The artists behind the names

Can you ever really know someone? Are we more than just a name?

The many faces of Rembrandt van Rijn
In the 350 years since his death in 1669, Rembrandt van Rijn has been reinterpreted time and again. The Victorians considered him a reclusive genius. Critics in the mid-20th century thought he was a misunderstood experimentalist. In the 1980s there was a fashion for seeing him as a brilliant businessman. More recently, he has been depicted as an empath, the supreme explorer of human emotion in paint. …

Curators seeking to shore up their characterisations of the artist have often done so by hanging him alongside other painters. Put Rembrandt alongside Caravaggio and he looks like a realist, alongside Auerbach and he looks almost expressionistic. … In these strange and turbulent times, it seems that the organisers could not help but show off Rembrandt’s comic sensibilities. The effect of pairing “Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul”—from which Rembrandt gazes out in exhausted forbearance—with Velázquez’s portrait of a Court bufón, scholarly and self-possessed, is humorous. Velázquez understands the dignity of a comedian, while Rembrandt demonstrates the comedy of dignitaries.

It is an insight that reaches its raucous climax in the Rijksmuseum’s prize Rembrandt, “The Night Watch”, which is currently undergoing the first stage of a public restoration. The painting depicts an Amsterdam militia company, the men’s gazes shooting off like misfired bullets, their gestures obscuring each other’s faces. The uniforms are mismatched, some a century older than others. The Rembrandt who painted it is an artist of political disorder—undoubtedly a Rembrandt that resonates in 2019.

From an artist with many faces to one who keeps his hidden.

Banksy caught on camera: New photo book documents street artist’s early years
More than 12,000 film negatives of his time with the artist “sat in files for years because I had no contact sheets,” Lazarides said. Then, he finally decided to start scanning them into a computer. The painstaking process took more than two years.

“It was a very strange period of time,” said Lazarides. “Film cameras were on their way out. It was incredibly expensive. But digital cameras hadn’t really come in. The internet wasn’t really that up and running. There was no social media, so you’re in a period in time when I suddenly realised, ‘Oh fuck, I’m the only person in the world with these pictures.’”

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Happy shopper

Remember Banksy’s new shop? It’s closed now, though it was never really open. But now it is open. Er.

Gross Domestic Product
The homewares brand from Banksy™

It does look odd, seeing that little ™ symbol after his name everywhere. But before we get distracted about why he’s seeking to protect trademarks rather than copyright, let’s get shopping!

banksy opens online store selling limited edition pieces and items starting at £10
a few weeks after setting up a showroom ‘for display purposes only’ in south london, banksy has now officially launched his own online store. titled ‘gross domestic product’, or ‘GDP’, the shop counts the stab vest worn by stormzy at glastonbury festival and branded T-shirts tagged by the artist among its products. other items include a clutch bag, made from a ‘genuine real life house brick’, and a rug painted to resemble the ‘diabetes riddled corpse of tony the tiger’.

Everything’s bound to be sold out by now, right? Not necessarily.

Banksy opens online store to sell iconic items from just £10
To deal with demand outstripping supply and to give everyone a fair chance, potential buyers are asked to register their details and “prove you are not a robot” by answering the question “Why does art matter?” Their response will then be judged by comedian Adam Bloom, who is urging customers to make their answer as “amusing, informative or enlightening as possible”.

Hoping this measure will help restrict sales to genuine art fans, Banksy adds: “We can’t ever weed out all the people who just want to flip for profit, but we can weed out the unfunny ones.”

Worth a punt?

Devolving politicians

Banksy painting of chimps as MPs sells for record £9.9m at Sotheby’s
The timing of the sale was impeccable, coming exactly four weeks before the revised Brexit deadline and a year after Banksy’s Girl with Balloon (2002) was shredded via remote control in the same saleroom. That work sold for £1.04m with fees after it was legally designated a new work by Banksy’s handling service Pest Control and renamed Love is in the Bin a week after the auction in October 2019.

Banksy painting of MPs as chimpanzees sells for record £9.9m
Chimpanzees first appeared in his work in 2002, with his piece Laugh Now. The painting shows a row of apes wearing aprons carrying the inscription “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”. In 2009, Banksy said of Devolved Parliament: “You paint 100 chimpanzees and they still call you a guerrilla artist.”

The Cockroach by Ian McEwan review – a Brexit farce with legs
But in truth the parallel is misleading. It is not just that in McEwan’s case the metamorphosis is reversed: Sams is not a human transmuted into an insect but a cockroach who has taken over the body of the prime minister of the UK. (The room in which he awakes is in 10 Downing Street.) It is also that this fable is much more Swiftian than Kafkaesque. In The Metamorphosis, the story is really about the strangeness of everyday life and the human capacity to deny it. The world of The Cockroach is more like one of Swift’s parallel universes where political and intellectual idiocies are not so much reduced to absurdity as magnified into towering follies.

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Banksy sells out

Remember back in March I linked to an article about Banksy’s legal conundrum? “If Banksy wants to keep enforcing any of his trademarks in courts around the world, and avoid the risk of them being canceled for lack of use, he will need to show judges stronger evidence of his brands being used in the market.

Well, here’s his response.

Gross Domestic Product: Banksy opens a dystopian homewares store
Tony the Frosted Flakes tiger sacrificed as a living room rug, wooden dolls handing their babies off to smugglers in freight truck trailers, and welcome mats stitched from life jackets: rather than offering an aspirational lifestyle, one South London storefront window depicts a capitalist dystopia. Created by Banksy and appearing overnight, Gross Domestic Product is the latest installation to critique global society’s major issues of forced human migration, animal exploitation, and the surveillance state.

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In a statement about the project, Banksy explains that the impetus behind Gross Domestic Product is a legal battle between the artist and a greeting card company that is contesting the trademark Banksy holds to his art. Lawyer Mark Stephens, who is advising the artist, explains, “Banksy is in a difficult position because he doesn’t produce his own range of shoddy merchandise and the law is quite clear—if the trademark holder is not using the mark then it can be transferred to someone who will.”

Despite this project’s specific goal of selling work in order to allow Banksy to demonstrate the active use of his trademark, the artist clarifies, “I still encourage anyone to copy, borrow, steal and amend my art for amusement, academic research or activism. I just don’t want them to get sole custody of my name.”

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All sales will be conducted online and, going by the reaction of those that have seen the shop so far, I expect everything will sell out very quickly, unfortunately.

Banksy shop featuring Stormzy stab vest appears in Croydon
A Banksy collector who came to see the display, said: “It’s brilliant. So good that it’s happening. I doubt he (Banksy) will turn up and go ‘hello lads, how are ya?’ But he’s obviously around.”

John, another Banksy enthusiast, who is on holiday in the UK from the United States, said: “It has all the earmarks of Banksy’s work. It’s graphic, it’s cheeky, it’s intelligent.”

Update 11/10/2019

This trademark/copyright issue might not be so straightforward, though, as this analysis from an intellectual property law academic explains. It’s worth a read.

How Banksy’s latest trademark row could backfire
Despite Banksy’s efforts to present himself as a down-to-earth, anti-conformist artist and paint the card company as the “bad guy”, this is more like a David v Goliath story – and Banksy is the giant here. Supported by a raft of experienced corporate lawyers and managers worldwide, his art is an undeniably powerful and commercially valuable industry.

Art theft and protection

What starts off as a celebration or glamorisation, almost, of theft soon dissolves into quite a sad character study.

