Friday 21 October 2016

Review: The Art of Banksy

I was hosted by The Art of Banksy exhibition.

As provocative as this exhibition's art might be, what's proven equally provocative is its context.

The Art of Banksy is an exhibition set up by Steve Lazarides, the first art dealer associated with anonymous street artist Banksy.

The artist is said to disapprove of this exhibition, so there's been some controversy upon its arrival in the street art mecca of Melbourne.

In fact one local artist hired to add a mural to the exterior of the exhibition venue has painted Lazarides as Judas to Banksy's messiah. You can see it on the right hand wall here, off the funky bar and food truck area at the end of the exhibition:

So much for the controversy. What of the exhibition itself?

The nature of Banksy's work means you're unlikely to ever see much of it in one place (eg I've seen a single Banksy rat in a Melbourne alleyway). So it seems worthwhile, if a little artificial, to have it on show in a single venue.

As patrons pass through the temporary tent-like building which serves as a gallery, they find Banksy art presented in various media.

The earliest examples, pre-dating the digital photography age, are photographs of street scenes which include Banksy's work. I liked these very much. Street art by its very nature engages with its surroundings, so it was great to see how some of it originally appeared in situ.

Further on there are framed screen prints, which the explanatory text says were produced by Banksy in order to both provide affordable art and earn some money. It's ironic, of course, that these are now worth thousands of dollars of which the artist sees nothing. But such is the secondary art market.

There's also Banksy art in a room of T-shirts dangling on wire hangers, in documentary video clips about the artist, and in much larger pieces such as a huge painting of an urban scene which mimics the raising of the US flag at Iwo Jima. 

It's all great work, and seeing it in one place does highlight Banksy's themes.

As notation on the exhibition walls explains, there's the consistent presence of politics, humour and animals in the art, often together in a single piece.

So in Banksy's creative universe, masked demonstrators lob bouquets of flowers; armed soldiers have heads eerily replaced by smiley faces; the Queen's head is replaced with that of a monkey; characters from Pulp Fiction brandish bananas instead of guns; and Christ languishes on the cross while holding shopping bags.

The artist clearly has no love for authority and capitalism (again, an irony presented by this ticketed exhibition and its pricey gift shop), but is extraordinarily engaging rather than hectoring in the way he criticises them.

The humour of strange juxtapositions provokes awkward laughter and a dose of illumination; it's a classic case of the storyteller's "Show, don't tell."

The Art of Banksy is an intriguing exhibition, and I learned a lot from seeing his work in one place.

Whether it's worth the $30 entry fee is perhaps up to you, but it certainly provides an insight into the mind of the world's most famous street artist.

The Art of Banksy continues to 22 January 2017 at The Paddock, Federation Square, Melbourne. Make bookings and find more details here. The photos of artwork above were provided by the exhibition.

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