Art Of The Streets & For The Streets

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You’re walking down the streets of New York City, minding your own business, when suddenly you hear something squeaking; it sounds as if though thousands of doggy toys are being mercilessly stomped on at once. Scanning your surroundings for the source of this eerie sound, you spot a decrepit slaughterhouse delivery truck meandering by with “Farm Fresh Meats” stamped on the driver’s door. The bed of this truck is filled with wide-eyed, distraught farm animal puppets opening and closing their mouths, “crying” and banging on the truck for help.

The person responsible for this is none other than the controversial and anonymous British street artist, Banksy. This menacing sculpture art is entitled “Siren of the Lambs;” taken from the audio guide on his website, a muffed voice explains this piece a bit more: “Here, the artist Banksy is making some sort of comment on casual cruelty of the food industry or perhaps something vague, and pretentious, about the loss of childhood innocence.”

As of Oct. 31, 2013, Banksy’s “exhibition,” entitled “Better Out Than In,” resembling a daily, wild goose chase around New York rather than a formal gallery, has ended. (Note: Exhibition meaning his spray art, sculptures, and his other public shenanigans.)

Throughout his month’s stay in New York, he has not only terrorized the streets with puppets, but also paid tribute to the stereotypical New York bubble graffiti letterings, written an Opinion-Editorial piece for the New York Times on the lackluster design of the new World Trade Center (Banksy mocks and says the design of the building “clearly proclaims the terrorists won”), and opined about the commercialization of Ronald McDonald.

Banksy’s work is known to be controversial with a purpose. Take his New York piece “Hell’s Kitchen,” for example. It is a stenciled, spray art of a lost-looking man holding a bouquet of flowers, with a number of the petals falling off the stems. This was painted on the wall of a New York Hustler Club. Banksy’s caption of this piece reads, “Waiting in vain at the door of the club.” This piece shows the irony of a man looking for love at a strip club and underlines battle between physical and emotional love.

This new style of art, which is a form of graffiti now dubbed “street art,” has burst into contemporary showrooms and museums over the past couple of years. And since then, there has been controversy over whether these spray-painted pieces deserved to be hung next to Monet’s or Picasso’s. Should art collectors be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for these canvases? And if we take this “outside” art, “inside,” does that change its initial purpose?

On this topic, Banksy is quoted from his website, rather sarcastically, giving more context to his exhibition name, “Better Out Than In” saying, “People ask why I want to have an exhibition in the streets, but have you been to an art gallery recently? They’re full,” alluding to the fact that most museums are so chockfull of traditional artworks that there isn’t room to allow new artists in.

The Oct. 31 Audio Guide provided on Banksy’s website states his more global purpose. Banksy asserts that “outside is where art should live, amongst us … art’s rightful place is on the walls of our communities where it can act as a public service, provoke debate, voice concerns, forge identities; the world we live in today is run, visually at least, by traffic signs, billboards and planning committees. Is that it? Don’t we want to live in a world made of art, not  just decorated by it?”

I find Banksy brilliant. Even though these pieces vastly differ from what you can see at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, street art is not of lesser value; it simply has a different purpose. As Banksy said, art, more specifically street art, is for the people, it is meant to be outside, to showcase and reflect on our society; serving as a sort of public notice. What is iconic and characteristic of Banksy’s pieces is that they bring up “hushed” and controversial issue in our society in an unexpected, snarky but simple way (for example, take the Guantanamo Bay prisoner dummy he planted at Disneyland in 2006, reflection the decisions made in the Obama Administration). Specifically during his stay in New York, through his work he started a conversation about more localized issues contrasting to the more global ones he often depicts.

Banksy’s work is inarguably art because like any other piece of art his work create a reaction from the viewer or start a conversation. Mayor Bloomberg of New York stated that Bansky is defacing people’s property with his work.

After all, every piece of art started off as a defaced canvas. Until posterity called it art.

 

Kimberly Van is a third-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at kmvan@uci.edu.

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