Banksy Takes New York

Apr 30, 2015

Banksy, arguably England’s most famous – or at least infamous – artist of the 21st century, has returned to cinemas for the first time since his fantastic moc/documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop (2007).

This time, though, rather than a movie by the anonymous artist, we see him through the eyes of director Chris Moukarbel (Me at the Zoo) in Banksy Takes New York.

For those unfamiliar with the enigma that is Banksy, the artist and activist from Bristol is famous for his political, satirical and often humorous street art and for his distinctive use of stencilling.

This film documents Banksy’s month-long art residency in New York City during 2013. Starting from October 1 that year, he released one new art piece at various unknown locations around the city every day.

The audience is taken on a ride through the sprawling urban landscape by so-called “Banksy hunters” in search of each work. It’s an exciting escapade that shows off the beauty of the city and its art, as well as offering a fascinating insight into human emotion and interaction.

Interspersed between each day’s hunt are humorous side narratives by people affected by a Banksy artwork. These are fun, particular the one featuring a German gallery owner from Staten Island who sold pieces of artwork that had been cut right out of a wall; he argued that once Banksy had put it on the wall, it ceased to be his property.

Moukarbel uses a large amount of amateur-style and borrowed footage to follow the story, juxtaposing it with social media posts that describe where the next artwork is. At first this technique is interesting, but occasionally the posts come at inconvenient times or get in the way of something else on screen.

What is most intriguing about the film is that sooner or later you start to realise it’s not about the art itself but rather about how humans interact with it – this, then, becomes part of the art.

A whole array of emotions shine through: the buzz of excitement and borderline hysteria when each artwork is found, greed when people find a piece and claim it as their own, jealousy as local artists rush to call Banksy out, and the passion of the collectors and the  “wet wipe gang” that runs around the city cleaning up defaced artwork.

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Moukarbel’s admiration of Banksy is clear, and with it comes a degree of bias. Though it is stated that Banksy has many critics, the only obvious one featured in the film is made to appear pompous and arrogant. The lack of physical insight and analysis of each piece is also disappointing.

Overall, however, Moukarbel’s film is impressive as both a fascinating social commentary and a documentary about street art.

Banksy Takes New York may not be the movie to see on a Friday night after a long week at work, but it is insightful and exciting – especially for those with a particular interest in the subject matter.



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