What’s a Banksy Museum Without Banksy?

Work by the anonymous street artist is hard to find. At a museum devoted to him, it’s even harder.

To enter the Banksy Museum, which opened this month above a Bank of America on the lower lip of SoHo, a visitor must wade through the thicket of vendors crowding Canal Street with bootleg Apple products and almost-convincing Prada handbags splayed out on blankets.

It’s a fitting approach. The Banksy Museum does not own or display any actual Banksys but rather 167 decent-enough reproductions of them, life-size murals and paintings on panels treated to look like exterior walls that stretch through an exhibition space, designed to resemble the street.

The Canal Street entrance to the Banksy Museum, amid gift stores and street vendors.Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

That these replicas of Banksy’s oeuvre since the late 1990s are more or less faithful to their source material. That has less to do with the competence of the anonymous artists who executed them than it does with the simplicity of Banksy’s aesthetic: photo-derived stencil work, more about social commentary than technical proficiency.

A Banksy work does not astound with technique or formal innovation, nor is it meant to. Designed to be quickly made and quicker understood, they rely on easy visual gags that don’t always amount to much, all punchline and no windup (a man walking a Keith Haring dog; riot police and protesters having a pillow fight; a boy catching snow on his tongue that’s actually ash from a dumpster fire). His early political satire, like Winston Churchill with a mohawk and teddy bears lobbing Molotov cocktails, had all the profundity of a dorm room poster, a shallow populism that explains his trajectory — populism being a sure route toward cultural phenomenon.

The world’s most famous street artist who prefers to work in the shadows, Banksy has traveled that route since the mid-2000s, inspiring a singular devotion. The appearance of a new work is heralded as a cultural event, its removal often met with protests. Few other artists are treated as prophet and savior, and fewer still who insist on a complete allergy to public life.

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Source: StreetArt -


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