Review: Banksy Does New York

David Bradley reviews Chris Moukarbel’s HBO documentary on the chronicles of infamous street artist Banksy.

Not a jokey doco like the Banksy-directed (or maybe not) Exit Through the Gift Shop, producer/director Chris Moukarbel’s HBO outing chronicles the artist’s month-long ‘residency’ in New York in October 2013, although as Banksy wasn’t based in one gallery and no one, of course, still knows who he is, the term is surely inaccurate. ‘Fan–generated’ and crowd–sourced, Moukarbel’s film explains how New Yorkers became obsessed with Banksy’s work as he somehow secretly created 31 works of street art in 31 days. Old and new devotees would hear hints of where to find the next piece and then post its location all over social media, causing a mad rush to view it before it was covered up or defaced, admission was charged by locals or, in one infamous case, the thing was stolen. Prominent critics argued over the merit of such ‘vandalism’, TV talking heads debated and snotty society sorts pontificated, stating that Banksy (or ‘Bansky’, as he likes to deliberately mislabel himself) was a populist fraud and even a criminal. Yet the Banksy works we see, thanks to Moukarbel’s roving camera and the efforts of his army of (essentially) co-directors are inspired, wittily satirical and often beautiful: there are simple paintings (a child’s silhouette seemingly ringing a fire alarm as if it were a sideshow, a goofy robot graffitiing a barcode); sculptures (a malevolent Ronald McDonald having his gargantuan shoes shined); a market stall that pokes fun at the prices paid for ‘Banksys’ and a makeshift gallery that mocks the art world with its free wine (isn’t that what such openings are about?); and public events, including the Don’t Fear the Reaper exhibit that has to be one of the funniest, most joyous and coolest Banksy pieces ever. Made for the smallscreen (but don’t hold that against it), this is an enjoyable romp through Staten Island, the Lower East Side, inner Manhattan and beyond and is essential for any Banksy devotee, even if it, naturally, can’t answer the big question: who – or what – the hell is Banksy? Surely he has to be more than just one brilliantly cheeky bugger?

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