Banksy in New York: Defaced Gathers His Greatest Hits Under One Roof

banksy time out london cover photo by gail worley
March 2010 Cover of Time Out London Designed By Banksy (All Photos By Gail)

My first exposure to Banksy — the pseudonymous British street artist (some say consortium) whose irreverent works of socio-political satire have appeared in site-specific locations across the globe — was a visit to his October, 2008 immersive Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill. Located in a Greenwich Village, NYC storefront and filled with surreal creations both familiar and exotic, the installation was designed to look like a typical pet store, but with a twist. While there was no actual Charcoal Grill serving food, rather than selling live animals, the store featured a variety of animatronic pets, including fish sticks swimming in a fish bowl, ‘chicken nugget’ baby chicks and a rabbit applying makeup before a mirrored vanity.

banksy chicken nuggets photo by gail worley

The Pet Store highlighted the issue of animal rights and the ongoing problem of animal exploitation. By using animatronics instead of live animals, Banksy created a powerful commentary on the way we treat animals in our culture. The installation was open for a little over a week (I managed to visit it twice) before it was dismantled.

rabbit at vanity photo by gail worley

The Village Pet Store and Grill is just one example of Banksy’s unique approach to art, which often includes using unconventional materials and settings to make a statement about social and political issues, and his message has not been compromised in the years since.

This brings us to Banksy in New York: Defaced, the latest  Banksy exhibit to hit the city, which opened in mid-February. Curated as a concise career retrospective from works mostly owned by private individuals, the single-floor exhibit marks the 10 year anniversary of his month-long NYC residency, Better Out Than In, and includes examples of all of his best known works, along with a career timeline documenting significant, site-specific conceptual projects and pranks. Since there are no new works being revealed,  Defaced is ideally-suited to those who are completely unfamiliar with Banksy, because if you’re even a casual fan, you’ve likely seen most of this before.

If you’re down for Banksy 101, here’s what’s in store.

banksy the street is in play photo by gail worleyThe Street is in Play:  The First Piece to Go Up As Part of Better Out Than In. The Work Was Defaced Within 24 Hours.

In 2013, Banksy held Better Out Than In, during which he created a new piece of artwork every day for one month in different locations throughout the city’s various boroughs. Better Out Than In drew massive crowds and generated widespread media attention, dominating the pop culture news cycle for its duration.

hammer boy photo by gail worley

The stencil piece above, Hammer Boy, is the last remaining residency work in existence, and you can find it on the north side of West 79th Street just east of Broadway (very close to Zabar’s). If you’re curious, which you should be,  Better Out Than In is meticulously documented in the 2014 HBO documentary, Banksy Does New York, which is excellent.

banksy album cover art photo by gail worley

Banksy has also designed iconic cover art for many bands, but one of the more (in)famous is the Paris Hilton CD cover prank, which he pulled off in 2006.  Here, Banksy created a fake CD cover (pictured above, center row, far right) for Paris Hilton’s debut album, which he secretly placed in music stores around the world. The cover featured a photo of Hilton with a message that read, “90% of success is just showing up.” The prank generated massive media attention and further cemented Banksy’s reputation as a master of social commentary.

lying to the police is never wrong photo by gail worley

Next up is a fun assortment of stencil works, which brought the artist his initial fame. Banksy’s stencils are among his most famous and iconic pieces, and many have been reproduced as framed prints and sold by galleries around the world. These prints are highly sought-after by collectors and art enthusiasts alike, and they often command high prices at auctions and in galleries.

banksy monkey queen photo by gail worley

Known for their simplicity and graphic impact, as well as their social and political commentary, many of his works feature images of rats, monkeys, and other animals, as well as iconic figures from popular culture, such as Kate Moss and Mickey Mouse. Images are often combined with provocative slogans and messages that challenge the status quo and encourage viewers to question what we consider acceptable.

banksy turf war photo by gail worley
Turf War

The reproduction of Banksy’s stencil works as framed prints has been somewhat polarizing, as some critics argue that it commodifies his art and undermines his message. However, others believe that it’s a way to make his art more accessible to a wider audience and to spread his message of challenging the status quo to a larger audience.

banksy bomb middle england photo by gail worley
Bomb Middle England

bansky installation view photo by gail worley
Installation View

banksy bunny in armoured car photo by gail worley
Bunny in Armoured Car

An important part of the exhibit (although it requires a lot of reading) is a multi-decade Timeline detailing works that can’t be physically exhibited in a gallery setting, but are nevertheless vital to understanding what Banksy is all about.

banksy telephone box photo by gail worley

Maybe you remember reading about the Telephone Box artwork, created in 2006 and left on a street in London. The work featured a traditional British telephone box with a pickaxe lodged in the side, as if  it were the victim of an assault. The piece is a commentary on the decline of traditional British culture and the rise of violence and vandalism in modern society.

banksy disneyland prank photo by gail worley

One of Banksy’s most infamous pranks also occurred in 2006, when a life-size replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee was surreptitiously installed in Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride. The figure was dressed in an orange jumpsuit and wore blackened goggles, with its hands and feet shackled. It was positioned next to a sign that read “detainee in custody.” This figure was removed as soon as it was discovered, and Disneyland officials claimed to have no knowledge of how it got there. The prank  is documented in the Academy Award-nominated film Exit Through the Gift Shop, which is a must-see and a highly entertaining primer to his oeuvre.

banksy bristol museum exhibit photo by gail worley

In 2009, Banksy held an unauthorized exhibit in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, which attracted tens of thousands of visitors. The exhibit featured over 100 of Banksy’s works, many of which were created specifically for the exhibit. The show was a critical and commercial success, and my friend Geoffrey even flew to England just so he could see the exhibit in person. Talk about dedication!

banksy dismaland photo by gail worley

One of Banksy’s most famous works is Dismaland, a dystopian take on Disneyland theme parks, created in the late summer of 2015 and located in the British seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare. The park featured various installations and artworks by Banksy and other artists, all designed to satirize consumer culture and expose the darker side of modern society. Dismaland was only open for a few weeks, but it drew massive crowds and became a viral sensation. I have a couple of UK-based friends who were lucky enough to see Dismaland in person, so I am obligated to hate them now.

banksy walled off hotel photo by gail worley

In 2017, Banksy opened the Walled Off Hotel (which is still in operation) in Bethlehem, Palestine. The boutique hotel, decorated liberally with Banksy artworks, features guest rooms that overlook the Israeli separation barrier. The hotel is designed to draw attention to the conflict in the region and to provide a unique perspective on the issues facing the Palestinian people.

visit historic palestine poster photo by gail worley
Visit Historic Palestine (2017 – 2018) Lithographs

mickey snake and os gemeos collaboration photo by gail worley

There are a few pieces in the exhibit that I had not seen before, including Mickey Snake (2015), a sculpture showing Mickey Mouse having been swallowed whole by a Python. The sculpture is flanked by a pair of posters documenting a collaboration between Banksy and Brazilian twin artists Os Gemeos from 2013.

balloon girl by banksy photo by gail worley
There is Alway Hope (2002) Mural Features the Often-Used Image Girl With Balloon

banksy di-faced tenners 2004 photo by gail worley
Di-Faced Tenners (2004)

Recapping this exhibit has made me realize  how much fun it would be to perhaps take a Banksy newbie to Banksy in New York: Defaced and then maybe watch one of the documentaries mentioned here together. Even long-time fans who think they’re jaded can find something new to discover if you go in with new eyes.

banksy in ny signage photo by gail worley

Banksy in New York: Defaced, Presented by MetaMorfosiNY, is Located at 378 Broadway (Corner of Broadway and White Street). Hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM, and Friday through Sunday from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Ticket Prices Start at $16.50. For More Information, Visit the Exhibit’s Website at This Link.  

banksy stencil art photo by gail worley
Flower Thrower

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