Banksy is back in the spotlight this month. The popular street artist is unveiling a new piece each day in New York as part of a month-long residency titled ‘Better Out Than In.’
The first eight of these works, produced mostly in his signature stencil-graffiti style, have been widely venerated and shared on the web, which comes as no surprise.
One can’t deny that Banksy has created an extremely sought-after and valuable brand over the past two decades.
His most iconic images are reproduced on posters, iPhone cases and t-shirts, and original prints are collected by the Hollywood elite.
Urban Outfitters stores are stocked with a selection of coffee table books about the rebel artist and last year an original chunk of painted concrete wall broke the million dollar mark at auction.
It’s even been reported that yesterday’s piece, a quote attributed to Plato that was painted on a door in Greenpoint, has already been removed from its hinges, no doubt in response to how much it can fetch on the secondary market.
In light of his colossal popularity, the argument that Banksy is now akin to the wealthy and powerful elite he continues to mock, and that his work has devolved into a hipster commodity — pop-culture fodder lacking any substance — is too obvious to deny.
Banksy’s oeuvre has ceased to be groundbreaking or unique.
His stale images of monkeys, gas masks, bobbies, shopping carts, and rats are now so ubiquitous they’ve lost all meaning. Similarly, his medium of public graffiti no longer carries any significant risk since his brand of ‘vandalism’ is widely applauded and serves to actually increase property values.
His ham-fisted, faux-clever political commentary is clearly no longer shocking, and real rabble-rousers don’t treat an entire city to a good-natured, month-long scavenger hunt.
Banksy’s popularity endures simply because he’s preaching to the choir. There’s an insatiable demand for his brand and people are happy getting what they want. They also like feeling smart, and his overwrought images continue to be rooted in the same, familiar liberal values that people are all too eager to agree with.
Perhaps more elusive than his true identity is the answer to this simple question — shouldn’t a subversive activist have something more interesting to say?
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