In 2013, reclusive British street artist Banksy announced a self-declared month-long residency in New York City. Every day during October, he would deposit a new piece of street art (usually graffiti, but sometimes performance art) somewhere within the five boroughs of America's largest metropolis. The artist, as is his signature, remained anonymous during his stay.
Banksy's project quickly became about the reaction to Banksy's project. Variously, and sometimes all at the same time, people tried to steal, paint over or preserve the artworks. Mayor Michael Bloomberg told Banksy to cut it out – graffiti is graffiti, he admonished. At the same time, hordes of enthusiasts played an eager game of hide and seek searching for new works.
Banksy Does New York seeks to chronicle each of the artworks created during the month and the reaction to them on the streets. The film-makers are not affiliated with Banksy (nobody is publicly), so the movie leans on a mixture of amateur video, social media reaction, and interviews with journalists and critics.
The format of the film means you get a sense of the scale of exhibition and what the artist was trying to achieve. But a lot of the social media commentary shown is inane and many of the talking heads don't add much. The couple who are self-proclaimed 'Banksy hunters' who document on YouTube their expeditions trying to find the artworks are also a bit of a loss. The eccentric Long Island art dealer who unapologetically trades in Banksy's works manages to make up for their drippiness.
Banksy's place in the art world, his attitude toward contemporary art, the commercialisation of art, and even the place of graffiti in the modern world are all subjects worth exploring. This film does look at all these issues, but without digging too deep. Like New York itself when confronted with the spectacle and novelty of Banksy's work, the film gets a bit lost in the superficial. But the creativity on display, at times cleverly showcased, is worth experiencing.