The Secrets of the world’s greatest art thief
“Don’t worry about parking the car,” says the art thief. “Anywhere near the museum is fine.” When it comes to stealing from museums, Stéphane Breitwieser is virtually peerless. He is one of the most prolific and successful art thieves who have ever lived. Done right, his technique—daytime, no violence, performed like a magic trick, sometimes with guards in the room—never involves a dash to a getaway car. And done wrong, a parking spot is the least of his worries …

Breitwieser and Kleinklaus, though, have no friends. “I’ve always been a loner,” he says. “I don’t want any friends.” Kleinklaus, he claims, feels the same. They occasionally spend time with acquaintances but never invite anyone over. If repairs are needed in his room, he does them himself. Nobody is allowed to enter, ever, except him and his girlfriend. “We lived in a closed universe,” Breitwieser says.

They’re both nearing 30 years old when their universe starts to crumble. A notion had been building in Kleinklaus ever since the night they spent in police custody in Switzerland—that perhaps there’s something more fulfilling than life as an outlaw and rooms filled with riches. She’d like to start a family. But not, she realizes, with the man she’s been dating for almost a decade. There is no option for a child in their conscribed existence. They could be arrested at any minute; they can’t even entertain visitors. She begins to feel suffocated.

Quite the cult figure – the art thief becoming the art subject, as well as the inspiration for a movie.

He seemed not to be in it for the money. But Banksy, on the other hand …?

The fascinating legal conundrum facing Banksy
Although the court confirmed that Pest Control trademark registrations were valid, the judge noted that the documents filed in the proceedings showed just limited use of Banksy brand. Basically, the Banksy logo is only used on certificates of authenticity released on Pest Control letterhead, and on some canvas frames. This is a clear weak point in Banksy and Pest Control’s legal strategy going forward. If Banksy wants to keep enforcing any of his trademarks in courts around the world, and avoid the risk of them being canceled for lack of use, he will need to show judges stronger evidence of his brands being used in the market. This probably means he needs to start regularly producing and selling his own branded merchandise through a specialized commercial vehicle, which so far has not really happened–and may be considered by Banksy himself as antithetical to the very anti-capitalistic message he wants to convey through his art.

Banksy backfires?

At first glance it looks like our plucky artist-as-vigilante-hero puts one over on the avaricious art world.

Banksy auction stunt leaves art world in shreds
Banksy has played what could be one of the most audacious stunts in art history, arranging for one of his best-known works to self-destruct after being sold at auction for just over £1m. […] Shortly after the hammer came down on the item, however, the canvas began to pass through a shredder installed in the frame.

Banksy publishes video detailing auction stunt plan

But this comment further down the article from the founder of MyArtBroker.com puts a different spin on it.

“The auction result will only propel this further and given the media attention this stunt has received, the lucky buyer would see a great return on the £1.02m they paid last night.

“This is now part of art history in its shredded state and we’d estimate Banksy has added at a minimum 50% to its value, possibly as high as being worth £2m plus.”

The house always wins.

Update 12/10/2018

I enjoyed reading this exploration into what Banksy and Sotherby’s were up to.

Myth busting Banksy
I believe that while Sotheby’s was likely not fully aware of what was going to happen, they had a suspicion that something was up and played along for the sake of theater. To minimize the disruption, they put the Banksy work last, but until the shredded work scrolled out the bottom of the frame, the exact nature of the prank was not clear to them. I suspect that Sotheby’s knowledge was limited to knowing something harmless was up that potentially could benefit them as a PR stunt.

It would be analogous to Banksy holding a giant sign with tape on it and Sotheby’s noticing this and graciously winking and turning around so it could be placed on their back. Sotheby’s then acted surprised when others pointed out that the sign read “kick me” and claimed to have been “Banksy’d” and then soaked up the press.

And this raised a smile too.

Please don’t shred your own Banksy print unless you want it to be worth £1
Unfortunately, this is a warning that has already been given but apparently ignored. On October 6th, online art auction platform MyArtBroker tweeted it had “a number of #Banksy print owners contact us today asking if they shred their artwork will it be worth more.” Two days later MyArtBroker claimed someone did just that — shredded a limited edition “Girl with Balloon” print in order to try and raise the value of the work.