Banksy’s Clichéd 9/11 Tribute [UPDATE 4]

by Hrag Vartanian on October 15, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 11.38.35 AM

Really, Banksy? Today’s street art work, reportedly in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, depicts the Twin Towers but in place of an explosion the artist has placed what looks like an altered flower.

We’ll report back on the location but right now I’m still surprised at how cliché this particular piece seems. Most New Yorkers have moved on from a simplistic understanding of that awful day 12 years ago, and maybe Banksy is trying to hint at some of the complexity here (from dark days flowers grow?), but it largely looks like an underdeveloped idea for a potentially more sophisticated piece. In that regard, Serkan Özkaya’s “Mirage” (2013), which was installed this summer at Postmasters Gallery’s new Tribeca space, was far more successful in its allusions to the Twin Towers and its shadowy presence in our imaginations.

Updated, 12:18pm EDT: According to @kylelibra, it’s at Staple and Jay Streets:

Update, 2:45pm EDT: I finally made it to Tribeca to see the latest Banksy in person and realized that the art work itself may not be the focus of the piece.

Someone had placed flowers by the Tribeca Banksy. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Someone had placed flowers by the Tribeca Banksy. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

People were more solemn than they’ve tended to be around Banksy’s NYC pieces and there was little discussion of the work itself from what I heard. People crouching to take photos looked like they could’ve been in prayer, perhaps remarking on the act of memorializing something itself.

Considering Banksy’s preoccupation with how graffiti writers and other street artists perceive and dislike him, I wonder if the real target of this piece is perhaps the haters themselves? As he explained in a recent “interview” with the Village Voice, “I used to think other graffiti writers hated me because I used stencils, but they just hate me.” Perhaps this is a challenge to the haters to deface the work. Maybe Banksy is probing the extent of the hate and exploring in the process if there are sacred cows even NYC graff writers won’t slaughter. Considering so many 9/11 memorial went untouched for years, I’m curious how this plays out. It’s worth noting that when I arrived this afternoon someone had already placed fresh flowers by the work.

People crouching to take photos look like people in prayer.

People crouching to take photos look like people in prayer.

The scene around the Tribeca Banksy. (click to enlarge)

The scene around the Tribeca Banksy. (click to enlarge)

Update 3, 3:00pm EDT: There’s a second version of the Twin Towers piece in Brooklyn Heights, according to Gothamist, but there’s no flower in site (though the work is also placed similarly on the wall in relation to the wall crack/joint, like the Tribeca version).

Update 4, 7:40pm EDT: And a dog pees on it … awww … (h/t Gothamist)

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  • The Bronx Art Exchange-NYC

    This is a disappointing. He was on such a roll. I think his best is spent.

  • boonkymutt

    fuck you its ballzy n brilliant… its banksy in nyc, citing the day that changed the world, a tiny little memorial with a flower built in, its sweet and to the point..

    • Hrag Vartanian

      Well, that’s a charming comment. Please review our commenting policy, and no, it’s not ballsy, it’s cliché.

      • Yuberniz Yubi Orengo

        Hey it’s just his opinion. Although he could have been a bit less vulgar and rude about it though. I don’t necessarily find to be his best, and it seems like lots of pieces I’ve seen referring to 9/11 are kind of heavy handed honestly, but it is… kinda sweet.

        • boonkymutt

          Thanks Yubi, You be kind, you be good. you be you. n ill be boonkymutt

      • boonkymutt

        didnt mean to be rude, just completely disagree with the blog declaring it cliche 5 minutes after banksy unveils it. its just too easy to call out something and to call it bad…. BUT this is an art blog, so an opinionated one sided article is fine, i just prefer my journalism without the preacher. especially if they’re gonna just insult & disagree with each comment given…

        I think it’s ballzy because it is a, yes, DEAD, horribly overdone, sickeningly tiresome topic, so i see it as ballzy to touch upon it period. No one can touch it with out seeming a little cliche. but it is a political artist, whos art is protest, and one from the UK nontheless, now hes here in NEW YORK CITY for petes sake, cant he just make a ‘nice, thoughtful 9/11 piece’?

