Thursday, July 16, 2020
About Banksy and Quinn
Two recent events, independent of each other but thematically linked, have prompted mass chin-stroking with regard to the definition and legitimacy of art.
First, Banksy’s mask-related modification of a Tube carriage came and then went, removed by a cleaning crew unaware of its provenance (or, indeed, of its potential monetary value to cash-strapped Transport For London). It’s a sharp reminder that, despite the mystery graffitist’s claim to be the most famous living artist in the country, a huge swathe of the population has no clue who he is or what he does, and presumably cares even less.
And then Marc Quinn, of blood head fame (although, bearing in mind what happened to Banksy, perhaps “fame” should be enveloped in multiple ironic air quotes) replaced the fallen statue of a long-dead slaver with one of the campaigner Jen Reid.
And then, no sooner was the Reid statue up, it was removed again, albeit by direct order of the local council. One could of course argue that the permanence of Banksy’s and Quinn’s pieces is not the point; their surreptitious installations are the real works of art in both cases. And because they are both working in these guerrilla traditions, the worst thing that could happen would be for the graffiti and the statue to be permitted, condoned, recuperated by the authorities. The twin erasures, accidental and then deliberate, represent not the destruction of the art, but its culmination and validation, proving that the graffiti and the statue are both too dangerous to exist.