I remember the day that Sotheby’s auctioned off what was then called “Girl With a Balloon”. I had been following the rise of artist Banksy, (whom I will refer to as “they/them, not knowing the artist’s gender for sure), since their early days as a guerrilla street artist. From the beginning, Banksy has broken nearly all the rules set out by what I call the “art mafia”, the establishment of the art world which decides who is successful, who is worth collecting, and who deserves to be heralded as genius. That art mafia, which is nearly all made up of white men with money, manipulates the art world from the inner chambers of galleries like White Cube and Gagosian, with operations around the world and sites they control like ArtNet and Artsy. Ask anyone outside their favor how hard it is to make a living.
Enter Banksy, who not only doesn’t give a fig about what the art establishment wants or needs, they actively subvert it, choosing anonymity, and risking arrest, by creating art for the people on walls all over the world. The new documentary Banksy Most Wanted gives some background of this world famous figure, but largely focuses on the ongoing search to unmask the artist.
Paris-based filmmakers Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley’s documentary has recent interviews with a variety of collectors, journalists, and fans around the world. They are fascinating, especially as they come from a perspective of people who see Banksy as the world’s most successful, talented, and important artist. The hyperbole is intense. His former agent calls them ‘the Leonardo da Vinci of the 21st century’, and “the most famous artist at any point in history”.
One French interviewee showers Banksy with praise, although that’s to be expected since the French have celebrated a wider diversity of genres as real art for decades. There’s also a smarmy gallerist named Robert Barton, who has found ways of removing public art Banksy made to exhibit and sell at auction, thereby increasing the value of his work, and effectively inserting them into the art market without the artist’s approval. Several journalists who claim to have discovered Banksy’s true identity are filmed, offering what they feel is proof for their varied assertions.