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
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2156 GMT (0556 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2221 GMT (0621 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT