You’ve probably already heard of the prolific British street artist who goes by the name of Banksy, and if you haven’t, you’d probably recognise his work. Remaining largely anonymous, Banksy the man manages to fly under the radar, but his art speaks volumes with clever and often dark social commentary that goes beyond your average graffiti tag. Throughout October 2013, Banksy called New York his home in what became known as the Banksy “residency”, where he created one new artwork each day for 31 days, installed somewhere amongst the hustle and bustle of New York City.
Chris Moukarbel’s documentary Banksy Does New York recounts this time, where fans, art lovers and average New Yorkers all went a bit nutty for Banksy. His residency became like a scavenger hunt, attracting hundreds of people to his installments each day, the locations of which varied from the darkest alley to the busiest street corner. But his works attracted more than just onlookers – and soon defacing, destroying and even stealing his art became common practice.
Whether you’re keen on Banksy’s artwork or not, Moukarbel has created a surprisingly engaging, funny and well-made documentary. When it came to the Banksy residency, it seems there was never a dull moment, and this film encapsulates all the excitement and controversy that surrounded his time in New York. Banksy fans, art critics, news reporters, policeman and cultural commentators all had something to say about the residency, and it gave way to some lively debate that Moukarbel manages to catch on camera. Using a mixture of interviews, social media uploads and actual footage, Banksy Does New York is a very attractive film that pays homage to the street art scene of New York City.
The only issue with this film is that its message is fairly muddied. While it’s all well and good for a documentary to recount a certain period of time, there needs to be an angle that the audience can engage with and either agree or disagree with. In this case, that angle was hard to find. While it did touch on the importance of street art and the devastating degree to which it was being destroyed in modern day New York, the rest of the film simply seemed to depict people acting a little silly anytime the name ‘Banksy’ came up. It was easy to make fun of the high culture art critics who cast off Banksy’s work as inane and of “lowest common denominator” appeal, however it didn’t make fans of street art seem any less ridiculous, many of whom sought after Banksy the way some might seek a genuine Louis Vuitton bag. To some, it seemed all about the label, and not about the art itself.
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If you’re an avid Banksy fan or simply an art lover, then Banksy Does New York is one you’re going to want to check out. It’s a fine film to look at and a bit of a laugh, just don’t expect to come out with a finer appreciation of street art culture. That isn’t really what this film is about.