Shadow Of A Doubt: When Is A Banksy Not A Banksy?

I’ve always considered myself a little awesome because I, in fact, have met Banksy (as he stood in front of his installation at the start of the VIP artists' preview of Art In The Streets, the landmark Los Angeles exhibit on graffiti during Jeffrey Deitch's short run as director of the MOCA). This was in 2011; I remember being in awe of how crisp all the details were of his painting, depicting a starving African child in a barren landscape, wearing a tattered American t-shirt with “I HATE MONDAYS!” written in banal block letters. At that time, his work had long evolved past the simple black and white stencils that defined the Banksy aesthetic—and not only his own, but also of throngs of inspired imitators.

Art vs. Rat

That said, it was a recent pleasure to receive a phone call from my editor, who informed me that Banksy had contributed some work to Pablo Gehr's G & G Fine Art Consulting Miami / Berlin for the upcoming Preview Berlin Art Fair. According to Gehr, Banksy made “two or three small pieces for an installation” in honor of Israel Hernandez, a young graffiti writer who was killed by police in Miami earlier this year. Days before Preview Berlin’s grand opening, Artparasites was given the exclusive first interview about this event, provided we didn't publish Banksy's name in the story.

Part of an installation at Preview Berlin Art Fair attributed to Banksy. Photo: Chris Phillips

When we finally did set up our office at the fair, I was quite excited to finally meet Pablo Gehr and see the installation I had already heard and written about. To be candid, I was so excited by my own portrayal of the situation that I forgot to be critical and see if what I wrote actually even existed. The Banksy pieces looked like something he could've done, true, albeit a bit redundant. His trademark rats were there, as well the English cops – and a signature – but I did notice something a bit odd: there seemed to be an uncomfortable lack of technique with paint, something I never found common in real Banksy artwork. Was Banksy making fun of himself by using bootlegs of his own stencils? Maybe this was a new phase of which I was unaware: mocking his old style and giving Berliners a sarcastic slap on the eyes. The shoddy quality conjured up the memory of seeing some intentionally sarcastic and shit-quality Banksy stickers I had seen earlier in New York. I had my suspicions now. A simple email to Pest Control (Banksy's PR agency, recommended to me by Mr. Gehr) went as follows:


My name is Drury Brennan and I am a writer for Artparasites Magazine in Berlin. We are writing you to confirm that Banksy did indeed make the pieces in tribute to Israel Hernández that Pablo Gehr of G & G Fine Arts Miami / Berlin is exhibiting at the Preview Berlin Art Fair. 

Just checking. All the best, Drury Brennan.

My email went unanswered, but my skepticism persisted. I thought more about the work: How could Banksy paint a work on a German traffic sign if he wasn't here in Berlin? It just looked wrong. Yet I continued to believe in their authenticity—until I finally received this email response from Jo Brooks, Banksy's official Pest Control representative for press inquiries:

Dear Drury,

Your email has been passed on to me to let you know that the pieces you are referring to, are in fact forgeries. I hope this helps.

Kind Regards. Jo Brooks, JBPR LTD.

Article by Drury Brenan