That Banksy in Melbourne video, and the perils of anonymity

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​There’s a lot to be said for anonymity – just ask any online troll hiding behind a fake name. But it has its downside too, as Banksy might attest.


Anyone can claim to be Banksy and there’s not much the real Banksy can do about it without unmasking himself. You could claim to be Banksy, I could say I’m Banksy (and so is my wife), and no one could prove it wasn’t true. Je suis Banksy indeed.

This week, video surfaced of the world’s most famous street artist spray painting a wall in Melbourne. The footage – which has been viewed almost half a million times since Tuesday – was shot and uploaded to YouTube by Mia S. It is her only YouTube upload.

A link to this video was emailed to a number of media outlets (though not this one) by one Mia Stern. Ms Stern is a former employee of Fairfax Media whose linkedin profile describes her as a “digital-savvy multimedia professional with over 7 years experience in Melbourne and London”. Presumably she can now add “has a fortuitous gift forstumbling into Banksyin the dead of night” to her CV.

Though the video is an obvious and fairly clumsy fake, AAP reported it straight, and a variety of other media outlets (including Channel Nine) both in Australia and abroad ran it the same way.

Of course, the story flourished because the only person who could definitively prove it was bollocks couldn’t say so.

Just last monthBanksy was “outed” as Robert del Naja, the founder and frontman of Massive Attack. Never mind that Craig Williams,the young journalist who joined the dots, doesn’t think del Naja is Banksy (or at least doesn’t think only del Naja is Banksy; he suspects Banksy is a collective of artists linked to Massive Attack). Much of the media ran with it as definitive proof, and they could report it that way because who could refute it? Certainly not Banksy.

This week’s faux Banksy video appeared to be tied to the exhibition of his work that opened on Thursday in Melbourne, though the PR firm working for the promoter of the show swears it wasn’t involved and doesn’t know who was.

That exhibitionincludes 80 works by Banksy. At least, we’re told they are works by Banksy. But how do you establish provenance when the signature is typographic and the works are by their nature easily replicable by anyone with a stencil and a spray can? This is art in the age of mechanical reproduction, with the mechanics reduced to the bare minimum and the notion of the artist as “author” of the work all but shredded.

Local street artist CDH promised to take this question to its logical extreme with a stall set up outside the exhibition to sellBanksyforgeries and a Banksy-on-concrete-slabwork for sale in portions. “Patrons willbe able tobuythe work by the gram,$1 per gram,” CDH promised. ” ‘How many grams ofBanksyart would you like to buy?’ We’ll then chisel pieces off the slab, weight it out andcharge people based on the weight.”

The works in the exhibition proper are brought to us bySteveLazarides, a London-based art dealerwhose greatest claim to fame is that he was onceBanksy’smanager. Or maybe his agent. They met in 2001 whenBanksywas beingphotographedfor the Bristol street magazineSleaze Nation, whereLazarideswas picture editor.

Lazaridesreportedly played a major handin taking Banksy’s work from Main Street to the mainstream, a leap that saw the six-metre-long stencil-on-board workLaugh Now– originally commissioned for a bar in Banksy’s hometown of Brighton – sell for £228,000 at an auction at Bonhams in February, 2008.

As it happened, that was the height of street-art mania. Still, Banksy’s work continues tocommandbig sums. A painting calledThink Tank, from the seriesthat begatthe cover of Blur’s 2003 album of the same name,sold in 2013 at Sotheby’s for £397,250, more than twice its estimate.

At any rate, the relationship between Lazarides and Banksy ended in 2009. As he notes onhis own website, Banksy “is NOT … represented by Steve Lazarides or any other commercial gallery”.

Then again, is it really Banksy saying that? Who really knows?

Karl Quinn is on facebook atkarlquinnjournalistand on [email protected]