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Last NYC Banksy Is Full of Hot Air, Cops Arrest Potential Thieves [UPDATE 5]

by Hrag Vartanian on October 31, 2013

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This is it … Banky’s final New York residency artwork. It’s in Queens.

Over the background of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” the wryly deprecating audio guide begins, “Well, this is the last day of the show and I’d like to say we’re going out on a high note … and I guess in a way we are.”

Banksy’s work is an homage to the ubiquitous bubble letters of graffiti in the city that invented graffiti in the modern era, according to Banksy’s audio guide.

“It has been an interesting experiment but is there an cohesive message behind it?” The narrator asks.

And Banksy makes his case with a mini-manifesto:

“Banksy asserts that outside is where art should live amongst us. And rather than street art being a fad, maybe it is the last thousand years of art history is a blip when art came inside in service of the church and institutions. But art’s rightful place is on the cave walls of our communities where it can act as a public service, provoke debate, voice concerns, forge identities. The world we live in today is run — visually at least, by traffic signs, billboards, and planning committees, is that it? Don’t we want to live in a world made of art not justdecorated by it?”

What do you think?

We’ll have updates from last night’s piece in the Bronx and today’s work in Queens shortly. Stay tuned, and expect my thoughts on the matter on Monday.

In the meantime, this work is located at 35th Street and Borden Avenue in Long Island City, Queens.

Update, 12:28pm EDT: We’re on the scene; here are some images — a man (in the lower right corner of the second image) appears poised to take the work, 911 has been called.



Update 2, 12:37pm EDT: A man has successfully taken down the work, and has been arrested. Here’s our video from the scene.

Update 3, 12:50pm EDT: Goodbye to all that.

Update 4, 1:30pm EDT: What a scene. We arrived to find the Banksy piece intact and a handful of people standing around taking pictures. It’s unclear who owns the building it was placed on, but the lot below is employee parking for a company across the street. Soon after we arrived, workers closed off the lot because someone had stepped on and dented the roof of a car parked there. “So this sign [the Banksy] just cost someone a couple thousand dollars,” one of the workers told me. “And I don’t even know what it is.” I offered to explain it, but he said “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” None of the workers were happy about all the commotion and the way the Banksy had disrupted their work (including causing a traffic jam).

A young man in a gray hoodie and baseball hat climbed up onto the billboard ledge below the work by way of the fence, and he started trying to set the Banksy free. He untied or cut the strings holding it on bottom, but he couldn’t reach the ones on top. He was communicating with a friend on the ground. I asked the friend if they wanted to sell the piece if they managed to get a hold of it. “Yeah, I mean, if we could get a lot of money,” he answered.

But the first guy was up on the grating for at least half an hour by himself, and he was at a loss for what to do or how to reach the top. He alternated between tugging on the strings and sitting on the ledge, looking forlorn and confused. He would also periodically try to halfheartedly hide his face, as if he were suddenly remembering that what he was doing was illegal. Someone appeared with a ladder, but it took an inordinately long amount of time for the guy and his friends to figure out what to do with it. Finally another man in a blue hoodie climbed up, and the two of them hauled the ladder up and got to work cutting the strings on the Banksy.

In the meantime, the crowd was shouting at them (“get the fuck out of Queens!”), and both the workers who park in the lot and another bystander called the police. (The bystander said he called 911.) The two would-be thieves freed the work and were on their way down with it, via a parked truck, as a crowd formed on the ground to stop them. At that exact moment, the cops pulled up and a fight broke out, as you can see in the video above.

The cops were very aggressive about pushing the crowd back as they tried to figure out what was going on. Even though Banksy’s been in town for a month, they didn’t seem to know what the work was. One of the cops asked the first would-be thief if the giant balloon was his, and he answered, “yeah, it’s mine.” The crowd quickly corrected him.

After a lot of talking, the cops arrested both of the attempting thieves. As the first one was being pushed into a squad car, someone asked him his name. I thought he said “Soner,” but someone posted “@novernyc” on an Instagram that I shot of him. Either way, there seems a good chance he’s a graffiti writer. A number of commenters on my Instagram said they had seen the second arrestee, in the blue hoodie, last night at the Banksy at Yankee Stadium. One person said he “seemed shifty.”

The hero of the day was a man named Malcolm, whom you can see on the right here:

He was the main force in stopping the two guys from getting away with the work.

Once the arrests were done, the cops had to figure out what to do with the piece. They didn’t seem quite sure what to make of an oversize spraypainted balloon worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. (I’m not even sure they knew it was worth that much.) While everyone was standing and waiting around, they also managed to arrest two more people, who knows what for. A few minutes later a van drove up, and the cops proceeded to stuff the work into the back. It seemed a fitting end for Banksy’s residency. The NYPD caught up with him finally … but it was too late. —Jillian Steinhauer

UPDATE 5, 5:15pm EDT: What a crazy few days for the finale of Banksy. Last night, I ventured to the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx, which is located beside Yankee Stadium to see the “Bronx Zoo” piece we reported last night.

The Bronx Zoo piece last night in Highbridge, Bronx at around 9pm EDT. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

The Bronx Zoo piece last night in Highbridge, Bronx at around 9pm EDT. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

The mood was the most friendly yet, as people congregated on the sidewalk to talk photos (lots and lots of them) and I spoke to a local middle-aged woman, Molly, who explained that she walked by the spot roughly at 2:30pm EDT and there was no art work then. “I think it’s beautiful, I like his work. I know it’s controversial but that’s what life is all about,” she said.

“I’m excited that he came to the Bronx. I know a lot of people don’t like him or don’t like the work, but you know that’s what art is all about … to be able to express yourself,” she added. “This area is predominantly Hispanic and I’m seeing … you know … I was like wait a minute what happened here,” she said, referring to the crowd that was largely non-Hispanic.

