Skip to main content

Banksy's insult shows he's clueless about New York

By Errol Louis, Special to CNN
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Errol Louis: Street artist Banksy published rant slamming One World Trade Center
  • He says for a city that made cooperation, compromise part of design process, that's too much
  • He says building reflects many visions, rises 1776 feet to reflect year U.S. broke from British
  • "104 floors of compromise?" asks Banksy. Well, yes, says Louis -- he missed the point

Editor's note: Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York City all-news channel.

(CNN) -- The secretive British artist Banksy, not content with the immense publicity already generated by his recent decision to create graffiti and other art installations around New York City each day for a month, may have finally worn out his welcome.

In a crude, obscene bid for attention, Banksy published a rant on Sunday against One World Trade Center, calling it a "shy skyscraper" that "so clearly proclaims the terrorists have won."

INTERACTIVE: Explore Banksy in New York

"You currently have under construction a one thousand foot tall sign that reads, 'New York -- we lost our nerve,'" he wrote. "One World Trade Center declares the glory days of New York are gone."

Errol Louis
Errol Louis

New Yorkers, who are still recovering from the billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, reacted with understandable outrage.

"TOWERING INSULT" screamed the front-page headline of the New York Daily News, proclaiming that Banksy "spits on graves of 9/11 victims."

New York is a city long accustomed to attention-seeking huckster-artists who push -- and exceed -- the limits of decency and good taste. But even in a town that gave the world Warhol, Madonna, Diddy and Lady Gaga, the Banksy screed against the World Trade Center site was a bit much to bear.

Banksy, who perhaps imagines he's bringing a fresh, avant-garde perspective to the issue, is actually joining the conversation about a decade too late. Back when the World Trade Center was still a smoking, twisted pile of debris, all sorts of New Yorkers -- from planners and artists to financiers, politicians and everyday citizens -- had begun a vast, anguished debate over what, if anything, should be built on the 16 acres where so many perished.

Countless planning meetings were held, involving arts groups, real estate professionals, engineers and political leaders. A string of group brainstorming sessions (called charrettes) was convened, where different ideas were sketched out and turned into models. Artists and architects were invited to dream up something new, and nine different designs emerged.

The latest artwork from graffiti artist Banksy appears on black wooden board at a youth center in Bristol, England, on Wednesday, April 16. Called "Mobile Lovers," it features a couple embracing while checking their cell phones. Members of the youth center took down the piece from a wall on a Bristol street and replaced it with a note saying the work was being held at the club "to prevent vandalism or damage being done." The discovery came shortly after another image believed to be by Banksy surfaced in Cheltenham, England. The latest artwork from graffiti artist Banksy appears on black wooden board at a youth center in Bristol, England, on Wednesday, April 16. Called "Mobile Lovers," it features a couple embracing while checking their cell phones. Members of the youth center took down the piece from a wall on a Bristol street and replaced it with a note saying the work was being held at the club "to prevent vandalism or damage being done." The discovery came shortly after another image believed to be by Banksy surfaced in Cheltenham, England.
Photos: Banksy, the elusive street artist
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Banksy, the elusive street artist Photos: Banksy, the elusive street artist
Making a DIY 'Banksy'
Banksy brings art to the masses
Owners protect 'Banksy'd' building

I was one of the planners behind an extraordinary two-day public planning session, called Listening to the City, in which thousands of New Yorkers gathered at a convention center and spent hours discussing and electronically voting on the different visions, and talking about the principles that should govern the rebuilding.

Groups of total strangers sat and asked one another key questions. How much space should be devoted to commerce? How large should the memorial be? Should the site be returned to its original use as an office tower, or turned into a Gettysburg-type urban meadow (the use suggested by ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani)?

At the time, there was a serious question about whether any large companies would choose to relocate in a place that had twice been attacked by terrorists. And along the way, we tackled the very issue Banksy is now whining about: What effect will the new building have on the city skyline?

New Yorkers also debated whether to create a memorial near, beneath or alongside a new building. In the end, we opened the memorial design to the entire world, resulting in more than 5,000 entries, constituting the largest design competition in history. One wonders if Banksy bothered to send in a sketch.

The matter was largely resolved the way big public questions are supposed to get settled in a democracy: through a chain of public and private conflicts and compromises that generated a final product reflecting many visions.

Like many iconic buildings in New York, One World Trade Center is a place of commerce, continuing a tradition that created the New York skyline -- from the Woolworth Building (the first skyscraper) to the Chrysler Building, Citicorp Center and the original World Trade Center itself.

The men who designed and built these and many other bold cathedrals of capitalism were trying to make money, not art. Larry Silverstein, the developer of the World Trade Center, received a multi-billion-dollar insurance payment for the destroyed building, under terms that included a requirement that he rebuild and lease an equivalent amount of commercial space.

And after the loss of 3,000 people in one of the worst atrocities ever committed on American soil, the issue of security was seared into the thinking of the public and private authorities involved in rebuilding the site.

New Yorkers fought, fussed and financed for years. "104 floors of compromise?" asks Banksy. Well, yes. The basic proposition of America -- the Latin motto printed on our currency -- is "e pluribus unum": out of many, one. The new building, and the process that led to its creation, is quintessentially American, right to the peak of its spire, specifically designed to soar exactly 1,776 feet in the air, a nod to the year we broke from British domination in the founding act of American audacity.

Banksy, a British citizen, seems to have missed or misunderstood the symbolism, and much else, in his short time in New York. Needless to say, the democratically generated blend of culture and commerce at the World Trade Center site -- which draws millions of visitors, dwarfing any audience Banksy is likely to have -- will stand as a monument to our values and drive long after sarcastic visiting artists have moved on.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Errol Louis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT