Graffiti Adorns New Gallery
Mysterious Art May Be Banksy’s
by Erica Orden
September 25, 2008
The dealer who represents the infamous British artist Banksy is opening his first gallery in New York. Steve Lazarides, who owns Lazarides Gallery, which has four outposts in and around London, will open a pop-up gallery in a former restaurant-supply store on the corner of Bowery and Houston Street beginning tomorrow.
The show, “The Outsiders,” which will be open for two weeks, features new work from Mr. Lazarides’s stable of provocative artists, including a portrait of President Bush made out of bits of pornography [See related articles with larger images below] and two large murals adorning the exterior of the gallery.
Mr. Lazarides has denied rumors of Banksy’s participation in the show. But over the past week, street art and graffiti, some of it in the style closely associated with Banksy, has emerged on the stretch of Houston between Bowery and Elizabeth Street, suggesting the presence of the elusive prankster.
“No, there’s nothing by him in the show at all,” Mr. Lazarides said of Banksy’s participation. “He’s just planning his own big shows at the moment, so he didn’t have time to contribute.”
Since Sunday, however, graphic images, including posters of Senator Obama dressed as Superman, Warhol-style images of Marilyn Monroe with Monroe’s face replaced by that of Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, or Leonard Nimoy, and a Degas dancer on crutches, have emerged on the concrete construction barriers, portable toilets, and pieces of detritus littering Houston Street west of the Bowery. Banksy’s work often includes stenciled images of pop-culture icons in appropriated scenarios. His work “Napalm” (2004), which was shown at the Vanina Holasek Gallery in Chelsea in December 2007, depicted Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald escorting the naked Vietnamese girl from Nick àšt’s Vietnam War-era photograph. The show at Holasek also included a Warhol-style print of Kate Moss as Marilyn Monroe.
Mr. Lazarides denied any association between his gallery and the graffiti, but said he welcomed the attention and encouraged the ingenuity. “Those aren’t part of the show, but it’s nice to see that people are putting some stuff up and around,” he said.
Mr. Lazarides has also been coy about the provenance of one piece of art, described mysteriously in press materials as a “secret work” that “will provide a certain famous lady with some much needed funding for her forthcoming presidential campaign.” The day before the press preview of the show, Mr. Lazarides was unwilling to disclose any more specific information and said he was unsure whether the work would ultimately make it to the gallery. “It’s still in Customs,” Mr. Lazarides said. “So hopefully it will turn up.”
Though Mr. Lazarides represents several other well-known artists, including Jonathan Yeo, Miranda Donovan, Invader, and the artist collective Faile, whose work was part of the Tate Modern’s first major public museum display of street art in May 2008, Banksy is by far his most famous client. Best known for sneaking his work into museums such as the Tate Modern, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, and for stunts such as filling a gallery with live rats, Banksy’s identity remains a mystery, and much press attention has been devoted to disclosing his face and name. In July, the British newspaper the Daily Mail claimed it had identified him as a 34-year-old from Bristol named Rob Gunningham, but a spokeswoman for the artist denied the speculation.
The Lazarides galleries have a reputation for sensation. The gallery’s original space in London’s Soho is a former S and M store, and its lower level still bears a sign reading “the dungeon.” The Lazarides Web site says the gallery represents “photographers, sculptors, agent provocateurs and even taxidermists.”
Mr. Lazarides’s galleries also have a reputation for success. In 2007, Mr. Lazarides sold an entire exhibition of one his artists, Paul Insect, to the artist Damien Hirst. Mr. Insect had never before had a gallery show. A show of paintings by Antony Micallef sold out in half an hour. Mr. Lazarides attributes his broader success to the insatiable public interest in his enigmatic client. “Banksy has given me complete commercial freedom,” Mr. Lazarides told the Daily Telegraph. “But he has also been the catalyst for lots of other artists. He has got a new breed of people buying Contemporary art, everyone from hedge-fund managers to pop stars.”
Mr. Lazarides, who opened his first gallery in London in 2004, said he does not have plans to open a permanent gallery in New York, but would consider doing so. “We have a lot of support from New York in terms of collectors, and it has been a spiritual home for a lot of the artists I work with,” he said.
Should Mr. Lazarides seek to secure a permanent space in New York, though, he’ll have to look beyond the walls that house “The Outsiders.” The space, at 282 Bowery, has been purchased by restaurateur Keith McNally, who plans to open it as a pizza restaurant.
Related articles about artist Jonathan Yeo’s work: