Banksy, the Scarlet Pimpernel of the art world, is in New York. Or was.
Whoever Banksy may be, he’s opened the Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill in New York’s West Village.
It features animatronics developed by “some Hollywoodish company”. Set in a shopfront Sweeny Todd would own if he were into animals, a rabbit paints its nails, chicken nuggets feed from a dish of sauce, fish fingers swim in a bowl, hot dogs burrow and frolic in terrariums, CCTV cameras look after their young, a leopard print coat perches atop a tree, and a bald, caged, suicidal-looking Tweety swings back and forth in his cage.
Banksy is no stranger to installations. In 2005 in London’s Notting Hill, he filled a shop front with live rats and his painted reworkings of the sort of thing you would see in the National Gallery and called it Crude Oils.
The difference here is that nothing is for sale. Nothing is signed, nothing is commodified. The actors manning the shop play every bit the New York pet shop owner.
One of the pet shop owners is a tutor at the School of Visual Arts, Marty Abrahams. His son was approached by Banksy’s people with an offer of a short term job for Marty with some “acting involved”.
Reaction from the natives has been anything from asking to buy the entire show (nothing is for sale, but the “souvenirs” will probably end up on eBay) to befuddlement to “it’s a metaphor – we start off as chicken nuggets, graduate to hot dogs then turn into the masturbating monkey”.
Banksy gives his own reasons for the show. “New Yorkers don’t care about art, they care about pets. So I’m exhibiting them instead. I wanted to make art that questioned our relationship with animals and the ethics and sustainability of factory farming, but it ended up as chicken nuggets singing. I took all the money I made exploiting an animal in my last show and used it to fund a new show about the exploitation of animals. If its art and you can see it from the street, I guess it could still be considered street art.”
Banksy stalkers and “those in the know” have been chattering about “something big” by Britain’s favourite vandal for months. However, his publicist and anyone “official” will only say that there is a new pet store in New York.
The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill is open to the public until 31 October on 89 7th Avenue, New York City and can be viewed any time day or night, inside or out.
This article was orginally published on Sky News Online on 10 October 2008. All rights reserved.