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Another pair, Silvia of Forest Hills and Brian of Downtown Brooklyn, at the scene seemed very excited to be there and take in the general sense of community — called “Banksy Hunters” — that has congealed around the Banksy. They explained they had seen everything except five or six works.

“I think it’s one of his best, it’s really very cool,” Brian said.

“I’m actually really sad now [this is over] … this is so cool, like a little community. Like you and I, we would’ve never bonded on another street,” Silvia said. “And then all these people. Some dude just gave me a hug, a six second hug … just because we bonded. A Banksy hug.”

The scene around the Bronx Zoo work last night at roughly 9:30pm (click to enlarge)

The scene around the Bronx Zoo work last night at roughly 9:30pm (click to enlarge)

The Bronx Zoo work.

The Bronx Zoo work.

After seeing the “Bronx Zoo” I swung by the Gramercy Banksy for some nightime shots and a very tired guard was standing there:

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And today, the scene was a little more “business” as they say, in terms of hardcore fans and media being on the scene. I met Aymann Ismail, a photographer and blogger for Animal New York has been covering Banksy all month, and he spoke to us before the attempted theft and police activity about the whole experiment and today’s work in general.

“I love it, it is the best piece to end on, a nod to traditional graffiti — writing in the bubble letters — and he did it in Queens, which is the home of five points. He didn’t do it anywhere on the side streets, he didn’t make it hard to see. People driving up and down the streets can see it and he wrote a nice little letter on his website, a goodbye … I feel closure,” he said.

Ismail also explained that he’s glad Banksy never put up a work at the renowned graffiti hub in Long Island City, 5Pointz, which is only a few minutes away from where this final work appeared.

“5Pointz means a lot to a lot of people who don’t like Banksy, because he comes from the street art world and 5Pointz means a lot to the graffiti world, so I feel like it was good that he mentioned it and said Save 5Pointz on his website, but he didn’t actually go to cover someone else’s work,” Ismail said.

“I grew up on Banksy … so I never thought I’d have the chance to see them in person. At one point and went to London and was photographing the street art there … we were looking for the Banksy pieces but lots of them are gone. Working for Animal and trying to find them first is the best thing that can happen to a Banksy fan,” he said.

The following are various photos from today that documents the activity at the site and the removal of the work, and the eventual arrest of various people.

A view of the work from inside the parking lot, which was later closed to gawkers when someone stepped on car's roof and dented it.

A view of the work from inside the parking lot, which was later closed to gawkers when someone stepped on car’s roof and dented it.

A side view allowed you to see the balloons clearly separated from the wall.

A side view allowed you to see the balloons clearly separated from the wall.

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One of the potential thieves on the billboard ledge.

One of the potential thieves on the billboard ledge.

His friends bring a ladder.

His friends bring a ladder.

The men use a ladder to get up there.

The men use a ladder to get up there.

The Banksy coming down.

The Banksy coming down.

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One of the men arrested with a NYPD officier and the balloon.

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Another man arrested for what appeared to be obstructing police activity.

Another man arrested for what appeared to be obstructing police activity.

And you may be interested to know that New York costume/makeup chain Ricky’s is also selling a Banksy outfit kit, according to Instagram user @poni_boy:

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 5.18.05 PM

And there are questions about whether there are other Banksys that have not been made “official” by the Banksy team.

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  • JJ

    So much shit goes down for a banksy piece.

    If you like this I’d check out http://www.timothywatters.com

  • http://firstproofprints.com/ J Redmann

    I have some real qualms with the mini-manifesto. Specifically: some art is better than other art and as such deserves to be preserved.

    And…putting art on the same plane as a traffic sign is silly because the function of a traffic sign isn’t to be an objet de’art. Could it exist dually? Perhaps but I think the two are mutually exclusive (the less visually offensive it is, the less you notice, the less you notice the less you pay attention).

    EDIT: Oh and I’m bummed he didn’t hit 5 pointz before it gets demo’d. I thought for sure that would be his last piece.

    • damien

      That’s what I was hoping for… Why doesn’t Banksy do something useful and put up an image somewhere in #5POINTZ ? Wouldn’t it have been exponentially more interesting to see how the fight to keep 5 Pointz alive potentially shifts afterwards?

      • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

        Some people I spoke to seemed to think he might have been afraid of covering other people’s work (and maybe the high visibility of the location), which are both legitimate issues/concerns.

  • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

    In the video, yes, they weren’t aggressive (though I, who filmed it, was right by them and I think my Halloween costume somehow made me invisible to them or something so they were not pushing me back at first), but as time went on they became more aggressive and actually arrested two people who, in their perspective, were getting in their way.

  • punktoad

    Interesting little manifesto. When you think about what it costs to get into MOMA now and how bombarded we are in the ever expanding ad-space it makes a lot of sense.

  • mazi

    after the incident near central park (the table selling banksy canvases; where the buyers may or may not have been part of it), I’m super aware of the potential street theater going on here. In other words, I don’t trust anything is as it seems: maybe everyone here is on banksy’s payroll? lol

  • http://twitter.com/toddflorio Todd Florio

    That strawberry hat is FRESH! Also, it’s ridiculous that anyone should be arrested for stealing a Banksy. I’m sure he’d be fine with it being stolen. Also it seems to me to be the removal of an illegally placed artwork shouldn’t be a crime. But whatever. I’m glad this whole ridiculousness is over. The Bronx Zoo piece is excellent though.

  • Jillian Steinhauer

    Just because they didn’t beat anyone doesn’t mean they weren’t aggressive! Trust me, they were hostile.

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