At last count, a Facebook comment calling for "amputation under copyright laws" of Justin Bieber's new Banksy tat, a knock-off of "Girl with a Red Balloon," had 2500 likes. That's the thing about the world's most famous street artist's work, it creates a furor wherever it shows up. Fabio Gallo, the general manager of London's five-star ME London Hotel knows this, but is still putting on an exhibition. "Stealing Banksy," which opens next month, will feature the original girl, the original balloon, and 19 other works by the artistic prankster.
The pairing of Banksy and a luxury hotel is less jarring than it sounds. The one-year-old ME, like the artist, makes a powerful artistic statement. Architects Foster and Partners converted what used to be the bombed out Gaiety Theater into a West End landmark with 157 rooms and a nine-story, white-marble atrium that's every bit as jarring as Banksy's stencils on Israeli's West Bank Wall – if somewhat less political.
Banksy would also likely approve of the free champagne dispensed at the nightly eight-minute light show featuring floating jellyfish, stark colors, and other visually-arresting imagery that could just as easily have sprung from the still-anonymous stencil master's sometimes-warped imagination. Guests watch from a fat, sexy, 40-foot white curvy couch. The place is, in short, pleasantly strange and strangely pleasant. Radio, the rooftop bar, offers stunning views of the River Thames, Big Ben, and the London Eye, but attracts a decidedly un-tweedy crowd of leather-clad creative types.
Still, Banksy, who once dubbed his guerrilla graffiti as underclass revenge, will inevitably get the last laugh. "No Ball Games," an image of children playing with a sign explaining that they shouldn't be playing, is expected to fetch at the auction following the ME show. "I can't believe you morons actually buy this shit," the artist wrote after hearing the estimated price. As for whether or not he'll check in to the ME: no one knows what name he'd use.
More information: The sparse but beautifully designed rooms at the ME London begin at $500 a night.