BARELY LEGAL: WELCOME TO THE ESTABLISHMENT
The Semiotician to the Stars went to the Banksy “Barely Legal” show Sunday with a few friends. A line of all sorts (hipsters, families, kids) ribboned around the block and I was amazed, first off, by the level of organization the show exhibited. One would think that it was a Cirque Du Soleil opening, with the amount of security led by a group of men wearing all black and berets as if they are 70s revolutionaries. At the door, my purse was checked with a little glance, and the the security gaurd said to my friend, “you don’t look like a tagger.” Maybe its her cute style, but overall I found that the audience was extremely staid, and the staff was on the lookout (but not aggressively so) for anyone who looked to culture jam the culture jammer.
C’mon Banksy, let the kids go wild, you are the establishment now, part of the pantheon of public persona, a somewhat anonymous celebrity. Of course, I think it would be sad for someone to have their obvious 15 minutes of infamy for tagging a Banksy…because you gotta to earn it. Despite the cover Banksy redesigned for Paris Hilton (a man who loathes her as much as I do is a prince in my book)…graffitto artists out there: you’ve got to do more than just show up.
WALKING IN THE STEPS OF BRANGELINA
The rumor was that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had taken a tour of the Banksy show in a private tour. The show treads on celebrity, but I would not say heavily. Most of Banksy’s sentiments and propaganda are of the bumper sticker sort, the kind that gives you a smirk but isn’t about to delve deeply into changing your worldview. Banksy communicates what people know: politics are corrupt, first world nations are gluttonous while indigenous cultures starve, juxtapositions of old regime (grannies knitting) and new/old regime (punks not dead), the fact that Walt Disney World is not relevant and is sort of sick in a wartorn world. We are being watched, manipulated and branded by the media and corporations.
BUMPER STICKERS and POLITICAL COMMENTARY
Which of these is a Banksy statement?
a) Visualize Whirled Peas
b) Save the Whales
c) Your Village Called and they want their Idiot Back
d) Destroy the System
Banksy is bumper sticker art, a well-done t-shirt, a certain level of clever that I think most immediately get. He’s accessible, but his groundbreaking nature I think is based on 1) his organization, 2) excellent execution 3) anonymity (ie, meaning if we knew him, we would judge more readily) and the 4) extraordinary amount of art. He is the cheeky boy, the jackass, the guy who starts a fight to get noticed. But I would argue, that while I really enjoyed the warehouse, how organized everything was, the trinkets and tables and tea cozies I think Banksy’s art loses its power when taken off the street.
The art is clever when it is unexpected, when it sneaks up on you as you glance around a streetcorner…when you are living in the mundane and suddenly get a little dose of commentary. Taking the art out of the environment, I think changes the reaction, the meaning, and asks the work to (excuse the pun) work harder. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was a great show and it was free, but there are levels of clever and art in a room is stripped of its milie. Banksy is all about context…that is why he dresses in an Inspector Clouseau overcoat and puts his work next to the masters to the tune of The Pink Panther.
BANKSY and CONTEXT
So the warehouse is an environment where Banksy seeks to create his own environment for his art. As I said upon seeing the elephant sans fleur de lis, “who needs art when you can stare at an elephant?” I don’t know if I have ever seen a piece of art as beautiful and mesmerizing as a live elephant (ok, maybe Bernini sculpture, but that is about it). The elephant is in the room and I can’t take my eyes off of it, and thoughts are conjured of the circus, of Hollywood and the surreal. That is the context, the elephant is Banksy’s grenade thrown…a play off the “elephant in the room” that no one will notice, about perception, about not being willing to see the world for what it is…
Banksy opens the doors of perception with humor and I admire that. As one gallery viewer said to me, kindly, as we jockeyed for a view to take a picture of some art…”I want everyone to be happy, including myself.” And isn’t that the truth? In that we are everyone, and everyone is us, and that we wish goodwill as long as no one is sucking it out of us or bruising our love.
LOVE, EASILY BRUISED
Another statement I heard from the crowd was a young woman who was staring at the elephant. I said, maybe you should go and look at the elephant in the eyes. She said, “I can’t, I think it would make me cry.”
And isn’t modern culture about freedom (the elephant behind the picket fence is not free), about extinction (of the soul, of native species), of the exotic (of creatures old and wise, of punk not being dead), and about knowing that something precious is being squandered (the elephant itself).
The elephant had a pinkish orange glow from the paint, a bulbous forehead, a mellow demeanor. Elephants are extremely smart as anyone who has read the BRILLIANT book “The White Bone” by Barbara Gowdy. They rumble and their voice is carried in the Earth. I would love to hear the Elephant’s review of the Banksy show….any cross-species translators out there?
The LA Times ran a story about the show with the angle that animals rights activists angered over use of the elephant. That was the most creative and pertinent story they could come up with on an art show of this magnitude? Shame on them for falling for the easy bait, but thank you to Banksy for setting the trap.
Ps. The answer is “D.”