Once upon a time, Banky’s legions of ravenous fans had to take exorbitant measures like hopping a plane to the artist’s native Bristol, England or booking a reservation at the extravagant Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas to get up close and personal with the mysterious creator’s artworks.
A recent surge of Banksy exhibitions have proliferated the globe, allowing everyday art fans an opportunity to sink into the zeitgeist’s storied (and probably paint splattered) shoes.
“Banksy: Genius or Vandal?” offers fans the latest retrospective on this enigmatic force. This fully immersive feat of storytelling inaugurated its NYC run on September 1st, the latest stop on its whirlwind tour of 15 cities across Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
The exhibition gives everything it’s got to draw viewers into Banksy’s world with full force, starting with a full-size replica of the artist’s studio as seen in Banksy’s seminal graffiti “documentary” Exit Through the Gift Shop and ending with a visually thrilling VR street art tour that hits the highlights of Banksy’s prolific and illegal work in the streets.
In between, viewers can savor an unprecedented array of original artworks, prints, and relics from Banksy, like a case of 10 Euro notes printed with Princess Di’s face back in 2004.
Situated at 526 6th Avenue in the gutted remains of an old Urban Outfitters store, even the choice of venue falls in line with Banksy’s body of work, which famously takes swings at everything from consumer culture to political hypocrisy.
However, the show’s tagline notes it’s “the unauthorized exhibition,” which really functions more like a legal notice than an actual claim to clout. While the thrilling assortment of artworks and artifacts across this experience have been culled from the authentic collections of art connoisseurs worldwide, event hosts Fever and Exhibition Hub are presenting “Banksy: Genius or Vandal?” without their namesake artist’s blessing.
Their choice has caused a stir with everyone from art journalists to gallerists–one article from the LA Times amasses mixed reviews from decisive voices like Shepard Fairey (of OBEY fame) and Banksy themself, from the artist’s own website:
“Members of the public should be aware there has been a recent spate of Banksy exhibitions none of which are consensual. They‘ve been organized entirely without the artist’s knowledge or involvement. Please treat them accordingly.”
Like it or not, “Banksy: Genius or Vandal?” echoes paradoxes present throughout the artist’s entire career. Though Banksy’s work criticizes capitalism’s impulses, building owners often blindly remove illegal Banksy installations to turn a handsome profit.
Banksy originals and prints fetch massive sums at art auctions, which the artist then riffs off with works like I can’t believe you morons actually buy this sh*t and with stunts like the infamous self-destructing Girl With Balloon.
Maybe these exhibitions simply participate in the phenomenon, or maybe it’s just easy to punch upwards at an artist who’s perhaps become part of the machine they intended to destroy.
Either way, $29.50 a pop proves far cheaper and perhaps more egalitarian than the asking price for a plane ticket or prix fixe in Vegas. Catch the unauthorized exhibition while it’s on view through November, if you can stand the controversy.