In the 1970s, when artists risked life and limb to bomb entire subway cars with graffiti, street art was something New Yorkers complained about.
This week, thanks to Banksy, they can't get enough of it. In case you haven't heard, the Bristol-born mystery artist has been on a stenciling spree in New York, igniting an absurd treasure hunt across the city for his street art — which has fetched as much as $1.1 million at auction.
At the beginning of October, he started, a month-long "artist's residency on the streets of New York," according to his website. Soon, blogs began breathlessly following his progress across the city. Tourists have been tracking sightings of his tags on social media as if they were gourmet food trucks. The frenzy resulted in this scene, captured yesterday:
In case you are wondering, that is two people charging $20 for a peek at one of Banksy's latest works in East New York, a Brooklyn neighborhood with one of the highest crime rates in the city. One woman told Gothamist:
They are pretty angry about how many white people are coming here… The general feeling is that nobody cares about this neighborhood and now that they have something of value they should benefit. They reported that several yellow cabs have pulled up with people wanting to get a look. [Gothamist]
Elsewhere in Brooklyn, a man decided to bolt plexiglass over a Banksy he discovered on his building — according to the art blog Hyperallergic, he "had never heard of Banksy before last week" but now "loves his work." And in Manhattan's Lower East Side, people even climbed over a fence topped with barbed wire to get a look at an installation centered on a car parked in an alley.
This video from TIME pretty much sums up how much an attraction each of his works have become:
"The hype is contagious," writes The Daily Beast's Justin Jones, "and everyone is drinking the Kool-aid."
Well, not everybody. Rival graffiti artists have been regularly defacing his works, sometimes only hours after they have gone up.
Still, New York appears to have reached peak Banksy. Even people who think street artists should be arrested, like councilman Peter Vallone Jr., appear to be fans.
"This guy's a vandal," he told NBC News, "but a talented one."
The hype around spotting "a Banksy" has transcended the work itself — which, depending on whom you talk to, is either brilliantly provocative in the Andy Warhol mold, or amateurish and politically heavy-handed, like a high school punk band.
Watching anonymously above the fray, Banksy seems aware of the contradictions surrounding his street art.
"I started painting on the street because it was the only venue that would give me a show," he wrote in an email exchange with the Village Voice. "Now I have to keep painting on the street to prove to myself it wasn't a cynical plan. Plus it saves money on having to buy canvases."