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.

A Banksy mural depicting pigeons holding anti-immigration signs was destroyed by the local council in Clacton-on-Sea, England on October 1 after the council received complaints that the artwork was offensive. A Banksy mural depicting pigeons holding anti-immigration signs was destroyed by the local council in Clacton-on-Sea, England on October 1 after the council received complaints that the artwork was offensive.
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
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT