painting  was transferred

  • SF MOMA approached the collector
  • The collector doesn’t want to SELL it, but wants to DONATE it so it can be kept on Public display

The curator of the SF MOMA said:

  • Banksy’s pieces are complex
  • it’s a 3 tone stencil
  • it will focus the MOMA on what its policies are for collecting ….
  • MOMA want Banksy’s permission to use the art
  • MOMA want Banksy’s signature on a certificate …before they’ll accept the piece
  • Banksy did authenticate the work by a statement on his website, but would not produce a certificate of authenticity
  • Museum says NO to offer
  • some discomfort with the filming of the documentary as a MOMA official stopped the filming halfway through

What does the MOMA outcome tell us about their policies for collecting and showing art?

MOMA’s attitudes display the ‘traditional’ artistic discourse associated with classical ‘academies’ and museums. They required the Banksy piece to be authenticated as being a Banksy beyond doubt, before they would display it in their galleries.

This concentration on ‘the original’ and on authorship has also dominated the discourse of modernism. Later post-structuralist thinkers like John Berger and Roland Barthes espoused ideas that diminished the importance of these attributes when considering art. Berger for example describes how art has always been isolated, originally in places connected with magic, and later in churches, castles and Palaces, dominated by the elite. But reproduction has freed art from this elite culture (Berger, 1972:32). Barthes in his ‘Death of the author’ states that ‘the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the author’.

The Art dealer: Stephan Keszler

  • He’s a dealer of Banksy’s paintings
  • He sells Banksy for millions of $
  • ‘better to take from the wall than be white painted over’ (Keszler)
  • ‘the street painting is for fun, for the people, for adrenaline….’ (Ben Eine)
  • Banksy has condemned the sale of his public works

Exhibitions

  • MIAMI Wynwood: ‘MIAMI Wynwood is a big art wank !…‘ 
  • Lots of energy, youth
  • Lots of street artists, no payments, everything is painted over at the end, and its next to ‘high end’ galleries like Art Miami (art Miami)

Art Miami:

  • High end gallery/exhibition
  • Art Miami show is loved by dealers and art connoiseurs says Keszler
  • ‘the rat’ was prepped to go to the Art MIAMI exhibition (run by Keszler)
  • The rat was put in the show but not for sale.
  • Banksy condemns the show ‘most of the art that makes money is Bullshit’
  • Keszler said it could go to a museum afterwards (which the collector wanted)

Palestine trip by Banksy 2005

  • 2 week trip
  • Lots of paintings, 2 of these turned up in MIAMI
  • All the street artists seem against Keszler’s exhibition of Banksy’s
  • What happened to Keszler’s Banksys?
  • ‘Out of bed rat’, ‘Wet dog’, ‘Stop and search’- all sold at auctions.

Different views of the graffiti artists about Banksy’s paintings

’Its shit to take one down’

‘Some want to rethink the ideas…’

‘It’s part of history’’

‘If you can save art…do it’

‘What’s the moral to the story? Ben nine ‘greed didn’t win the good guys did’

Closing credits

  • Rap theme accompanied the closing sequence
  • Ben Eine was met by David Cameron when he became prime Minister in 2010
  • The Rat went on tour because the collector could not find a museum to take it……

Is it significant that a rap tune accompanied the closing sequence?

Rap seems to me to have elements of the post-structural about it. It is associated with Black culture, urban and ‘unpolished’ street life, anti-establishment thoughts and words (inc. swear words) and a sense of being an ‘outsider’s’ artform.  All these attributes make it a strong symbol of post-structuralism ,  espousing the same sort of  principles as street art.

Illustrations

Fig 1. Street Art London street art by Ben Eine (2011) [photo] online at  http://streetartlondon.co.uk/artists/eine/ [accessed 19th July 2017]

Fig. 2 Green, D. DARK SON TRINITY: C-SON (no date) [giclee print] online at https://www.dozegreen.com/products/copy-of-archival-prints-dark-son-trinity-c-son [accessed 19th July 2017]

Fig. 3kickstarter a Sanfracisco Banksy in situ (2014) [photograph] online at http://uk.complex.com/style/2014/06/a-kickstarter-project-aims-to-save-the-banksy-mural-in-san-francisco [accessed 19th July 2017]

References

Barthes, R. ( no date) The Death of the Author  [online] at http://www.ubu.com/aspen/aspen5and6/threeEssays.html#barthes [accessed 29th may 2017].

Benjamin, W.(1999) ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ in In visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.  p. 72-8

Berger, J (1972) ‘Chapter 1’ in Ways of Seeing. Great Britain, Penguin.   p. 7-34

Day, C. (2017) Saving Banksy [Netflix Film] Directed by Colin day. Parade Deck Films. USA.

Freeland, C. (2003) Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction.  Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Pooke, G. and Newall, D. (2008) Art History. Abingdon. Routledge.

Prou, S. (2008) ‘Blek le Rat: Getting Through Walls’ cited in The Independent (2008)  Blek le Rat: This is not a Banksy  [online at]  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/blek-le-rat-this-is-not-a-banksy-811130.html [accessed 29th may 2017].

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Author: PhilHepArt

This site contains my BLOG for my Open College of the Art's module 'Understanding Visual Culture'. I am currently on Level 1 of the degree pathway BA Painting.

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