The Art of Banksy: Without Limits has recently opened in Brisbane. I purchased my ticket as soon as they went on sale because, like so many people, I enjoy Banksy’s works and their broader political messages. Over the past week or so, I have been glued to the articles emerging speaking to the exhibition’s controversy. I want to divide this blog post in two. To start, I am going to summarise the issues that have been raised in public media. Then, I am going to share my experience of the exhibition.
The Art of Banksy has been deemed by Banksy as a “fake” exhibition. Why? Because Banksy hasn’t endorsed the exhibition nor is he a fan of museums and galleries stating they are ‘the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires.’ (source) The exhibition has been pieced together by Kemal Gurkaynak, managing director of Muse Marketing and Entertainment. They have partnered with an events platform, Fever, in order to hold the exhibition.
How can you hold an exhibition of an artist’s work when they are adamantly against the idea? Well, Banksy does own the copyright to his work but in order to enforce that copyright, he would need to prove he is the unquestionable owner, therefore revealing his identity. Not knowing who is Banksy is as Banksy as you can get. In short, the artworks can be displayed because there are currently no copyright restrictions.
There are so many interesting arguments raised in the media which are drawing the public into conversations that have been happening in the museum/gallery sector for decades. For example, there is a discussion surrounding authenticity. In an article published by ABC News (source), it is revealed that approximately 34 of the 150 works on display are original. According to Mr Gurkaynak, ‘authenticity is beside the point – real or replica, each work’s ability to provoke thought is what matters’ (source). Does it matter to you if you see something on display that isn’t authentic? Personally, it depends on the context. Do I get joy from seeing something authentic? Yes. I am trying to think of an example and I cannot look past the space shuttle Atlantis on display at the Kennedy Space Center. I felt more connected to the object because it was real. However, I’ve also seen replica objects that have elicited a strong response. I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question but I do find it fascinating to see it raised in an ABC article.
The second major theme raised in these articles is accessibility. A huge justification for holding the exhibition seems to be that this art needs to be shared with more people. Rather than traveling all over the world, you can pay $38-$40 and see 150 works (authentic or not) in a room that used to be a Coles Supermarket. Similar to the previous issue of authenticity this one is a massive can of worms. Is asking people to pay $40 truly accessible? Is having the exhibition only in select capital cities truly accessible? I am being nitpicky since accessibility is used heavily to justify the existence of the exhibition.
The ABC article I mentioned earlier ends by stating, ‘The Art of Banksy: Without Limits is perhaps best viewed as a celebration of the artist and his philosophy – an exhibition about Banksy, rather than a Banksy exhibition’ (source). So an exhibition about an artist who would prefer to have their identity concealed in order for their work to take the spotlight. It’s interesting to think of which version of the exhibition Banksy would hate the most.
The rest of the post will now turn to reviewing the exhibition experience. Will this context influence how I view the exhibition? Yes, of course. Enjoy.
There is a bit to unpack with this exhibition. I am going to address the layout, labels, and works on display.
The first portion of the exhibition is dedicated to Dismaland – a temporary amusement park opened by Banksy back in 2015. After walking through a fake security gate you are greeted by the large Dismaland arch. From here, there are a few large rooms that are connected by smaller walkways. I don’t think the rooms were organised thematically – some were and others seemed random. The walkways became bottlenecks as the exhibition was completely full and very overcrowded. I don’t understand the point of selling timed tickets when you are going to oversell them anyway. This did mean it was a struggle to see some of the works. It was not unusual to wait 10 – 15 minutes to catch a glimpse of some of the more famous works. It would have been beneficial to have the exhibition either chronologically or thematically organised. Last, but not least, the exhibition ended with a small gift shop. After seeing works responding to the dark side of consumerism it was quite poetic, and not in a good way.
Most of the labels are positioned under the works. If you want to read them, you have to bend down. This is exacerbated by the very small text size. The information is easy to understand and is, ultimately, interesting. However, I was expecting some indication of which artworks were authentic and which weren’t.
Works on Display
As mentioned previously, there are 150 works on display in the exhibition. Here are my top 5.
Dismaland Bemusement Park Map, 2015
This is the map from Banky’s temporary art project, Dismaland. Banksy built an entire amusement park in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England. My favourite part of this map is number 13 – portrait artist. Nettie Wakefield worked drawing the back of peoples’ heads for a portrait. The other side of the map also had some fantastic commentary. A grim reaper figure is on the front. It promises the park will provide ‘an escape from mindless escapism’. Very different to Disneyland.
Stop and Search, 2007
In this work, a police officer is searching Dorothy’s bag (from The Wizard of Oz). It speaks to a security state and how no one is safe from scrutiny.
Paranoid Pictures, 2003
I really enjoyed reading the label for this work. There is a quote from Banksy stating ‘your mind works best when you’re paranoid. You explore every avenue and possibility of your situation at high speed with total clarity.’
Girl and Balloon, 2004
A very famous work depicting a girl letting go of a heart-shaped balloon. It reflects the innocence of children and carries a message of hope and love. It is now one of the most sought-after works of Banksy.
In this print, we have people at a festival lining up to purchase a $30 t-shirt that says ‘destroy capitalism’. A comedian I once saw asked in their show, ‘do you ever think that we are just trying to buy our way out of capitalism?’ This reminded me of that quote.
The Art of Banksy is on display in Brisbane until (at this stage) the end of June. You can find more information here: The Art of Banksy.