TAG, YOU’RE IT: Graffiti is back in fashion thanks partially to Gucci, Balenciaga, Tag Heuer, Philipp Plein and Charles Jeffrey. After a private screening of the documentary “Saving Banksy” Tuesday night, a New York crowd will get a more authentic view of the medium from street artists Dan Witz (who teamed with Dior men’s wear last fall) and Crash, and the documentary’s director Colin Day. A a time when 5 Pointz artists are suing a developer for whitewashing buildings with their work, LeBron James introduced “Graffiti” sneakers and a Swedish artist’s four-story phallic mural caused a Lower East Side neighborhood dispute, street art is increasingly part of the public vernacular.
Brian Greif, who salvaged the Banksy Rat from a Haight Street building in San Francisco, said, “There’s interest in it because it’s really demystified art. All art before this were artists who would go to their studios, which were secretive and not open to the public generally. They would create paintings that were sent to galleries or museums. Most of the general public are intimidated by galleries and museums,” Greif said. “Art in museums is great but most people are intimidated walking into an art gallery. This is the first art movement where the artists share their work, not just the finished product, but the process with the public.”
Speakers may tackle the age-old debate of whether graffiti is art or vandalism, the ins and outs of preserving street art and the pitfalls of removing it for profit. Day sent early drafts of his film to Banksy and stayed in touch with his team at Pest Control where the artist has to insulate himself for legal reasons. Ben Eine, who has worked with Bansky, appears in the film, as do Blek le Rat, Revok, Anthony Lister and Doze Green. As for Banksy’s ability to stay anonymous, Day said, “I’ve heard he is an awesome guy and a good friend. He hangs out with people he’s known for a lot of years and he also takes care of them. It’s kind of like if you’re out in the woods and you met Big Foot and he brings you to an awesome party, as soon as it was over would you go straight to the hunters and tell them where to find him?”
The talk is part of a new screening series at The Roxy Cinema. Banksy, in turn, has his own new projects including The Walled Off, a new hotel in Palestine where the artist has curated one of the rooms. The famously anonymous Banksy remains the world’s most elusive artist, having not been involved with the 90-minute film. The focus is on how Greif invested $40,000 to remove panels of the Banksy Rat on a Haight Street building in San Francisco. His quest to donate the work to a major art museum hasn’t panned out yet but Greif, the film’s executive producer, is undeterred. Despite having all kinds of offers from private collectors including ones that have ranged up to $1.7 million, Greif said he won’t sell the Rat. “The intent of the artist was that this was intended for the public…Personally, I can’t see selling it. I think that would be the worst possible outcome.”
“While most curators who have been approached about the piece have been interested and excited about the potential of having it, the prospect “usually gets shot down at the board level,” Greif said. “The politics of large museums are that any donation to the permanent collection has to be approved by the museum board. People at the board level don’t recognize street art and graffiti as art or an important art movement. The convenient excuse for not taking it is, ‘Because Banksy won’t sign any papers saying it’s his work, we can’t accept it.’ But museums take pieces without signed-in-context letters fairly regularly.”
In the meantime, the piece is being shown in an assortment of cities with the Arts Ensemble Education’s Outer Space Gallery in Winter Haven, Fla., next up. More than 1,500 people showed up for last year’s opening at the Kokomo Howard County Public Library last year. That level of interest makes Greif more confident about street art’s future. Mentioning how the work of Banksy, Shepard Fairey and Eine can now be seen by hundreds of thousands or even millions of people at a time, Greif said, “The timing of the street art movement combined with the power of social media has really made this the most populist art movement in the history of art.”