        Not to mention the point of this whole residency is about challenging commodity vs art vs graffiti vs fan-demonium so isnt someone gonna tag it up? but hes challenging the others with: “this is 9/11! it’d be like pissing on the graves of the fallen for you to tag over this, never forget..etc” Plus its not in a place that it can be stolen or sold, so it can ONLY be destroyed, thus the challenge. Also it’s on the ground, like a memorial. its like he’s asking how sensative is new york, still after 12 years, are these NYC graffiti artists tough enough to destroy THIS one?

        Also if youre gonna call this cliche, then why isn’t all of banksy’s ironic political art cliche and easy? if i had any banksy poster in my williamsburgh apartment, would ppl would say thats a cliche williamsburgh thing to decorate with? i just think its A O K. no i dont think its particularly mindblowing, but i respect the play, and the motive, and getting NYC got.

        so whatever, Hrag! opinions, opinons! thanks for answering!

        • Hrag Vartanian

          Then you are the public for this piece since it really seems to speak to you.

          What do you think of the Brooklyn Heights piece, why was that incomplete… and why is the skyline so, well, inaccurate?

      • pilgrimboy

        Cliche? Where has it been done before? Or something similar?

      • Yes.

        You suck butthole dude. You know precisely nothing. Ban me if ya like!

  • Acts of Random Art

    I’m not sure this is the “Best of Banksy” but I also tend to find artists in general have had pretty weak pieces in reference to NYC 9/11. Including the shadow plane by Serkan Ozkaya’s work. If you watch the people in the room during the video it does not seem to have any effect on their hobnobbing with one another.

    • Hrag Vartanian

      The work wasn’t really meant to be seen in a crowd (when the timelapse was shot and it is significantly sped up), when I went back the next day it was a radically different experience and very poignant. I mention that in my review I linked to.

      • Acts of Random Art

        I find it interesting for it not to be meant to be seen in a crowd since the actual day was more then just a crowd experience. If you can get a crowd to have an experience I think the work would have been much stronger.

    • Helen Glazer

      If you want to see a strong piece about New York and 9/11 that makes people quiet down and pay attention, go see T.J. Wilcox’s video installation at the Whitney and watch the segment where the super of his building recounts his experiences and feelings about that day (no sound, just subtitles). Maybe it’s more powerful because it’s an eyewitness account, and because you’re with him overlooking the part of the city where the Twin Towers no longer stand.

  • Daniel Fleming

    eek…that’s what I’d expect to see hanging in a bad hipstery boutique…how do you go from the diorama, to the meat truck, to the art sale to this?

    Or maybe it’s terrible on purpose…just to get a rise out of everyone…

  • Jan King

    This is beautiful!! everything does not need to be so complex. The message behind it is simple, “Never Forget”!!!!

    • The Bronx Art Exchange-NYC

      Yes, but it’s a message we’ve seen over and over again. Banksy is famous b/c he presents art in visually innovative ways–not in ways that have already been covered.

      • Kelsey

        Sometimes you need to shock the world. Not to mention I find so much more in this piece than a simple stencil of nyc skyline, the three dimensionality of new growth over what was, and especially the placement and location chosen. Looking at the photo of the people crouched down taking photos, it’s almost like he has created performance art through his simple mark on the concrete. I think this was very thought out.

  • Jan King

    Wow,, there are a lot of critics in here. I would like to know where this is artwork is located please. Thanks

    • Hrag Vartanian

      Just posted the location: Staple and Jay Streets

  • Steve Conroy

    I like this one. Upon initial viewing I thought it was a stencil of the towers and one of the plane impact explosions, upon closer inspection I realize its a flower. I felt the gears shift in my emotional reaction – something important to me in art.

    When viewing this residency like a gallery exhibit, this is a small and, in my opinion, thoughtful piece among 14 others. Some grand and amazing, some simple – all of them Banksy and thought provoking.

  • Robert Boyd

    Isn’t the flower meant to be double-coded? Obviously it’s a thing you leave at a memorial, but it’s also a representation of the first explosion.

    That said, it seems a little wan compared to his other work.

    • mes

      it’s a carnation – a flower traditionally associated with mourning and used at funerals.

  • Steve Conroy

    Question for the author, Hrag: for this piece to be Cliche, it would have had to be done before. Have you seen this take by other artists previously?

