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Tribeca: An 'art terrorist's' tangle with U.S. Embassy officials

Tribeca: An 'art terrorist's' tangle with U.S. Embassy officials
A shot from the new "art-terrorist" movie "The Banksy Job." (Tribeca Film Festival)

On a recent weekday, the self-appointed "art terrorist" AK47 – actual name: Andy Link – walked into the U.S. Embassy in London and sought to claim an item he knew would be tricky: a U.S. visa.

Link is a former porn star and football hooligan who has been arrested a number of times. Oh yes, he also has some drug charges on his record.

But a new film centering on his art-world exploits was premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival — titled "The Banksy Job," it chronicles Link's successful plot to cart off a Banksy piece called "The Drinker" in 2004 — and he wanted to be there.

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Things didn't go as planned.

"I was one of the first ones in the queue and one of the last persons to go in," Link recounted by phone this week in his brash voice and thick-as-pudding Yorkshire accent. "It was two women. They were typical government officials. I thought about saying I'm an art terrorist, but I didn't think it would go over well." He instead explained to them that he was involved with the film.

They weren't buying it. The officials were clearly unmoved by the power of cinema — or perhaps capable of a simple search Link's record — and told Link he would not be granted a visa. He was told to "re-apply."

It was not the only effort made to get Link into the U.S. Tribeca's artistic director, Frederic Boyer, wrote a letter to the embassy vouching for Link's credibility. So did other character witnesses. None could move the needle.

Link says he's trying to take it all with equanimity

"I have got a dodgy past. I've done various things that made my criminal record a little bit … interesting, shall we say."

"This was not a big surprise to us," Ian Roderick Gray, one of the two directors on the film, said.

"This probably wasn't going to happen," said Dylan Harvey, the other director.

Link has an attitude that might be described as self-promotional punk; he's somewhere between an ideologue and a gleefully obnoxious uncle.

He detests Banksy — because the street artist wouldn't sign a print years ago, but also because "he says he's so anti-corporate but his first exhibition was sponsored by Puma and the T-shirts they sold at the show came from a sweatshop in Indonesia." And he generally loathes anything that he sees as not genuine or thwarting his own right-mindedness, which is not a small list.

Link's  art bona fides can be questioned — he seems less keen on producing material as he is on directing havoc toward an establishment he doesn't much like. His persona in the movie will delight some for its puncturing of art-world shibboleths and baffle and repel others who wonder what exactly it is he does, or why he's famous.

He did try to create some art that ill-fated visa day.

"I took a nice picture of the outside of an embassy," he said, going on to describe an obscenity scrawled on the image along with some other garnishments. "It's a piece of art, absolutely," he said.

"The Banksy Job" will now make its premiere Sunday without Link. (The festival kicks off Wednesday night.) But absence can sometimes raise an artist's profile — just look at Banksy himself. Could it have a similar effect on Link when he doesn't turn up at the premiere?

"I don't know about that," he said. I just want to make people think. And take the piss out of things."

Mused Gray, dryly: "We might have had more of a chance if he was up for an Oscar."

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