The elusive British street artist Banksy arranged for a small collection of his work to be sold amid Central Park vendors on a New York City street. Passersby unknowingly purchased the Banksy originals for bargain prices, some even haggling down to $60 for a work of art worth thousands.
Banksy made a monkey out of me.
On Saturday afternoon, I was taking two out-of-town friends on a tour of Central Park, giving them the insider's view of the city.
One pal idly mentioned that she was hoping to buy a bag — one of the designer knockoffs hawked on every Midtown corner.
Moments later, we happened to pass a table filled with white canvases covered in stenciled spray-paint images, near one of those ubiquitous "your-name-in-calligraphy" artists.
"Look at this guy," I said with a note of derision. "Knocking off Banksy."
Banksy, of course, is the world-famous street artist whose original works have sold for more than a million bucks and who is in the middle of a month-long "residency" in New York.
Every day, he completes a new work in the city and posts it on his website. There's been a slaughterhouse truck filled with stuffed animals, a delivery truck housing a trompe l'oeil paradise and a bunch of graffiti that's been instantly defaced.
I've been following his travels through the boroughs. Five years ago, I attended his installation in Greenwich Village. Plus, I studied art history in college.
So, I know a fake Banksy when I see one — I thought.
As counterfeits go, these were pretty good, I had to admit. I noticed there were quite a few pieces with a monkey motif, and my boyfriend really likes monkeys.
But as a street-smart New Yorker, I wasn't about to give my hard-earned cash — they were $60 each — to some con artist trying to capitalize on real art.
On we walked, out of the park and past the Museum of Modern Art, where Banksy once surreptitiously hung his own painting of a can of cream-of-tomato soup.
That guy — such a joker.
This time, however, the joke was on me and countless other New Yorkers and tourists who marched past the unassuming table with the sign "Spray Art."
Because, as I found out when I got to work on Monday and read a story about Banksy's weekend exploits, every single canvas on that table was the genuine article — and signed, to boot.
A video on his website revealed it took hours to make a sale. A woman bought two for her kids, after negotiating a 50% discount. A tourist bought two, and a man from Chicago bought four to decorate the blank walls of his new house.
Each one is worth at least five figures, if past sales are any indication. The bragging rights? Priceless.
All day, I've been replaying my brush with Banksy through my head, trying to figure out if I missed any tip-offs that a pot of art-world gold was right under my nose.
Although, now that I think about it, one of those monkeys I was looking at for my boyfriend was wearing a signboard.
The message: "Keep it real."