    • Hrag Vartanian

      Yes, I’ve seen similar things. A quick Google search, for instance, brings this up:

      • Yes.

        So not that similar. Cool, glad to see you are such an astute critic. Seriously man, you need to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself who the fuck you think you are. Your posts paint you as a bitter fool, no pun intended.

  • The Bronx Art Exchange-NYC

    Serious let down. Why hasn’t Banksy come to the Bronx? If any borough is the epitome of street art it’s “Wild Style” Bronx. In the spirit of Sinead O’Connor, the patron saint of open letters, we’ve written our own in the hope he gets the message.

  • eddie dowling

    It works as dual metaphor and the revelation that it is a flower after it reads at first as an explosion is mildly clever. i don’t see it as a cliche.

  • Renee McCrady

    I think you need to think more Dada regarding this piece, especially in reference to the street art he was selling for pennies. How can you forget the theme of anti-establishment in reference to graffiti tagging?

  • Cage LaCapitan

    Perhaps Bansky intended it to be obvious. I think so. We’ve gotten to the point where how we honor and remember is very removed, very sterilized from what actually happened. We have gotten to the point where the pain has been removed,- not healed but removed- when perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Picasso’s Guernica doesn’t get flak for being very straightforward about it, and neither should this. It’s small it’s tiny it’s not a giant in your face memorial. Also, why must everything have a deeper meaning?? “from dark days flowers grow?” you’re stretching. the flower is an obvious choice to represent an explosion- flowers explode into color, are texturally interesting, and frankly this one looks and feel appropriate. It doesn’t register as A FLOWER but as A FIERY EXPLOSION- round in shape, pointed pedals convey destruction, the orange red yellow all shout fire…

    Some days good art is ruined by over rumination and the attempts to find a deeper meaning that never existed there in the first place. sometimes an artist- even a social commentator as Banksy- feels the need to create a simple message. Why not just let that be?

    • Sonya R Jones

      Flower = explosion. I agree. The meaning will vary for every viewer, just as the meaning of all art should.

  • Mike H.

    One interesting thing to watch. Since there are so many people out there trying to get cheap fame by dissing a Banksy piece. Will anyone have the balls/be so stupid to diss a 9-11 tribute piece?? For the record, I hope not.

  • cls105

    After 911 the US invaded Iraq which had nothing to to do knocking down the towers.

    Now its being reported that Iraqi civilians are having birth defects due to the US Military’s use of depleted Uranium. This is of course after our leaders play the moral highground about using chemical weapons.

    So go ahead, keep talking about the stencil w/ the flower. The most cliche thing about all of this is people not giving a damn about what’s going on.

  • Derek Harms

    Second Twin Towers piece in Brooklyn Heights.

  • beergas

    Shark Jump big time. Should have left it in the bank y’all.

  • Marco

    Something no one has mentioned yet:

    There are buildings in the background that are ethnic, especially to the left, the rounded one. I think this has a lot to do with the self-importance of the Twin Towers in relation to the rest of the world, where so much else is going on every day.

  • alia

    why is this cliche? i like it. like i like the rest of banksy’s work.
    who are they to criticize him anyway? he is an artist and says what he
    says. now all of a sudden these critics have a better artistic
    sensibility than him. maybe they just have unresolved issues with 911
    and cant appreciate ANYTHING that touches on the subject.

    • Hrag Vartanian

      “These critics”? Maybe you can be more specific. Generalizations don’t help much when people are saying different things. My problem with it is that it is not enlightening and doesn’t do anything with the subject that hasn’t been done a million times.

      • alia

        well at this point, by these critics, i mean you. what kind of **new spin*** were you hoping for with this subject?

        • Hrag Vartanian

          I’m not really looking for a spin, but, like I said in the post, I think it feels undeveloped. It may have had a kernel of an idea but I don’t think this was the best way to express it. Feels really flat.

          • alia

            well, my original point stands. imo, thats you, not banksy. you want more. well? guess what? trauma and tragedy are stark and leave you hungry for explanation and closure that never come. i think the simplicity of it is perfect.

          • Hrag Vartanian

            I think you might be projecting things into it that aren’t there, but I guess we’ll have to disagree.

