Wall and Piece, by Banksy, Century, 2005. Art/book review – Tom Jennings

Wall and Piece, by Banksy, Century, 2005. Art/book review – Tom Jennings

Tom Jennings reviews a coffee table offering from the media’s favourite subversive.

Random Signage and Secret Acts of Beauty by Tom Jennings

Renowned stencil graffiti exponent and all-round public art prankster Banksy continues his long march into the (anti-) establishment with the publication this month of the glossy coffee-table volume Wall and Piece – a compendium of three previously self-published efforts, Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall, Existencilism and Cut It Out, plus more recent material from forays into official and unofficial gallery exhibitions in London, New York and Paris and defacing the apartheid wall in Palestine. He’s presented painted farm animals in a warehouse in the fashionable yBa East End, remixed and updated classical and modernist painting and sculpture (for example with 200 live rats as attendants in a posh gallery in the West End), snuck fake artefacts into Tate Britain and other museums, and generally thumbed his nose at the great and the good.

Despite the necessity of anonymity given media hype, moral panic and police attention to such ‘vandalism’, his prolific, exuberant and subversive street output in Bristol and London for over a decade has generated increasing media celebrity – which has encouraged the entrepreneurial turn. His work now commands respectably high prices when offered for sale as contemporary ‘high-concept’ commodities, such that his proclamations against both the mainstream art market and the ‘brandalism’ of corporate advertising are starting to look somewhat threadbare. But he’s a lot less precious than many adbusting types whose moral superiority about the ‘unfairness’ of capitalism leads them to sneer at the proletarian vulgarity of direct expressions such as tagging (like Dr.D, who nevertheless unfailingly adds her ‘signature’). Whereas Bansky hints far beyond such liberal queasiness in critiquing the control of material, spatial and symbolic resources – plus, being more of an ordinary bloke, he’s not coy about needing to get by.

Fortunately the substance of Banksy’s project retains its integrity, largely through the wit and warmth of its commonsense anti-authoritarian sensibility and the intelligence of his deconstructions of governmental complacency and corresponding public passivity. Whether images of hip-hop rats and sinister chimps symbolise the lowly masses intimating their impending takeover of urban areas; or when fun is poked at the evil, stupidity, duplicity and arrogance of the police and state violence; or official signage is travestied to encourage other graffitists, harangue touristic attitudes, or highlight the general creeping fascism of the times – the question of who is allowed to occupy, mark their presence and preoccupations upon, and take self-determined action in our shared space remains central.

“Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a living breathing thing which belonged to everybody, not just the estate agents and barons of big business.

Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet”.*

Most of all, Banksy wants more people – many more – to take up his call. And they are. For this generous spirit and humility I’d forgive a lot – and if he wants to sell his soul for Damien Hirst’s dollars … well, that’s his spiritual funeral.**

Wall and Piece was published by Century on November 3rd, price £20.
* text with Rats: see www.banksy.co.uk
** Hirst is rumoured to be investing in Banksy ‘originals’ at around £25k each.

Art/book review published in Freedom, Vol. 66, No. 23, November 2005
For other essays and reviews by Tom Jennings, see:
www.variant.org.uk
www.freedompress.org.uk
www.tomjennings.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk

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Tom Jennings
Jan 16 2008 13:34

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