(I don’t normally do requests, but my dad asked me what I thought about Banksy’s new show. To be more precise, he instructed me to do a blog post about Banksy’s new show.)
I think it was Marcel Duchamp (and if it wasn’t, it was surely someone who was thinking along the same lines as Duchamp, or at least someone who had Duchamp’s postcards on the wall) who came up with the two best justifications of conceptual art as A*R*T per se. One was “It’s art because I call it art.” And the other was “It's art because it’s in a gallery.”
This is why I was always a little resistant to the charms of the Young British Artists; it wasn’t that their stuff was bad as such; it was just that Marcel had done most of it before. The only aspect over and above Duchamp that the Sensation generation offered (Did I ever tell you I was at the preview? The wine was frightful, darlings!) was a very 90s focus on celebrity and money; which Warhol had done anyway, 30 years previously.
But Banksy was different. He didn’t justify his art as art, because he didn’t justify anything, because he wasn’t there. And he didn’t put it in a gallery. The whole point of it was that it wasn’t in a gallery. It didn’t just ask “is it art?” It asked questions about public space, about ownership, about offence, about subversion and surveillance, about us and them.
It couldn’t last of course. He had to go into galleries, because that’s what artists do, and the celebrity and the money may have had a part in it as well. Oh well. But there’s something a little desperate about the hype surrounding his current show at the Bristol City Museum; the whole preposterous story that the council wasn’t told about it until the eve of the opening is just silly. The show would have been a huge success anyway; this smacks not of Duchamp, but of that old fraud Dali.
The thing is, Banksy’s been out-Banksy-ed. Conor Casby, the artist who put unauthorised, unflattering portraits of the Irish prime minister into two Dublin art galleries, Just Did It, which is surely closer to the graffitist model that propelled Mr Gunningham to fame. And closer to Duchamp as well, and the questions he raised: it’s art because it’s in an art gallery; but should it be?