          • alia

            lulz. you think i am projecting something into the art that isnt there? i thought you were an art critic…. are you aware of how art works? objective meaning is usually reserved for science…. yes, lol, we’ll have to disagree. that tends to be how it works with art. if you think there is a right answer, its not surprising you are a critic, and not an artist.

          • Hrag Vartanian

            Actually, you’re the one who thought there is a right answer. I said we disagree and I was fine with that, but then you tried to put me down by saying “its not surprising you are a critic, not an artist.” Which is a silly statement based on some personal bias you have against critics. It also suggests to me that you’re very insecure about disagreeing with someone and leaving it at that.

          • alia

            ok :)

          • Yes.

            Seriously dude, you are the one who wrote a diatribe dissing a sentimental, sweet, and simple piece, a very rare gem, and slapping it with a ‘cliche’ brand while only producing ONE drastically different looking example. Who is really projecting here? We can all see right through you bub

          • Yes.

            A kernel of an idea? So he should have tried to complicate what is a VERY simple idea? Why? How does that make good art? You are simply talking out of your ass here.

      • Yes.

        Ugh. you are such a pompous blowhard. I really hope you don’t take yourself seriously.

  • Helen Glazer

    If you want to see a strong piece about New York and 9/11 that makes people quiet down and pay attention, go see T.J. Wilcox’s video installation at the Whitney and watch the segment where the super of his building recounts his experiences and feelings about that day (no sound, just subtitles). Maybe it’s more powerful because it’s an eyewitness account, and because you’re with him overlooking the part of the city where the Twin Towers no longer stand. As you read his words and in a sense look over his shoulder, it involves you in an act of imagination and visualization. I haven’t given it much thought before reading this discussion, but maybe that’s the difference between a cliched symbol and a richer experience.

  • Gayle Gorman

    cynic. I think it’s beautiful.

  • amandahuginkiss

    I think it’s a little tongue in cheek. And the fact that he makes viewers squat to look at it– There’s more here than meets the eye. Incidentally, I think all of the NY residency pieces are tongue in cheek in different ways. The 9/11 tragedy is monumentalized in the heart and minds of many in many different ways, and this almost seems like a comment about that. He has done the opposite of monumentalizing it here and has instead relegated it to this pint-sized memorial complete with Hallmark greeting style accoutrement. I don’t know what the exact comment is here, but it is interesting nonetheless.

    • tkay

      Could it be that the 9/11 event brought the US to it’s knees and he is reminding us that we will not be able to stand strong until we become humble again ourselves?

  • Wangchuck

    Banksy is more crap out of the UK art scene, not unlike Damian Hirsch in terms of the amount of hot air goes around his pieces.

  • Garric Simonsen

    …”surprised at how cliché this particular piece seems.” #really?

  • PaigePyramid

    banksy is very much a reflection of our current culture: boring, numb, unemotional and devoid of any style — this is why he is so infamous, not because the work is superb. he’s a puppet show for the simple minded.

  • videojay

    Here’s one thing I’ve never understood: how can anyone be sure it’s actually Banksy’s work?

    • Hrag Vartanian

      When it is posted on his official website it is considered by Banksy.

  • tkay

    I think the guy who stole the flower off of the Brooklyn Heights piece will get more of a reaction than Banksy himself. And I would hate to be the woman who allowed her dog to piss on it.

  • Six Centz / Banksy 9/11 Mural Vandalized over Protest of the Destruction of 5Pointz

  • Six Centz

    Banksy 9/11 Mural Vandalized over protest of the destruction of 5 pointz

  • Yes.

    I think your problem was thinking a graffitti artists of his stature is inherently profound. The dude made serious waves and will never be forgotten, but I never subscribed to him as an artistic genius or anything. Maybe that’s your problem

  • willy

    It’s pretty obvious your grasp on the definition of cliché is lacking at best, this article is essentially a compilation of drivel. I leave this garbage only content in the fact that I wasted less of my life reading it than you did “writing” it, and since no comment is complete without a healthy dosage of constructive criticism, I’d suggest you pick a different career path, unless you’re satisfied living your life basically surrounded by pitiful mediocrity.

    • Hrag Vartanian

      Oh look, a Banksy fan boy!

  • Evan Wilson


  • owen

    Banksy is a well oiled PR machine

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