Banksy Charity Auction in New York Sparks Controversy

Street artist Banksy made his name in Britain’s urban areas for his unique style of graffiti, but the artist has since then explored other forms of art – most recently adding sculpture and moving installations to his roster during his month-long exhibition “Better Out Than In” in New York.

The real identity of Banksy has yet to be confirmed, although the names Robin Banks and Robin Gunningham swirl the Internet as the presumed identities of the graffiti artist. Banksy began his graffiti art legacy as a teen in Bristol, England during a time of budding graffiti culture. He transitioned from freehand graffiti to his trademark stencilling when, while hiding from police under a truck, he realized that he could cut down his painting by using stencils.

Now, Banksy’s pieces pop up in urban centres all over the world, including L.A., New York, Toronto, Melbourne, and Bethlehem. On top of his signature stencil style, Banksy’s art work is attention-grabbing because of its subversive subject matter, often dealing with political sentiments such as anti-war and anti-capitalism, as well as critiquing hypocrisy, poverty, greed, and other elements of the human condition. Some of his most notable works are the Flower Thrower, Bomb Hugger, and his Pulp Fiction piece in which John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s characters hold bananas instead of guns.

With his rise in popularity, the artist has managed to get the attention of those who are often the subject of his rebellion, being approached over the years by big-name corporations to work on their advertising campaigns. He also has gathered a fanbase of celebrity collectors including Christina Aguilera, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie. He’s expanded to other mediums, holding his first gallery show in 2003, designing the cover of the Blur album Think Tank, and directing the Oscar-nominated documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.

For the “Better Out Than In” exhibition, Banksy attempted to have a different piece of art for every day of October on New York’s streets. He didn’t quite accomplish all 31 pieces (due to trying to evade police activity), but the artist managed to tag some new works on the walls, created a cinderblock replica of the Sphinx of Giza, orchestrated a performance piece staged outside of various McDonalds where a boy shines a fiberglass Ronald McDonald’s shoes, and a slaughterhouse truck that carried plush animals around the meatpacking district.

“There is absolutely no reason for doing this show at all. I know street art can feel increasingly like the marketing wing of an art career, so I wanted to make some art without the price tag attached. There’s no gallery show or book or film. It’s pointless. Which hopefully means something,” said Banksy in an interview with Village Voice.

The recent controversy over his work surprisingly isn’t the result of his subject matter, but the authenticity of a recent charitable donation. Banksy purchased an oil painting from charity thrift store The Housing Works, made his own additions to the painting, and then resold the painting (now named “The Banality of the Banality of Evil”) to charity to be auctioned off. The buyer of the painting is now suspicious of the backstory and has backed out, and is also, accusing the charity of shill-bidding – an illegal practice in which bidders are planted to try to jack up the asking price.

The subject of his next project  is unknown, but with all the Rob Ford political controversy happening in Toronto, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a new Banksy piece appear in the city sometime soon.

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