British concept artist Banksy opened a strange installation yesterday in Manhattan at No. 89 Seventh Avenue — it looks like a friendly pet store with appealing window displays, but turns out to be something a lot weirder. Last night, we dropped in to check out the store's stock of hyper-intelligent bunnies and fish that have evolved into fishsticks. Another visitor patiently asked what brands of pet foods the store would be carrying. The hired help politely explained that there was nothing to buy except hype, and gobs of it. Plus an entire store full of mutated pets — and we've got it all on video."Children think it's all real," the guy behind the counter at Banksky's Greenwich Village installation Marty Abrahams said. We watched a young girl no older than eight scrunch her eyes at the two McNuggets. She knocked on the glass. "It's the believability that dictates the response," Abrahams told me. "If you believe that it's alive, it is."
In one corner of The Village Pet Store (and Charcoal Grill), two cameras perched on a tree branch stare at another larger camera higher on the branch (right). A camera crouches onlooking in the corner. And in cages for reptiles and fish, sausages wriggle towards water and have what appears to be consensual intercourse. The squirming and bobbing of McNuggets into barbecue sauce is the main attraction in the front window, but the staff favorite is the seated chimp watching himself on National Geographic 24/7. "It's the way his eyes move," the Grill's shopkeeper Anne Broecker said. As Banksy's press release put it, "New Yorkers don't care about art, they care about pets. So I'm exhibiting them instead." Past the television, the animatronic chimp can see a leopard print jacket wagging its tail on the long limb of a tree.
You never feel entirely confident about a piece of art when its creator says, "I wanted to make art that questioned our relationship with animals and the ethics and sustainability of factory farming but it ended up as chicken nuggets singing," but the concept is well executed, with walls of supplies — fish fillets, fake shrubbery, pet wipes — perched frustratingly away from the consumer's reach.
For some there is still an economy, and it's not all fun and games for the Pet Store's creator, the man born Robin Gunningham . Several Banksy items bombed at a recent auction, and he consistently warns fans to be on the lookout for fakes. But for Banksy — a man who once walked into the Louvre and hung his own painting there — creating buzz is the more pressing task. After all, Banksy spent a good chunk of his career burnishing his reputation in a good economic time, and then traded on that reputation in a bad economic time. The best laid plans! "I wouldn't even know what he looked like," someone said, staring at the plate glass. Perhaps unfortunately, we do know what he looks like. Despite this, Banksy still has his customers: a forcefully-dressed woman with long blond hair asked if there were somewhere she could register...would someone let her know when the fish sticks swimming around the bowl and the items on the wall were for sale? Above her hair, Banksy had built a lettered list of prices on a posted menu. It reads, in part, "Milkshake 1.25, Hamburger 2.35." Someone will stroll in this week looking for lunch at those prices.
The exhibition will amuse passerby through Halloween. Of course there are those who are always children in their heart, as the end of this clip proves.