Mason Gross alums pull a Banksy on New York City

British artist Banksy is known for his satirical commentary on modern society, which he makes through graffiti and other forms of street art. The artist was in residence in late 2013 in New York City as part of his "Better Out Than In" art series. In October 2013, Banksy set up shop near Central Park and offered his work for only $60. He only sold six pieces in seven hours.

Then Rutgers alums Lance Pilgrim and Dave Cicirelli, both Banksy fans, decided to run with his idea. In mid-October, in the same spot and for the same price, they sold faux Banksy pieces and caught it all on video (see below). All 40 pieces were fakes and came with a “certificate of inauthenticity.” Pilgrim and Cicirelli sold out in an hour. They even sold the sign that proclaimed “Fake Banksys.”

Below is an edited and condensed Q&A with the Rutgers alums.


How did you come up with the idea?

Cicirelli: We were just sort of joking around, and it occurred to me that it was actually something we could do, and from there we came up with the idea for the certificate and sort of rolled from there.

Were you surprised that it worked so well?

Pilgrim: We did have a feeling of the potential of how successful it was going to be, but we definitely didn’t anticipate the immediacy of that as far as how fast everything sold out.

Cicirelli: Even before we set [up] the stand we were selling canvases.

Why was the hoax so successful?

Pilgrim: Well, a lot of that obviously has to do with the media hype around Banksy right now. And a big thing that has to do with it is just the commentary as far as Banksy purposefully [selling his work on the street at low prices]. This exposes how people are so influenced by hype and the media, where no matter how many times we said something was a fake, they still wanted it, and it seems like they wanted it even more.

Did most people think that these were real Banksys?

Pilgrim: Absolutely. Some people felt that this was still a Banksy ploy. Some people even thought that my father was Banksy. They were trying to take pictures of him.

Cicirelli: Yeah, my favorite was the cab driver that pulled over with passengers still in the cab and the meter still running and tried to get [Lance’s] father to admit that he was Banksy.

What else did you want to do or communicate besides the fact that you were pranking a bunch of people?

Cicirelli: Humor was always a part of the statement, but it wasn’t meant to just simply be for some laughs–it was meant to create a lens to view how hype was creating this value and was making people attracted to this art.

Pilgrim: We also wanted to expose how full of hot air New Yorkers are. We claim that we have our fingers on the pulse and we’re in the know about everything that’s hot and not and everything that’s in pop culture, and yet Banksy sets this up, and people just walk by. I consider myself a relatively savvy New Yorker and a person who is in the know not only as far as things in pop culture but also art-wise, and I know that if I saw these pieces, I would have bought one.

Cicirelli: What I always admired about Banksy was the way he announced his residency to New York City. It was almost like a super-villain announcing a crime wave, and the mayor speaks out, and then the citizens all go crazy and are treating New York City like it’s a giant treasure hunt. That is what’s really compelling–it’s what Banksy is able to do, [putting] people so on edge that they’re willing to buy something that explicitly is told to people in three different ways has no value.

Has anyone contacted you to request a refund or to complain?

Cicirelli: I’m waiting, but no.

Mason Gross alum Dave Cicirelli is an artist who creates hoaxes as social commentary. He has also authored a book called Fakebook: A True Story, Based On Actual Lies.

Mason Gross alum Lance Pilgrim is a New York artist and event promoter. He hosts the classic New York City dance party “More Than Enough” and is the editor and art director of the comic book KODOJA.

Posted October 2013.