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
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT