The Banksy “Barely Legal” show ended at ?8 p.m. on Friday night. Already, I knew in my heart of hearts that I would not see the elephant, painted red and stenciled with gold fleur-de-lis, who was only out one hour per day. But I was glad in a way. I don’t trust elephants anymore after watching a show on Animal Planet about pachyderms who got fed up and went on rampages, killing their handlers at circuses, crushing villagers in India and committing other various felonies and misdemeanors. Nobody knows what sets them off. Their rage is completely unpredictable. Anyway, I nearly missed the whole damn thing. At 7:35 p.m., I was lost downtown. What proletariat artist has a show during the day, when people have to work? After calling five people, none of whom could tell me if Alameda Street crossed Santa Fe Avenue, I got back on the 10 freeway, as initially instructed, and found it right away.
At least I thought I found it. I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place. A steady trickle of beautiful people began streaming out of the warehouse as I made my way in. Inside there were more beautiful people, the kind of well-dressed sorts in expensive clothing you might expect at a MOCA opening, or a new Hollywood nightspot. Girls with manicures in tailored outfits. Boys with shiny shoes. This was not at all what I expected from a Bansky show. Sure, there was a handful of miscreant graffiti kids, a few tattooed rabble rousers, but by and large the crowd was college-educated gorgeous. Everywhere I turned, my ears were flooded with people praising the show: “brilliant,” “amazing,” “genius,” blah blah blah, “important.”
I liked what I saw. It was like a Highlights game of “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” It was humbling and humiliating. Yes, society is hypocritical, celebrities are ridiculous, capitalism is evil, democracy is a joke. Banksy illustrated these thoughts again and again, as with the painting featuring an African tribe with swollen starving bellies watching a presumably American family picnic on a checkered blanket. Or the one with the little girl in war-torn someplace crying while Red Cross helpers wait for the photographer to get his shot. I felt shame and I loved it, the way only a Catholic-guilt-laden woman could. But after a while, the game grew tiresome. Banksy is a lot like the guy drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa — again, and again, and again. Like the Bob Ross paintings of European 17th-century villages and panoramas that he so cleverly altered with modern touches — surveillance cameras in a clearing in the woods, graffiti-tagged Old World cabins, shopping carts in a Manet-inspired impressionistic river. In another room, a video loop depicted how Banksy doctored the CD cases of Paris Hilton’s debut album and put them back on shelves. Nearby, CDs in a display case were covered with large hissing cockroaches and piles of their shit speckling a denuded Hilton. There was a Vanity Fair cover depicting a pregnant, smoking Demi Moore with an inbred Homer Simpson–like face.
Then I heard Brangelina had made the scene, and Keanu and Jude Law and a roster of celebrity types. The famed elephant was going on to star in a Christina Aguilera video. And someone else muttered about how much money Banksy was making. They said prints were going for $500, that Paris CDs fetched 700 quid, which I guess is something like $1,400? Paintings started at $80,000. And suddenly all of us gathered there reminded me of the Banksy sketch of people lined up to buy T-shirts that read “destroy capitalism.” Or the one of the auction where a painting was being sold that read, “I can’t believe you people buy this shit.” Secretly I wished that the red-and-gold-colored elephant would have freaked out and began stomping at will. Somehow that would have felt honest and real. But, then again, most of us didn’t see the big red elephant.