Banksy’s poison valentine?

Posted: 30 May 2010 in Uncategorized
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Anyone who has seen my various web sites in recent years knows I’m a big fan of Banksy’s work—and of public/street art more generally.

Now, Banksy has a film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, which Ben Davis thinks is a poison valentine to the street art movement.

I haven’t seen the film yet (given my relative isolation on the mountain) but it wouldn’t surprise me if, in fact, Banksy uses his film to ask questions about the so-called street art movement. What counts as street art? (I changed the designation on this blog from graffiti to public art awhile back.) Has street art just become a form of global marketing—for commodities or for the artists themselves? (The pieces I have chosen for this site tend to have a “critical” edge, especially about economic issues.)

Gallery art focuses, ultimately, on selling status symbols to rich people, but for this very reason it tends to maintain a certain distance from corporate design. Street art is hostile to established commercial art channels, but has been altogether more comfortable moving in and out of mass commercial culture.

But, in my understanding of modern art history, there’s no artistic movement that has maintained a purely aesthetic sensibility separate from “the market” or, more generally, capitalist forms of economic organization. (I’d also argue the reverse: there’s no capitalism separate from notions of aesthetic value.)

The more interesting question is, does public/street art create, in the art itself, a notion of value distinct from capitalist value? Is there a sense in which public/street art represents something like the gift and therefore a critique of capitalist notions of value? I’ll have to see if Banksy poses a question like that when I finally have the opportunity to see his film. . .

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