Banksy is a London street artist who travels the world painting on walls, doors, street signs and just about any public place where a funny, clever image might offer some cutting commentary on the immediate surroundings or simply elicit a smile.
The works are meant to be short-lived, site-specific and slightly mysterious. Banksy never signs his paintings, lest he admit to a crime such as vandalism.
Because of the nature of Banksys works, they typically cannot be sold. And the artist, who rarely grants interviews, has said he likes it that way.
But as the art world descends on Miami this week, a New York gallery owner is about to change that.
Stephan Keszler of Southampton has shipped to Miami several large chunks of framed, cinder-block-and-stone walls adorned with Banksys works and removed from their original locations in Israel, England, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Keszler plans to show the works at CONTEXT Art Miami, a new offshoot of Art Miami one of the oldest and largest fairs that run concurrently with Art Basel Miami Beach.
A preview of the five Banksy works is scheduled for Art Miami VIP card holders Tuesday night at CONTEXT, in Midtown at 3201 Northeast First Ave.
The exhibition, Banksy Out of CONTEXT, marks the first time the artists works will be shown as part of a major contemporary art fair, said Art Miami director Nick Korniloff.
Banksy declined to comment. But if the past is any indication, the artist is not pleased with the exhibition.
Last year, Keszler showed some of the Banksy works hes bringing to Miami in New York, and he tried to sell them at prices ranging from $40,000 to $750,000.
Before the exhibition opened, though, the secretive artist issued a statement criticizing the gallery owner for removing the works from their contextual surroundings, and he suggested they were not authentic.
None of the works sold, and Keszler accused the artist of sabotaging the show.
This year, Banksy Out of CONTEXT appeared to be headed for a similar fate, except this time Keszler said he is prepared to confront the controversy.
The works to be presented at Art Miami are not for sale, he said. That adds another peculiar dimension to the exhibition, since art sales are at the core of the fair.
Keszler says Banksy is a hypocrite for taking artistic license to create his works on the property of others, but attempting to prevent the gallery owner from exercising his free will.
Though he has not spoken with Banksy, Keszler said he believes the exhibition is doing the artist a favor.
I believe and I hope that Banksy, if hes really honest to himself alone at home, he likes what we do, Keszler said, because we are preserving and we are salvaging his works, and we show his works, which were only made for a few people in Palestine or Bethlehem, and now 50,000 or 60,000 or 70,000 people will see this. So what is wrong about what we are doing?
Marc Schiller, a friend of Banksys who runs woostercollective.com, a website dedicated to street art, said he finds plenty wrong. This exhibition does not celebrate street art. It destroys it, he wrote in an email. By removing Banksys work from the street, you remove the context and significance of the work. In this way, the organizers have effectively ruined what makes it a piece of art.