Banksy – or someone pretending to be the artist – has officially hit the social Web

banksy has instagram or hes tricking us screen shot 2013 10 16 at 1 55 01 pm
Banksy is possibly the most high profile contemporary artist around, and his commitment to shrouding his identity is an integral part of his mythical status. That love of mystery seems antithetical to having multiple social media accounts, but it appears the British graffiti icon and noted lover of confusing the living crap out of people has gone and joined the social Web.

Banksy is currently in New York City, executing a monthlong show called “Better Out Than In” all around the city. The slippery artist has thus far evaded recognition as he creates his work, although it appears Bansky is documenting the pieces he leaves throughout the city on his project website.

Banksy’s newest art is being thoroughly dissected and cataloged online by fans, but it appears he’s gone a step further into social media and is personally sharing images of his work on Instagram. The account banksyny was created on October 1 and already has over 185,000 followers. There’s no way to know for sure whether it’s authentic, but the account often shows the art soon after it is installed, so it’s either run by Banksy, someone involved in the show, or someone with impressive sleuthing skills who has likely figured out Banksy’s identity.

The most recent posted photograph, updated today, shows an uncanny fiberglass statue of Ronald McDonald getting his shoes shined. According to Banksy’s website, the sculpture will move around to different McDonald’s locations, and a real person will be shining his shoes (yesterday, it was in the South Bronx, at the McDonald’s on 1600 Boston Road).

All City – McDonalds

A post shared by Banksy (@banksy) on

Instagram isn’t the only platform Bansky is (maybe) responsible for: a YouTube account called BanksyNY has posted four videos thus far and racked up millions of views. The account posted videos from a few of his installations, including one called “The Sirens of the Lambs,” a slaughterhouse delivery truck full of Muppets.

Another video shows passersby wandering past a street art sale in Central Park. All of the art on display was made by Banksy, but it’s being sold for $60 instead of thousands. The video shows how most people ignore the vendor.

There also appears to be a Twitter account, also bearing the @Banksyny signature, which has amassed over 27,000 followers since its creation October 2, though there are only 14 tweets, none linking to the art. New York Times reporter Nick Bilton was unsure that this Twitter account was official, though he reported “people familiar with Banksy say anything linked to by his official Web site is officially Banksy.” Only the Instagram account is linked, so this Twitter may not be sanctioned.

Here’s the most recent tweet:

And that’s not all: it also looks like Banksy has a Facebook account (once again, called Banksyny, and using the same graphic as the other accounts) created October 1. The account hasn’t gained as much attention as his other social web endeavors, but it posts the same content that can be found on the project website, like this description of a piece put up in Queens:

There’s something deeply strange about all of this. Banksy has had fan pages on social media for years, but this is the first time the artist has publicly participated in social media (at least as Banksy – who knows if the real name behind the artist is a Facebook obsessed, tweeting mad man). It seems incongruent with his philosophy of critiquing from the outside that Banksy, who is notoriously privacy-obsessed and managed to conceal his identity from the Academy Awards, has decided to sign up for every major social Web platform in what appears to be one fell swoop.

It seems like publicity overkill, especially since word of mouth for these installations is so fervid. But Banksy has always found ways to infiltrate our awareness without blasting it from the rooftops, and social sites have become so integral to our communication that perhaps he’s just trying to hide within the masses, quietly drawing attention to his work.

That, or it’s not him at all.

There are a number of theories surrounding Banksy’s Academy Award winning documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. The movie details the rise of Thierry Guetta, a street artist known as Dr. Brainwash, who becomes famous in his own right after shadowing Banksy (or so the narrative goes). While some believe the film shows an accurate depiction of Guetta’s success, many others suspect it is an elaborate hoax, and that Mr. Guetta is not a graffiti savant but an actor Banksy pays to pose as a street artist in order to comment on how art is understood.
No one has been able to prove that Exit Through the Gift Shop was faked or not, and we may not ever be able to verify exactly which of these social media accounts, if any, are genuinely run by Banksy. Either way, the Instagram account remains helpful if you want to find out where you can spot the newest pieces.

“Better Out Than In” uses the streets of New York City as a canvass, and it appears most of the art exists primarily on the ground, although the official website does provide interesting audio accompaniments to the pieces. But I’m hoping that these social media accounts aren’t only used for promotion — Banksy could surely do some fascinating things with social media if he chooses to use it as a digital landscape, especially since the artist has been playing around with questions of identity for a long time, and social media adds a performative wrinkle to the concept of a fixed persona.

The accounts serve both a practical and personal purpose: They advertise and publicize his work, which should not go missed while the project is happening. And secondly, it once again draws us into the question of who is Banksy? Just because you follow him on Twitter and Instagram and friend him on Facebook, are you any closer to knowing him? The artist remains an enigma despite these profiles, an interesting commentary on social networking in general.

For Banksy, these social profiles are a source of control, keeping him a secret yet distributing his content. And maybe he’s doing it right, because how many of us can say the same?

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