Mr. Brainwash, Banksy’s Over-the-Top Protégé, Is Back in New York With a New Show—and You Can See It Here

The exhibition's proceeds will benefit a throat and neck cancer charity.

Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash at
Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash at "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Eight years after the self-propelled rise to fame of street artist Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash, was documented in Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop documentary, the artist shows no signs of going away. A regular fixture at contemporary art fairs, Mr. Brainwash this week unveiled his first New York City show since the one that coincided with the 2010 premiere of the film that made him a household name.

Full of art historical references and neon lights, it’s an Instagram-ready installation that could easily become a social media sensation with its massive beach balls and colorful large-scale paintings.

The work is unrepentantly cheerful: A wall full of framed mirrors features upbeat messages like “You Are Amazing” and “Love Makes the Difference” in neon lights, or pieces that remind the viewer to “Keep Smiling.” Other works overlay Jean-Michel Basquiat-style heads with copies of self-portraits by the likes of Vincent van Gogh. There’s also a recreation of Auguste Rodin‘s The Thinker in scraps of rubber tires.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

It’s not the most thought-provoking of work, but it’s all in the name of supporting It’s a Thing, a new nonprofit aimed at raising awareness and funds for throat and neck cancer—an under-recognized disease that sees 60,000 people diagnosed each year.

The charity was founded by Nicola Stephenson, herself a cancer survivor. With the help of art consultant Michelle Hellman Cohen, she reached out to Mr. Brainwash. Originally, he was less than thrilled at the prospect of participating.

“He told me, whatever you want to ask me, the answer is 100 percent no,” said Stephenson to guests at the Wednesday night dinner celebrating the exhibition’s opening.

Speaking to artnet News, the artist admitted as much. “I really couldn’t do it because I was busy doing other things. But then I couldn’t really sleep well. Helping save somebody’s life is more important than anything that you have to do,” he said. “She didn’t give me a choice.”

Now fully on board, Mr. Brainwash is committed to helping the cause and raising money to support throat and neck cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. (An auction of his work is live on Paddle8.)

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

The artist spent five days installing the show, working day and night ahead of Wednesday night’s opening. There’s a gallery space at the street level that is free and open to the public, or you can make a donation ($10–30) to reserve timed tickets to see two additional spaces, designed as an “interactive experience” inside the Starrett-Lehigh building on the 13th floor, hosted by RXR Realty. (There’s also a retail shop.)

Mr. Brainwash declined to single out a favorite work among the pieces on view. “My favorite piece is just people coming and smiling and being happy,” he said. “I just want people to smile and live life because life is beautiful.”

See more photos of the exhibition below.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash at “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash at "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash at “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash at "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash at “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of "Mr. Brainwash X It's a Thing." Photo courtesy of BFA.

Installation view of “Mr. Brainwash X It’s a Thing.” Photo courtesy of BFA.

“It’s a thing x Mr. Brainwash” is on view at the Starrett-Lehigh Building, 601 West 26th Street, New York, October 24–November 4, 2018. The spaces on the 13th floor are open October 26–28 and November 2–4, 2018.


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