There aren’t many graffiti artists whose works have been auctioned off at Sotheby’s to the tune of $1.87 million (Keep It Spotless in 2008). Or whose debut documentary (Exit Through the Gift Shop) received an Academy Award nomination. Fewer still who have achieved this level of success, while managing to remain anonymous. But then again, Banksy isn’t your average street artist.
The English painter / artist / social activist is one of the world’s best-known street provocateurs. His (or is it her?) commentaries on culture and capitalism have been featured on walls, buildings, and bridges around the world. And now they’ve arrived in Toronto.
The Art of Banksy opened earlier this month and has already been extended until mid-August to meet demand. Mounted in an old munitions factory on Sterling Road, the show is certainly explosive. Harper’s Bazaar proclaimed, “This isn’t one to miss!” While NOW Magazine editorial determined the show was, “Capitalism. And nothing but.”
Of course that duality is to be expected when art originally intended to be enjoyed by all, is now collected by an elite few. When a Banksy work can be viewed as vandalism by some, and a masterpiece by others. When a collection of anti-capitalist pieces are being viewed at $35 a pop. But, some might argue, that equivocality is precisely the point.
Art should be open to interpretation – a personal experience, unique to the viewer alone. As the exhibit’s website points out, “The artist has not so far, offered any interpretation of his works. It is therefore no one else’s place to do so. They mean what ever the viewers think they mean.” And so does the entire show.
Curated by Banksy’s former manager, Steve Lazarides (the two had a falling out in 2008 and haven’t spoken since – Banksy has called it, “the most peaceful 10 years of my life”), and not affiliated with Banksy (“this isn’t a Banksy show,” explains Lazarides, “it’s a show of Banksy’s artwork”), the exhibit includes over 80 original works (paintings, sculptures, installations, and screen prints), worth more than $35 million, borrowed from 40 private collectors around the world.
Viewers will have, for their consideration, the iconic Balloon Girl; Laugh Now, where monkeys take over the world; a Winged Victory statue with a CCTV camera for a head; and much more.
Is it an exploration of the artist’s commentary on mass culture? Or is it an Instagram photo op for millennials seeking a packaged point of view? In the end, just like the art itself, the meaning is up to you.
The Art of Banksy is on at 213 Sterling Road until August 19th. For tickets and info visit banksyexhibit.com.
Lead image courtesy of Azure Magazine