This week a Melbourne builder hacked himself a place in art history. Destroying Banksy’s stencil of a parachuting rat, he subverts the subverted, while the uproar that followed satirises the comically contradictory attitudes of street art connoisseurs. Like the Perspex plane which covers Banksy’s work on Tottenham High Road, this most recent amendment to his art says more about our mores than the pieces themselves.
Apart from the $50,000 bonanza for whoever owned the building, art pages that harp with news of its destruction are silent on the significance of what has been lost – nothing, signifying nothing.
Meanwhile, our anonymous builder, supposedly inadvertently, pays homage to Ai Wei Wei’s creative vandalism – in a series of works which saw him casually dropping, branding, slathering in paint ‘antiquities’ from the Ming, Qing, Han and Tang dynasties. Joining the ranks of Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi (who had a nice frolic on Tracy Emin’s bed) and Kendell Greers (who urinated on Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’), he reminds us of Duchamp’s call to ‘de-deify the artist’.
No artist needs de-deification more than Banksy. Trite visual puns might have once made do on street corners that only attract passing glances, but Banksy has long languished as an international star. His street corners attract the same chin stroking audiences as the hippest galleries. Stripped of street art posturing, Banksy’s art is as transient and wet as undergraduate radicalism. Disney as shorthand for America is not only staid, but also annoyingly infantile. Looking at Banksy’s work is akin to discovering that some tyke has eaten the middle out of all your onions.
His most recent husk, outside Poundland in Whymark Avenue (London), comes to mind. Imbued with the weight of Perspex protection within 24 hours of its messianic landing, the stencil draws attention to child-labour and the Jubilee, and, OMG, at the same time. Jingoists run screaming from Poundland. Banksy watches on magnanimously. Hadn’t the Sex Pistols already pissed on this parade, 30 years ago?
Yet most Banksy reactionaries have taken a different route to the builder in Melbourne. Banksy vigilantes have a strange tendency to wrench his work from their original architectural context. In Detroit, a group of artists from 555 Nonprofit Galleries and Studios spent two hard days extracting a slab (of a boy next to ‘I remember when all this was trees’) from a derelict plant, carried it to a gallery, and hid it. Their justification? Bill Riddle, an associate of the artists, explains: ‘Look at what the big picture is here,’ he told the Wall Street Journal, ‘it’s not a silly tag, it’s a world renowned artist who put something up in a place that is going to be destroyed’.
The pipe through Banksy’s parachuting rat in Melbourne saved it from such projectile reverence. The 1,500-pound Detroit slab is now the centre of a legal battle between owners of the wall and the artists who commandeered it. The only thing that once gave Banksy edge was the mortality of his form. Viewed through Brad Pitt’s eyes at an LA gallery, or through council Perspex, Banksy’s art must regret its own existence. Words: Rosy Wiseman ©ArtLyst 2012