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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Banksy in L.A. 

A few years ago, one of my friends told me about this great new stencil graf artist in England who was making a splash by doing extremely creative, provocative work and doing it in dangerous, how-could-he-not-get-caught places. His name was Banksy. Well, that was his tag. Nobody knew who he really was. But it was graf at its best...organized to make a statement, not just rep a name.

Well, I just got back from an art show in the warehouse district in southeast downtown L.A. featuring Banksy. It was a great show, but the meta-irony was perhaps its most interesting aspect.

First, the "secret" show was publicized. Nobody knew where it was until the week of (was supposed to be the day of). But at the same time, somehow CNN and Marketplace on NPR knew it was going down. Point is, it was clearly PR'ed. Fine and dandy, but it was done in a slightly underhanded way. And you could tell it was PR'ed by the crowd. Huge...thousands. That's fine...better thousands gather for good art than for shit.

There was the central piece of the show...a live elephant in a mocked-up living room. Again, art with a point. Hard to ignore the elephant in the room here. Apparently the elephant was painted for the first 2 days of the show, but it had worn off by the time we saw it. It's also an ongoing theme in his work, and I thought it was a great idea, but the elephant just looked sad. I couldn't help but find it ironic that this artist who so often expresses regret that people are used for the purposes of others would use this living thing to get his point across.

The show was great, but it was canvases. There was some graf -- on a box truck that'd been pulled into the warehouse space, for example -- but not much. I expected more work on the walls...I thought it was in a warehouse so that he could do his thing, vandalize it to make a point. I remember thinking that it sure seemed like he'd taken his graf and made it marketable, sellable. The segment on Marketplace on NPR about the show had made much of the fact that this anti-commercial artist (and he is) was making so much money off his art (and, apparently, he is).

The meta-irony got really in-your-face as we left. They were throwing out a kid for...you guessed it...tagging up stuff in the warehouse. So a kid got tossed from the artist's show for doing what made the artist famous to begin with. Go figure.

But all in all it was a cool experience, and one that I couldn't have in another city. I'm really beginning to like living in a city that's an epicenter for the arts. You have to put up with more hipster bullshit, but then you get to go see a Banksy show.

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