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Banksy’s Granny

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Provenance and authenticity are always problems for art investors. How do you know it’s the real thing? So much more of a problem when the work of art or otherwise is a stencil on a wall that appears overnight. Banksy has posed a difficulty to collectors – even if it’s real, who owns that wall, and can I please take a chunk of it away? It has happened. These days you look for a Perspex covering to tell you if it’s just some schmuck graffiti-ing the wall or a Banksy worth it’s weight in gold bricks. Excitement followed by despair modulated by an upbeat local story then for North-West Londoners who found in Primrose Hill, Belsize Park and Kentish Town a series of grannies clasping kettles to their comfy bosoms next to the words: ‘Make tea not war’. A most suitable image for the leafier parts of Camden.

This one in Belsize Park comes complete with a Perspex covering. Surely a Banksy? The Camden New Journal quivered with excitement. But it was actually Mrs Beechey, who used to run that nice hardware shop in Regent’s Park Road. An unknown graffiti artist (Banksy declared the work not his – odd for someone who seemed to want to mix up the art market) was paying homage to the shop when it closed down. Mystery sort of solved, and Mrs B. tickled pink, but what about the uncanny Onion piece in June? Could it be a double bluff? Mrs Beechey is Banksy? Or a triple bluff: Banksy has been running that hardware store all these decades fronting for Mrs Beechey while she raced round the country spraying stencils.

Almost as exciting is the idea of Camden Council getting to grips with what is and isn’t good art on walls, now that some of them are worth a packet, by setting up a committee to make a team judgment on each new tag. Will there be a right of appeal by the artists who are turned down in the process? At least we will now have somewhere to go when we just don’t know if a picture is a work of art or an excrescence.


  1. A.J.P. Crown says:

    It’s not as clear an image as Banksy makes. His work is very good technically.

    This newspaper thing “Is it art?” may sell papers, but otherwise it’s a worthless question that only encourages ignorant people in thinking that their opinion is just as valuable as someone who knows what they’re talking about. It’s something they’d never dare to do with other subjects; you don’t see the Independent asking “But is it science?”.

  2. alex says:

    I disagree with A.J.P. Crown. Art is addressed alike to the knowledgeable and the ignorant, so the latter’s opinion is important, including in the process of definition. Anyway, as Henry James pointed out, most discussion of aesthetic principles is arbitrary; the only worthwhile question being ‘is it interesting?’
    If I were asked to authenticate a Banksy, I think the first question I’d ask is ‘is it annoying?’.

    • A.J.P. Crown says:

      Art is addressed alike to the knowledgeable and the ignorant,

      Yeah? Too bad for you Mrs Thatcher’s not around. She liked people who thought art education was worthless.

  3. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I now see it’s a photograph taken in a shop window with reflections. Maybe it’s not as bad quality as I’d thought.

  4. Vance Maverick says:

    Here’s a clearer image, without the Plexiglas. (Click through for detail.) I agree with AJP still, though, that this is not as lucidly drawn as a good Banksy stencil — whatever that is between her chin and the teapot is a muddle.

  5. A.J.P. Crown says:

    The best definition is that something is art if the person who creates it says it is. So yes, if your uncle who embroiders cushions says they’re art, then they are, and if Banksy says his work is art then it’s not up to some accountant on the local council to say different. You don’t need an art degree to pronounce on art, but your opinion is more valuable if you have studied it or, at least, have some interest in art — unlike most journalists, apparently.

    Alex, I’m sorry I was so rude; I got over-excited because I thought of Mrs Thatcher and art.

    • Geoff Roberts says:

      First, many thanks for that review in this issue of LRB! Looks as if art has reached the suburbs, which in my recollection of how they look, can only mean an improvement.

    • Bad Bart says:

      Thanks for the response. Sorry if I was rude. I was just taken aback at the seeming elitism in your comment. It makes more sense now.

  6. alex says:

    It’s ok, A.J.P., i’m not sulking, i’m travelling, so can’t reply very promptly. I value forthrightness and I didn’t think your reply rude.
    there’s an interesting discussion in an old E.H. Gombrich lecture, “In Search of Cultural History”. Gombrich says some specialists in art & culture fantasize about their discipline becoming a science (Kulturwissenschaft) – greater authority to the expert. But E.H.G. he say no, this is to mistake the function of culture, which should subsume and converse with the sensibility of the wider public (he doesn’t say ‘masses’) in a way that an engineer, say, doesn’t have to consider.

    • A.J.P. Crown says:

      Oh, good. Well, thanks for the Gombrich reference & quote — it’s also a mistake to confuse the functions of culture and propaganda, which it sounds like Sir Ernst may have been doing. And if only engineers did converse with the sensibility of a wider public; that they don’t have to bother just shows that we’re desperate for a bridge or a sewage plant in a way that we aren’t for a new work by Mrs Beechey.

  7. Joe Morison says:

    Duchamp showed us that anything can be art if we look at it in the right way. John Cage did the same for sounds and music. It’s a brilliant insight and one we needed; but having grasped it, surely the work of the artist is to produce something that in itself has a quality that encourages that aesthetic perception? So, yes, perhaps it’s art if its creator says it is; or perhaps it’s art if the person viewing it says it is; but i would say that it’s only good art if it takes us somewhere interesting.

    • A.J.P. Crown says:

      I like that picture of the two guys pissing on his urinal. I wonder who cleaned it up afterwards?

    • Phil says:

      Thanks for mentioning that piece on Cage, as it gives me a chance to comment on it without the bother of writing to the Letters page. Richardson concludes

      as Gann notes, and as the obituaries attest, ‘4’33” is one of the best understood pieces in avant-garde 20th-century music. Cage got his point across.’ Because, though so many artists and ideas influenced it, his point is beautifully simple. We are never without music, Cage says, whenever we remember to listen – the composer doesn’t need to create it, so much as let it happen.

      But surely what 4′ 33″ demonstrates is that we are never without sound. In that sense it was not so much emblematic of Cage’s work as a reductio ad absurdum of it. Cage’s work repeatedly asserted – and Cage’s work in performance, thanks to its ability to draw an audience, repeatedly demonstrated – that “music” is not a property of sound, any more than “art” is a property of line and colour: sound becomes music, Humpty-Dumpty-like, when the composer says so. (As long as the audience agrees, I suppose – but you can pretty much always find an audience to agree, or even (as in this case) find an audience to give a second opinion if the original audience does disagree.) You could call it sacramental, the composer endowing his assemblage of unpredictable sound with the numen of music; equally, you could call it a conjuring trick. Either way, 4′ 33″ could only really work because audiences were already inured to the move of “let sound equal music” – actually a far more radical move than the postscript of “let silence equal sound”.

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