Monday, January 7, 2019

The Art of Banksy - An Unauthorized Exhibit

Stop and Search (2007) Screen print on paper
There's more than a bit of irony in The Art of Banksy -- Unauthorized/Private Collection exhibit. First, of course, is the fact that Banksy's street art itself is unauthorized. His trademark stenciled work magically appears overnight on buildings. This can be either a boon or a bane to building owners, depending upon the location. 

Then there's the fact that Banksy is all about making art available to the masses free of charge. Wasn't the shredding of his painting "Girl with a Red Balloon" as the gavel dropped on the $1.4MM bid a protest against its private ownership? (This, of course, is the matter of some debate. Did the mechanism really malfunction halfway through the shredding? And was Banksy actually surprised that his stunt increased the value of the painting?)

In any event, curator Steve Lazarides' traveling exhibit is making a mint, which seems somewhat contrary to Banksy's artistic intentions. Nonetheless, I put my money on the table and headed to Miami to see the show over the holidays.  When else would I have the chance to see such a quantity of Banksy's work? 

Wild Style Cow (photograph) 
Lazarides had a front row seat to the Banksy phenomenon for many years, first as the artist's documentarian and then as his dealer. (The pair parted ways in 2008 after a decade of work together.) As a result of their relationship, Lazarides has unique access to Banksy's work held in private collections. The exhibit included a representative sampling across mediums, from canvases and screen prints to sculpture and photographs.

I particularly enjoyed seeing work with which I wasn't previously familiar. I laughed out loud when I read about this photograph. Banksy apparently had asked a farmer if he could paint his cows. Sure, the farmer replied, envisioning his cattle becoming the equivalent of Monet's gardens. But instead of setting up an easel and creating a picturesque landscape, Banksy actually painted the cows. (Don't worry -- no animals were harmed in the creation of this artwork.)

Di Faced Tenners (paper)
I also enjoyed these Di Faced Tenners, some of which actually made their way into the British monetary system.  You can't see from this photo, but the typical "Bank of England" imprimateur now says  "Banksy of England." Under the banner is the somewhat ominous promise to "pay the bearer on demand the ultimate price." Queen Elizabeth II has been replaced by Princess Di. And the back of the note bears Charles Darwin's somber face with the message "Trust No One" under his visage.

Banksy first "exhibited" the Tenners when two pedestrians carrying suitcases full of the notes dropped them at a London tube station and a book festival. I can only imagine the resulting chaos as the currency spilled across the floor. And that, apparently, was part of Banksy's intention -- to see whether ordinarily polite and orderly people would elbow one another out of the way for a shot at some free cash. (The answer was "yes.") Today, the Di Faced Tenners can be purchased on eBay. To read more about the Tenners, click here.

I was surprised to learn that Banksy has designed album covers and created images inspired by some of his (presumably) favorite songs. (I wasn't surprised to learn they were for bands unknown to me.)  I particularly liked this one, which could have been a scene from the play "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change."  It was actually inspired by a song called "Out of Time" from Think Tank's album entitled Blur.

Flag Wall
Interspersed throughout the exhibit were some quotes by the artist. These two comments made me both laugh and think.

"I like to think I have the guts to stand up anonymously in a western democracy and call for things no-one else believes in -- like peace and justice and freedom."

"Graffiti ultimately wins out over proper art because it becomes part of your city. It's a tool. 'I'll meet you in that pub, you know, the one opposite that wall with a picture of a monkey holding a chainsaw.' I mean, how much more useful can a painting be than that?"

Morons (the canvas reads: 
I can't believe you morons actually buy this shit) 

Overall, though, the show had much less impact than I had anticipated. Sure, it was fun to see Banksy's work, but it wasn't the same as unexpectedly coming across one of his  paintings on a random building. But don't let my reaction dissuade you from checking it out. The Art of Banksy runs through February 28th. For more about the show, click here.  If you're planning to go, check Groupon for tickets before paying full price. 

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