Mr. Brainwash is either a terrible artist or a great work of art. Whatever he is, he was apparently in lower Manhattan today, putting up an enormous, garish 9/11 mural on a department store across from the World Trade Center site.
Mr. Brainwash, for those who don't follow the arcane world of street art, gained fame after appearing in Exit Through the Gift Shop, a 2010 film by the shadowy, astonishingly popular stencil artist Banksy. The film, ostensibly a documentary, follows Thierry Guetta, a talentless hanger-on who finds success and acclaim after christening himself Mr. Brainwash and leveraging his connections with big names like Banksy himself. The moral—that art, like any other industry, is largely about who you know and how much money you have—rings true. Almost too true, given Banksy's well-documented art-market pranksterism.
"Riddle? Yes. Enigma? Sure. Documentary?" asked a 2010 New York Times headline. "Is Banksy's Mr. Brainwash an Art-World Borat?" wondered New York mag. (Their assessment, after viewing an exhibition: "The show was so wretchedly derivative, repetitive, and insultingly insipid that we felt it could only have been an intentional prank.")
So either Banksy is pulling the strings, and Brainwash is the most interesting artwork he's ever produced, or he simply lucked into an illuminating subject for a documentary. Maybe it's some mixture of the two: Banksy set up a situation that made for good filmmaking, and Guetta recognized a good opportunity and ran with it.
In any case, Mr. Brainwash is still making and selling work. He's responsible for the "remixed" version of Warhol's Marilyn Monroe that adorned Celebration, Madonna's latest greatest hits collection, and now, this 9/11 mural. If it's a joke, Century 21, which commissioned the piece, doesn't appear to be in on it. Company co-owner and so-called art aficionado Isaac Gindi said in a statement today:
"When Mr. Brainwash came to us with this idea we were honored. We are such big fans of his work and loved the idea of showing our support and dedication for the Downtown community and NYC's bravest and finest right on our building. His piece exemplifies a tribute to the resiliency of New York City and all Americans after 9/11."
The piece itself, which reads "WE LOVE NEW YORK" and depicts a heart and an American flag, isn't particularly offensive or anything, but it's not particularly good, either. That it exists at all is very weird. According to Time Out, it will stay up for the next three weeks.