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Amanda Gutterman Headshot

Calling for a Bloomberg-Banksy Ceasfire

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Mr. Bloomberg said that while he is a big supporter of the arts, he didn't think Banksy's works should be allowed.

"You running up to somebody's property or public property and defacing it is not my definition of art," he said. "Or it may be art, but it should not be permitted. And I think that's exactly what the law says." --The Wall Street Journal

I wonder whether the mayor has waged war on the October residency because he recognizes, in Banksy, a younger version of himself. If my suspicion is correct, Bloomberg need not suppress his feelings any longer. As Banksy says in the title of his guerilla art exhibit, "Better out than in."

Let me explain why I am a fan of Banksy, the British street artist who has graced our fair city with a "residency" this month. Banksy is not only a graffiti writer, but also a social activist whose works highlight the deplorable conditions of the working poor, the despicable treatment of animals by food conglomerates, and the backwardness of global-warming deniers. Good stuff. The biggest problem with activists, though, is that they're often pretty humorless (with the exception of Malala Yousafzai whom the Taliban could not keep from cracking jokes on The Daily Show).

That is where Banksy comes in. Last Monday, he drove a slaughterhouse delivery truck through the Meatpacking District with piglet, lamb, and cow stuffed animals poking their heads out of crowded crates for a breath of fresh air. The stuffed animals have these frightened and mournful looks on their faces. Seeing that truck drive by is totally hilarious.

Last Wednesday, Banksy had an old men sell his prints from one of the art stalls just outside Central Park. Banksy prints have sold for upwards of $500,000 at auctions (including a work titled "I Can't Believe You Morons Actually Buy This Shit"). When the un-famous old man sold them for $60 each, he made less than $500 -- a gentle chiding for the art market, which tends to favor name brands over substance. The best part is that Banksy got his message across without printing a crabby essay on "art for art's sake" on 100 percent repurposed kale leaves. Instead of beating a dead horse, Banksy invents his own.

Which brings me back to Mayor Bloomberg. Whether you believe that Bloomberg perpetuated or eased the social problems that are the grist in Banksy's mill, it is undeniable that the two men share common ground. First, they're both installation artists. I personally don't enjoy the Albert Paley sculptures that Bloomberg plopped down on Park Avenue. Lumpy, earth-toned masses just aren't my thing. But who ever asked me?

Bloomberg also neglected to consult me (or anyone else) about his plan to face-lift midtown Manhattan, at great expense, to look more European -- a plan almost no one liked. Let's get one thing straight: Bloomberg and Banksy both impose their aesthetic preferences on the public. The difference is that one guy has a spray can and the other has, well, a lot more stuff.

On the flipside, Banksy is more like Bloomberg than he would probably care to admit. As a daring critic of powerful institutions, Banksy has become an institution himself, most visibly in his native Great Britain where his name appears in papers almost every day. In 2010, Banksy's film "Exit Through the Gift Shop" won a prize at Sundance and was nominated for an Oscar. Though Banksy eschews public scrutiny and self-styles as a figure on the fringe, by now, most people have accepted him into mainstream culture, with the exception of the stragglers who still bother with "high" and "low" art. Banksy's commitment to anonymity is also a bit suspect--is there any better way to draw attention to oneself?

Bloomberg and Banksy are aesthetes, entrepreneurs, disrupters, and attention-seekers who have been profiled in The New Yorker, so potato po-tah-toe, let's call the whole thing off.