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It's Nelly's World

Art Persists

alec vanderboom


With pretty much everything sliding into the crapper--my personal life, London, the stock market, and new power to the Tea Party front for the corporate interests that won't stop until they've sucked us dry like the world's freaking biggest mosquito, the government having run out of repellent--it didn't look like there was any bright spot anywhere in my vicinity. Until my son and I leaned back last night and gave ourselves up to a film.

Last Christmas I had gravely disconcerted him. We needed something new for the top of the tree. When I stumbled on the image of the dove of peace, above--sporting flak vest and a laser target on his chest--I knew I'd found the perfect thing. So Today. (Unfortunately, also so Yesterday and Tomorrow.) I printed it and tied it on with a silk ribbon. I then had my very own Banksy for the tree; my son, thankfully not yet attuned to the sad ironies of the grownup world, was disturbed. I told him I found it oddly hopeful: at least someone was watching, and speaking the truth. With the keen succinctness of art.

Banksy is a British street artist whose work is subversive, haunting, poignant, knife-sharp, humorous and/or disturbing. It's unrelentingly smart. And--though this seems painfully obvious, even if to me it is the point--he has always done it because he had to, not because he was making things to sell. A lot of it was precisely observant of the institution of commerce, in fact, though one cannot really blame him for the eventuality that its very success in this endeavor has lately made it hugely valuable in the buy-
and-sell art world.

The art world makes me want to vomit, actually, not only because it is filled with reprehensible characters who position their impossibly fashionable selves at the sharp pinnacle of the food chain, but because they eat artists whole and spit out their bones on the sidewalk. I had a taste of this (um, not an artist) working in a gallery in the eighties, and dating an artist. And now I know brilliant artists who can't get the time of day from a gallery; thus they are in despair almost to the point of giving up their work.

Don't give up--take it to the streets! That, in part, is the message of hope in Banksy's marvelous, surprising movie Exit Through the Gift Shop. It is a window on the life of the enlivening world of street art (aka graffiti, in some sense, but a full bloomed, legitimate genre of its own). And it is a subtle, wise discussion of commerce, the necessity of persisting against difficulties, and true art vs. simulacra produced for the purpose of selling--and the fact that the public is often so stupid they can't tell the diff
erence.

I needed to watch this, right now, at this very moment, it seems. Giving up, in every particular, had been looking like the informed choice. But now I don't think I should. Nor should any of us. We need to take to the streets, because that is what is left to us now. There, we can make people wonder. Make people see. Make art, and persist.