A ‘Residency’ Explored


By Jess Goulart

Photo courtesy of Prank Sky Media.

The title of the new HBO documentary by filmmaker Chris Moukarbel sounds like a porn video… and for good reason.

Banksy Does New York follows the notorious graffiti artist through his month long Big Apple “residency” in October 2013, via reactions from the community. No, we don’t see breasts in the 80-minute movie, but Banksy’s one-a-day series of art installations (spanning all five boroughs) stripped NYC of its pretense and exposed the products of deepening gentrification and classism.

From “Banksy Hunters,” to the news, Twitter to Instagram, Facebook to shaky cell phone videos, the film intimates the massive game of hide-and-seek that the artist played with New York. Each morning of his residency Banksy posted a photograph and (sometimes) short audio guide of his latest piece to his website. Fans would then scour the city to find the graffiti, racing to be the first ones to see it in the flesh. Art aficionados suddenly found themselves in the Bronx and deep Brooklyn, rubbing shoulders with demographics they knew nothing of, to get a better view.

We frown at the Southampton art dealer Stephen Kezler–who classifies himself as “the villain” in the film–after he is given a stolen Banksy piece to sell (but is art ever really “stolen?”); tear up at the touching story of the Housing Works charity that auctioned off their Bansky artwork for over half a million; fear for the aftermath of the iconic 5 Pointz space in Queens; and become enlightened by several young media stars that poignantly unpack the meta-satire of Banksy’s more politically inclined pieces (“This Site Contains Blocked Messages”). In whatever locale that viewers watch the footage, they can’t help but be as swept up in the Banksy mania as New Yorkers were during the “residency.”

For his part, Banksy remarked on his website he is “shocked” that HBO optioned to make a full-length documentary about him. While the figure has no affiliation with its production, he said, “maybe it will be okay.” Banksy also made a short about his experience–the wry two minutes and 30 seconds can be viewed here.

Of course, BTR has never spoken to the anonymous Banksy, so we can’t say this for sure, but we think he’d be pleased with Moukarbel’s conclusion; like energy, art is never created or destroyed, it simply changes form.

For a full review of ‘Banksy Does New York’ (plus DJs Jess and Schep telling you what kind of scotch you should be drinking when you watch it) tune into this week’s film review podcast, BTR’s Scotch and Cinema.