Art & Design
12:02 pm
Wed October 23, 2013

Getting 'Banksied' Comes With A Price — And Maybe A Paycheck

Originally published on Wed October 23, 2013 2:04 pm

The elusive British graffiti artist Banksy has taken to the streets of New York this month, tagging buildings throughout the city. Last week we brought you the story of his fans, who have been on the hunt, early each day, to find his latest creation. They have to move quickly; Banksy creations are often vandalized after their locations become known.

But in a city full of people searching for Banksy, a few lucky New Yorkers have found that Banksy comes to them. What happens when the artist, whose work has sold at auction for more than $1 million, chooses your address and your wall for his canvas?

Last week, Banksy graffitied a building in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg that's owned by Cara Tabachnick's family. "I was actually screaming with excitement," Tabachnick tells NPR's Audie Cornish, "and my sister said, 'Who's Banksy?' "

Tabachnick talks to Cornish about life as an unexpected owner of a Banksy original, a vandal's attack, her family's improvised system of "viewing hours," and what they might do next.


Interview Highlights

On the new artwork decorating her family's building

There's a covered window where the basement windows used to be, and it has a brick archway over it that resembles a bridge. And he had stenciled two sort of geishas walking over the bridge. One is holding an umbrella, and one is holding a fan. And in the bottom left there's a tree that spreads out that almost touches the women. It really is a beautiful piece, and they're stenciled through the brickwork, so it looks like they're on the bridge.

On how she discovered that their building had been painted

Well, it all started with about 500 people gathering at the building on the morning the Banksy was painted, and a panicked text from my father, who has a business in the bottom of the building, saying, "Our building got Banksied and there's a crowd gathering outside. What do we do?"

On what this means for her family, and how they're responding to their new art

We're still figuring out what it means. Our first instinct was to protect it, and it still is our instinct. But we didn't understand or realize that of all the people that love and appreciate Banksy, there's another cohort of people that are out there to destroy him. And every day we are contending not only with people that come to look at the artwork, but people that are coming to try and destroy it.

On the first day of the unveiling, if we can call it "unveiling," we had somebody come and spray-paint over the painting, and the crowd assembled and attacked the spray-painter and knocked him to the ground. And we were able to rescue the spray paint, because it happened so quickly, with alcohol swabs. We were able to take off the spray paint over the painting. But that sort of introduced us to the understanding that, wow, there's going to be a lot of people out here, and they're going to go to many, many lengths to try to destroy this painting.

On how they protect the art from vandalism

At the beginning, after the incident happened, when we first had the spray paint, my dad decided to hire a security guard to stand outside to help a little bit. We called the police, I mean, we didn't really know what to do, so we decided to just have somebody we knew from the neighborhood stand outside and try to control people from attacking the painting or the crowd. Then we had a regular roll-down garage metal gate put up on the wall, so it's only raised, I guess, for right now, for viewing hours ... at this point, I mean it's almost like its own little street-side museum.

On their future plans — and Banksy's stated belief that street art should "stay where it belongs" and not be sold

It leaves us in a sticky place ... he's putting artwork on our wall that now we're expected either to protect or let it be destroyed, and we can't sell it. And we don't necessarily want to sell it; we don't know yet.

But I have been approached by a gallerist, and this is something that this gallery specializes in. They could come, take down the wall, put it up for auction ... and that could be the route that we go. It puts us in a conundrum, I mean, we believe — I think we truly believe — that this art is for the public. But we're also not equipped to serve the public's needs.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The elusive British graffiti artist Banksy has taken to the streets of New York this month, tagging buildings throughout the city. Last week, we brought you the story of his fans who've been on the hunt, early each day, to find his latest creation.

AYMANN ISMAIL: The plan every time is you just kind of go and hope you run into it before anybody else does. So it really is just like kind of luck.

ROBERT DUNNING: It's a treasure hunt every day. Who doesn't love a treasure hunt?

CORNISH: Aymann Ismail and Robert Dunning, just two of the many fans scouring the city for the latest Banksy.

But what if the artist - whose work has sold at auction for more than a million dollars - chooses your address and your wall for his canvas?

CARA TABACHNICK: I was actually screaming with excitement.

(LAUGHTER)

TABACHNICK: And my sister said, who's Banksy?

CORNISH: That's what happened to Cara Tabachnick. Banksy graffitied her family's building in Williamsburg last week.

So, tell us what it looks like.

TABACHNICK: There's a covered window where the basement windows used to be, and it has a brick archway over it that resembles a bridge. And he had stenciled two sort of geishas walking over the bridge, one is holding an umbrella and one is holding a fan. And then on the bottom left, there's a tree that spreads out that almost touches the women. It really is a beautiful piece. And they're stenciled through the brick work.

CORNISH: Like these two black silhouettes that are crossing the bridge.

TABACHNICK: Exactly.

It really is a beautiful piece, and they're stenciled through the brickwork.

CORNISH: Like these two black silhouettes are crossing the bridge.

TABACHNICK: Exactly.

CORNISH: Now, what does this mean for you, though? Are people flocking to the building? I mean, do you have a kind of daily audience for this work?

TABACHNICK: Well, it all started with about 500 people gathering at the building on the morning the Banksy was painted, and a panicked text from my father, who has a business in the bottom of the building, saying, our building got Banksied and there's a crowd gathering outside. What do we do?

CORNISH: Banksied like as a verb. You've been Banksied.

(LAUGHTER)

TABACHNICK: It has become a verb.

CORNISH: So what does that mean for you? I mean, your first instinct was to, what, protect it, paint it over? I mean, what was the thinking?

TABACHNICK: We're still figuring out what it means. Our first instinct was to protect it. But we didn't understand or realize that of all the people that love and appreciate Banksy, there's another cohort of people that are out there to destroy him. On the first day of the unveiling - if we can call it the unveiling - we had somebody come and spray-paint over the painting, and the crowd assembled had attacked the spray painter and knocked him to the ground.

And we were able to rescue the spray paint because it happened so quickly, we have alcohol swabs. We were able to take off the spray paint over the painting. But that sort of introduced us to the understanding that, wow, there's going to be a lot of people out here and they're going to go to many, many lengths to try to destroy this painting.

CORNISH: So you've had to play host, protector and restorer.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: I mean, what's been involved here, security guards, gates?

TABACHNICK: We called the police. I mean, we didn't really know what to do, and so we decided to just have somebody we knew from the neighborhood stand outside. Then we had a regular roll-down garage metal gate put up on the wall, so it's only raised, I guess, for - right now, for viewing hours. It's...

(LAUGHTER)

TABACHNICK: At this point, I mean, it's almost like its own little street-side museum.

CORNISH: Now, you could also make a lot of money off of this. I mean, as we mentioned, a Banksy mural sold this past summer for $1.1 million. Although, at the same time, Banksy himself, he said, for the sake of keeping all street art where it belongs, I'd encourage people not to buy anything by anybody unless it was created for sale in the first place. Where does that leave you?

TABACHNICK: It leaves us in a sticky place. It's almost he's putting artwork on our wall that now we're expected either to protect or let it be destroyed, and we can't sell it. And we don't necessarily want to sell it. We don't really know yet. But I have been approached by a gallerist, and this is something that this gallery specializes in.

They could come, take down the wall, put it up for auction, and that could be the route that we go. It puts us in a conundrum. I mean, we believe - I think we truly believe that this art is for the public. But we're also not equipped to serve the public's needs.

CORNISH: Well, thanks so much for talking with us.

TABACHNICK: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Cara Tabachnick, a building owned by her family was tagged by the artist, Banksy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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