If you are one of the few people who have not heard of artist Banksy, you are quite special, and more likely than not, either a) dead b) in a coma, or c) unable to read the newspapers – where Banksy generally has some column or other writing about him most days.
Anyway, whether dead, in a coma, or just illiterate (apologies if none of the above apply!), then you won’t be interested that the elusive, anonymous guerrilla artist has just opened a new exhibition, The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill, in New York’s West Village, and that oddly enough, given Banksy’s extraordinary ‘positive catch-up’ (as the more pretentious galleries like to call it) since 2004, he has nothing for sale.
Following previous sensational exhibitions – one in 2005 involving the use of live rats allowed to roam freely around the gallery space – Banksy, commonly known for his satirical graffiti stencil art, done around the globe, has changed tack with his first New York show. The show, an-almost-real pet shop, with role playing pet shop attendants in tow, is basically a collection of animatronics, or to be more specific, chicken nugget chicks drinking from ketchup containers, a monkey playing with itself while watching gorilla porn, CCTVs looking after their young, hotdogs copulating and burrowing in terrariums, fish fingers swimming in a gold fish bowl, and an aged, suicidal looking Tweety Pie swinging in a cage, among others.
Appealing to our love of pets, Banksy is not too un-obviously drawing attention to animal cruelty and factory farming. Referring to his 2006 exhibition in Los Angeles that included a live painted elephant, and in his usual fine form, he told the press, “I took all the money I made exploiting an animal in my last show and used it to fund a new show about the exploitation of animals”. Banksy, ever the joker, told the press, "I wanted to make art that questioned our relationship with animals and the ethics and sustainability of factory farming, but it ended up as chicken nuggets singing”.
Unusual for an art show, nothing is signed or for sale and according to the Notting Hill based Bankrobber Gallery, that has made a lot of money from buying and selling Banksy’s work on the secondary market, rumour has is that Banksy wants to be seen as a more serious artist and as such will not be producing any more screen prints. Banksy, who has been hugely applauded by the ‘low brow’ public, but largely written off by the scholarly community as a comic artist, appears to disadvantaging himself. His screen prints, often done in runs of up to 500, are now worth anywhere between £2000 and £20,000 each, so in effect stopping this practice is ending Banksy’s licence to print money.
However, what appears to be evident of Banksy is that he genuinely cares about the integrity of his work more than how much money he can make from selling his art (not that he must need much more!). This is shown by his refusal to work as the corporate whore for global brands such as Nike, as well as his famed vilification of Western greed and apathy towards those living in poverty through use his use of various corporate logos that are used to symbolise our hypocritical ethnocentrism. McDonalds and Burger King are just two of these denigrated brands, and it is this attitude in his work that leads us to see that Banksy, while, as Jonathan Jones, arts editor of the Guardian says is, “trite and obvious”, he is a Cosmopolitan thinker of the highest pedigree, that pedigree which has the power to spread their message to an adoring ‘low brow’ public.
To read more on Banksy Google him, The Village Pet Store And Charcoal Grill and also the Cans Festival – Banksy’s public art project situated underneath Waterloo Station, London. That should be enough to get you started!