Sunday, November 16, 2008

Street Artist Banksy and his Peculiar Pet Shop

On the same weekend in October that I visited the CFA – IAMs Cat Championship in Madison Square Garden and the Van Gogh exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, I also went with two fellow crones down to Greenwich Village to view an exhibit by anonymous British street artist Banksy.

No one knows who Banksy really is, including the young men and women who were keeping watch over his Greenwich Village exhibit. (I asked them. They said they’ve never met him) According to Wikipedia Banksy is "a well-known pseudo-anonymous British artist believed to have been born in 1974."

His street art usually combines graffiti and a stenciling technique — leaving political statements on walls -- but in New York he opened a realistic-looking "Pet Store and Charcoal Grill" at 89 Seventh Avenue between West 4th and Bleeker Street. (Love the irony in that title…It was only there from October 9 to Halloween and we crones felt privileged to see this street art in action before Banksy folded it up and took it away. It was the first time Banksy has used animation to create exhibits that moved.)

From the outside, the Pet Store featured what appeared to be a large leopard sitting in the window with a twitching tail. (“Do not tap on the glass", said a sign.) But when you went inside, the "leopard" turned out to be a strategically folded leopard coat. With a moving tail.

In another window was a white rabbit applying lipstick while looking in a mirror. There was also a hen with several "chicks" --- really animated large chicken nuggets -- drinking out of a dish of barbecue sauce. Inside the store were fish sticks swimming in an aquarium, sliced sausages and hot dogs eating out of dishes and a chimpanzee watching a TV video of chimpanzees having sex.

As you've probably figured out by now, Banksy is making an ironic comment about how we turn animals into processed food and torture rabbits, for instance, to test cosmetics. What I liked about the exhibit (which some bewildered folk mistook for an actual pet store) is that it's good-natured and humorous piece of art that gets the artist's point across more effectively than a diatribe, or throwing flour at Lindsey Lohan or paint at Sarah Jessica Parker when they wear furs.

There was a book inside the “Pet Store” where people were encouraged to write their reactions to the art. Someone who was there before me had written: "Banksy totally gets it! This is why I don't eat meat." But the children passing by outside with their parents were delighted with the moving exhibits in the "Pet Store and Charcoal Grill." Perhaps it would start them thinking, the next time they saw a chicken nugget or a sausage, perhaps not, but it was more engaging that an exhibit of calves being tortured in cages, and so was probably more effective in making people think about where their food comes from.

Another artist who is referred to as a “guerrilla artist” or street artist (because he paints his political statements on walls and then runs away before he can be arrested) is Sheperd Fairey, who is the hot young artist of the day ever since he designed the terrific red, white and blue poster of Obama for his campaign. Sheperd Fairey, Banksy and their ilk have had a huge influence on young artists.

It was fun to watch passers-by the Pet Store do a double take and then come up and study the exhibits. This is the best kind of interactive art. It reminded me of walking through a snowy Central Park on the last day of Christo's "Gates” in February 2005 and watching hundreds, maybe thousands of people--some who had flown in from Europe --touching, discussing and interacting with the 7,500 saffron-colored fabric panels which transformed Central Park on a cold winter day into an open air museum where everyone had something to say about the art.

(If you want to see more photos and a discussion of Banksy’s pet store and grill, follow this link:)

And if you want a copy of The Secret life of Greek Cats” for an animal lover on your holiday list:

1 comment:

Robin Paulson said...

The next time you go to one of these cool art exhibits, take me with you!