Most travelers leave a destination with souvenirs. But one US traveler has been leaving his own.
Banksy, the world’s most well-known and elusive street artist, has been road-tripping around the US for the last few weeks. The Bristol native has been announcing his presence and leaving his mark in conjunction with the release of his documentary film Exit Through the Gift Shop. And while we can’t be sure of every pit stop along his route, we can trace his path through several cities by the stenciled trail he’s left behind.
But Banksy’s recent US work has been more than a cross-country guerilla bombing of urban landscapes. Each city along Banksy’s trail has had its own unique reaction to its role as host to the international street art superstar. Works have been photographed, celebrated, defaced, condemned, even physically removed for posterity and prosperity. As Wooster Collective‘s Marc Schiller tweeted, reactions to Banksy’s recent works have revealed much about the cities in which they appeared.
Want a glimpse into the psyche of seven North American cities? Just read the writing on the wall…
Image: Lord Jim/Flickr
Los Angeles: Whatever
As the first discernible stop on Banksy’s whirlwind US tour, how did LA respond? With newscameras and excited buzz? Try indifference. Unlike the city’s celebrity-studded, media-frenzied response to the artist’s 2006 Barely Legal exhibition, the appearance of Banksy’s new work didn’t stir much commotion in the City of Angeles. Works were discovered in mid-April, and received little attention outside of hyperlocal blogs, such as laist. Even the forcible removal of the above-shown piece by a commercial art gallery (for the rumored purpose of selling the work) elicited little response outside of the art blogs like Jetset Graffiti.
“Yeah, Banksy, we’ve seen him before,” LA seemed to say. “What are the Kardashians doing?”
San Francisco: Stoked
Banksy’s next stop was a quick mosey up the California coast into San Francisco, where he literally painted the town with 10-some pieces. As one might expect, the ultra-artsy city responded with enthusiasm. First reported on local art blog Warholian in late April, news spread to media outlets including prominent newspapers and TV networks, and locals took to the streets on a scavenger hunt to find all the works.
Perennially grateful to its visitors, San Francisco celebrated Banksy’s work as an affirmation of the city itself. Even defacement exhibited civic pride, as a Native American stencil was rendered into a tribute to local celebrity Frank Chu.
It’s hard to plot Banksy’s exact next move. Within days of each other, pieces were spotted in various Midwest and East Coast cities. But no city was more abuzz than Toronto.
Vivacious, cosmopolitan and seemingly forever in the shadow of bigger, glittery-er cities, Toronto took Banksy’s visit as a kind of validation—“yes, we can attract an artist as big as Banksy.” As reported by the The Star, the works were the first ever Banksys to appear on Canadian soil (take that, Montreal!). The city exploded with excitement, with most of the pieces not surviving. Survey what’s left by following torontoist’s guide.
Image: Señor Codo/Flickr
Chicago: Wait, what?
Tucked into the heart of the huge country, the US’s third largest city is often called its most American city. And in typical American fashion, Chicago responded to the appearance of the international art celebrity’s work with, well, vague recognition. It was as though the Windy City hadn’t ever heard of Banksy and wasn’t quite sure why they should be concerned. It was a little like Ronaldo Cristiano walking through a shopping mall—“Isn’t he famous in some other country?”
Originally reported on chicagoist, coverage of Banksy’s Chicago pieces came largely from art and culture blogs such as Fake Shore Drive. Only a week later did the works receive mention from a major media outlet.
Detroit: I Have Something To Say!
One of the most site-specific and stirring works on his US/North American tour, Banksy’s “I Remember When All This Was Trees” piece in Detroit was nothing short of brilliant. What happened to the piece was nothing short of controversial.
Local 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios excavated the piece (covered, among many news outlets, by Detroit Free Press), and a raging public controversy ensued. Thievery? Safe-keeping? An attempt to garner attention and fame? Opinions ran the gamut, but everyone seemed to have one.
While the piece is now preserved, its power was certainly diminished by having been removed from its original site. The piece itself, which spoke to the industrial heart of Motor City, ended up also speaking to the heart of street art: does the work exist off the street? And who does it belong to once the artist has created it? No answers were arrived at, but plenty of debate was inspired.
Image: Richard Cocks/Flickr
You might not have heard anything about Banksy’s arrival in Boston—especially if you’re in Boston. Most coverage was reported on blogs based outside of the city, including Wooster Collective and High Snobiety. One local photojournalist managed to stumble upon the work while on a street art adventure. Reaction: “wicked awesome.”
What this says about Boston, we’re not sure…
New York City: Well, finally…
“Banksy has arrived in New York City in his on-going North America tour.” Read between the lines: the Big Apple is a little miffed that it was so low on the hit-list. And within hours of reportage, the works were tagged over, turf marked and respect denied. “Thanks a lot, Brit boy,” NYC seems to say, “but we’ve got the graffiti thing covered.”
Photographs, defacement, theft, adoration and ignorance: it’s a travelogue worth its weight in paint. And we can be pretty sure that the US has gotten just as much out of Banksy’s trip as he has—maybe more.