Somewhere in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a blue door bears an ironic (and fake) quote by Plato, assumed to be the work of British guerrilla artist Banksy. "I have a theory that you can make any sentence seem profound by writing the name of a dead philosopher at the end of it. — Plato," it reads – the latest in Banksy's ongoing exhibit "Better In Than Out."
Banksy is a little over a week into his so called "residency" in New York City, for which he is dotting various neighborhoods with his trademark graffiti art. Starting Oct. 1, the artist began tagging the city with various works – presumably one a day – and posting pictures of them to his website and social media accounts. "I think this is a hugely well prepared month. I think you are going to see quite a few more surprises,' says Will Ellsworth-Jones, author of "Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall."
The mysterious English street artist is best known for art that has popped up in London and other cities across the world. His most recent major forays include 2010's "Exit Through Gift Shop," an Oscar-nominated pseudo-documentary, and a 2009 takeover of his hometown Bristol City Museum. His images, often stenciled on public walls, are whimsical, humorous and subversive: children and cartoon characters in violent situations, parodies of iconic art and riffs on authority figures. Their locations often add an even more political explicit message, like his murals on Israel's West Bank barrier.
For "Better Out Than In," Banksy's characteristic installations have popped up around New York. They include a dog peeing on fire hydrant with "You complete me..." in a thought bubble, a bandaged-up heart-shaped balloon and a delivery truck turned into a garden oasis. In addition to his website, he has been posting pictures of the works to an Instagram, social media being a new tool for the artist. Most of the installations have been accompanied with a phone number to an audio guide, a popular feature at many art galleries, that gives a spoof-y description of the work at hand. For instance for "The street is in play," his first work in the "Better Out Than In" series, calling the phone number next to the piece (1-800-656-4271) will play an audio clip that explains, "Before you, you will see a spray art by the artist BAN –sky [the name mispronounced] — or maybe not. It's probably been painted over by now." (The audio is also available on the Banksy website.)
"The message is, 'here, it's for everyone, it's not an exclusive club,' and that's very important to him -- from the first painting he's been doing, he's never gone the predictable way," Ellsworth-Jones says. As soon as Banksy has posted the works to the website, New Yorkers have rushed to find and identify them. The Telegraph has even created a satellite map tracking the locations.
However, some New Yorkers have not been so warm in their reception. Many of the works have been defaced not long after they've gone up. A New York-based graffiti crew replaced a sign that was a part of Banksy's "The street is in play" with one baring their logo and soon after, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, the work was painted over entirely. Other works have succumbed to similar fates.
There is also concern that others will try to cash in on his work. A mural disappeared from its London street wall, only to surface at a Miami art auction where is was expected to sell for $700,000 before being withdrawn. For this reason, Banksy does not sign his street art, Ellsworth-Jones says. "He thinks his art should stay where it is. He doesn't want people to sell it."
And it has attracted criticism of a more conventional nature as well. A YouTube video Banksy posted Sunday in lieu of a street installation depicted Syrian rebels shooting down presumably enemy aircraft, only to bring the classic Disney character Dumbo crashing to the crowd. Those closely observing the war in Syria suggested the video oversimplified the conflict. As Washington Post's Max Fisher pointed out, "If the video feels a bit awkward, it may be in part because the international leftist movement that Banksy so often speaks for has grappled with how to think about Syria."
Others took it to be also reference to the DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn, an area once populated with artists that has undergone momentous gentrification, and perhaps a hint to the location of a future work.