Artist Residency Begins as an Exciting Scavenger Hunt in the City of New York, Ends Leaving Locals Feeling Disgruntled and Insulted

Bansky, an elusive street artist from the UK, releases an op-ed at the end of a self proclaimed residency in NY, that raises some eyebrows, some feel his statements are defamatory to New York 9/11 victims, and NY as a whole.

Banksy, the famous British street artist who remains anonymous to the world, swept in to New York for the month of October, delivering a new, original work of art each day, posting a photograph of the work on his instagram account and leaving it up to the audience to locate each piece.  Many were excited by this city wide scavenger hunt, and went to great lengths to locate the works each day, while others were annoyed by the ruckus these artworks were creating, some even scurrying to locate and defame the works before fans could catch a glimpse.  See this article.

New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was quoted saying that spray art (graffiti) “… is a sign of decay and loss of control … Nobody’s a bigger supporter of the arts than I am, I just think there are some places for art … and you running up to somebody’s property or public property and defacing it is not my definition of art … Or it may be art but it should not be permitted,” according to NBCNewYork.

The daily unveilings of each new Banksy “masterpiece” isn’t what left New Yorkers feeling offended, rather, on Banksy’s 27th day of this “residency” he released an opinion article that was to be printed in the New York Times as the “piece” of the day.  The New York Times declined to publish the article, so Banksy posted the article to his website for his audience to view and unmistakably protested this censorship in paint with one sentence:

"Blocked Messages" Banksyny©
Spray artist Bansky made quite an impact on NYC with his statement pieces that he left throughout the city. “Blocked Messages” Banksyny©

In the article, Banksy offers advice, as a “friend”, to NY, “… you’ve got to do something about the new World Trade Center.  That building is a disaster.” he says.  He calls it a “non-event”, “vanilla”, and, “like something they would build in Canada”.  But Bansky’s real blow to New York is what riled up so many emotions:

"Shyscraper" Banksyny©
“Shyscraper” from Bankys’s “Blocked Messages” campaign in NYC. Banksyny©
The new One World Trade Center. SOM©







Banksy completes the article with, “One World Trade declares the glory days of New York are gone … Because you currently have under construction a one thousand foot tall sign that reads – New York – we lost our nerve.

One New Yorker’s response, “He’s insulting to everybody in New York, especially people that died that day.”

Is this defamation of New Yorkers in general?  Or more specifically of the architect(s) who designed the One World Trade Center?  Or even the committee who approved the design?  Or is it an honest (free speech) response to the new World Trade Center from an unbiased audience member?

Just as Mayor Bloomberg’s comments about Banksy’s art being a form of “urban decay” and “defacing property” fall under “fair comment privilege”, Bansky’s opinion of the plainness of the new One World Trade Center does as well.  While some may feel Banksy’s comments are insulting, rude, or disrespectful, he is merely expressing his opinion of what he feels when he views the art on display (in this case, the One World Trade Center).

Mary Auerbach, an Artist and U.S. Citizen states, “It doesn’t offend me … [but] Saying NY lost it’s nerve seems a little drastic. I think it fits in with surrounding buildings. A new age architecture building would’ve been nice, but in this economy?”

It is understood that defamation requires a statement that can be “reasonably interpreted as stating actual facts about a person and those facts can be proven false”, which in either case (that of Bloomberg or Banksy), the opinions put forth cannot be proven as actual tangible truths or falsities. Bansky is expressing his disappointment in the plainness of the new World Trade Center, regardless of any failed application of tact in his delivery.  His expectations of a much more flamboyant, vibrant, “confident” building have not been met, and he’s not shy about sharing this disappointment with New York.  New Yorkers have every right to feel angry by his remarks as well.  Having survived the 9/11 attacks, and possibly having lost loved ones, being told that you’ve “let the terrorists win” can be gut wrenching and can create a defensive reaction.  But one thing Banksy isn’t doing, is defaming the One World Trade Center.

Vandalizing Pug
A Pug vandalizes Banksy’s spray art in NYC during his “Blocked Messages” campaign.

This pug on the other hand, is very clearly deliberately defacing Banksy’s rendition of the original World Trade Center (Twin Towers):

See full interview here. **Please do not read this article if you are at risk for injuries resulting from laughing too much**

Even though this article about the pug urinating on Banksy’s artwork is satire/humor, it makes a good point. Grafitti artists and annoyed citizens throughout New York have defamed, mutilated, removed, and/or rebutted many of the installations out of jealousy, irritation, anger, etc., yet Banksy has taken these actions all in stride. He completed his residency having successfully delivered 29 of the 31 pieces he intended (one due to police activity, another being the op-ed NY times article), and 2 were video’s that can be seen here (October 6) and here (October19).

Tara Horner points out, “His audio recordings that accompany some of his art on the website are tongue-in-cheek explanations, revealing his humorous side and, I think, the whimsical and light opinion he has of himself, which is quite a breath of fresh air compared to the self-sculpted pedestal on which many artists like to perch.”  This article is also a great example of the timeline of Banksy’s residency, including vandalism to his work.

Mary Auerbauch’s opinion is somewhat sympathetic to Bansky’s work, “We should be creating beautiful, amazing landmarks. I don’t think Banksy is part of urban decay. He is an artist. Maybe not the conventional one people think of. I wouldn’t want Banksy in the grand canyon and painting … So many people lost their lives, We should be honoring them with something less industrial.”

In true Banksy fashion, the irony in defaming a street artist’s work because you deem it lewd, inappropriate, trespassing, or what have you, to then about face and accuse that same artist of defaming “you” for his own critique of “your” art is just one of life’s conundrums.

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