Part of the superstar allure of Banksy — the anonymous England-based street artist whose work has fueled documentaries, million-dollar auctions and social and political commentary — is his elusiveness.
His street murals, spray-paint stencils and graffiti art have sprung up without warning in cities around the world. Banksy has left subversive, often humorous images and messages on walls from the London Zoo to the Israeli West Bank and on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride in Disneyland.
A key aspect of his art — part of what makes it so sought after — is its ephemeral quality: More than one Banksy original has been painted over or destroyed by property owners oblivious to the treasure that was hiding in plain sight.
Two shows in this year’s Miami Art Week will provide the rare opportunity to witness Banksy works up close:
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“Saving Banksy Miami,” running Dec. 6-9 at the Superchief Gallery, 3100 NW Seventh Ave., showcases “Haight Street Rat,” the stencil work Banksy created in San Francisco’s historic Haight and Ashbury neighborhood in 2010. As documented in the Netflix documentary “Saving Banksy,” the painting of a beret-wearing rat was saved from destruction by art conservator Brian Greif, who spent $40,000 to have the work professionally removed from the side of a building and has since declined offers to sell from private collectors.
“The Art of Banksy,” running Dec. 1-Feb. 28 at Magic City Studios, 6301 NE Fourth Ave., is an exhibit of 80 screen prints, paintings, sculptures and other indoor works created by Banksy prior to 2008; all are on loan from private collectors. The show, curated by his former manager Steve Lazarides, bills itself as “unauthorized,” since Banksy did not participate in its curation and does not approve of charging people anything more than a nominal admission to see his work.
The two shows exemplify opposing approaches to Banksy’s art. “Saving Banksy Miami,” which is free to the public, has been touring North America since June with previous stops in Toronto, Jacksonville, Kokomo and Waco. The show uses “Haight Street Rat” as a lure to showcase the work of other local and international street artists at each show. The Miami exhibit will feature works by Paris graffiti icon Blek le Rat, as well as Swoon, UFO907, Aholsniffsglue and Atomik, among others.
”The exhibit is an opportunity for local artists to get exposure and sell some of their works, and it’s a great educational tool as well,” said Greif, who will attend the Miami show and host screenings of “Saving Banksy” and the documentary “Underbelly,” about the works of artists such as Shepard Fairey, Swoon and Ron English. “The age range of audiences has been from five to 85 and they’ve all had the same reaction: They want to know more about Banksy and street art.”
“The Art of Banksy,” which is making its U.S. premiere in Miami after stops in Melbourne, Tel Aviv and Toronto, is a co-production between promoters Live Nation and Starvox Exhibits. The show includes iconic Banksy works such as a screen print of “Girl With Balloon,” the infamous painting that self-shredded immediately after it sold for $1.4 million at a Sotheby’s London auction in October, and “Flag Wall,” an urban take on the famed World War II photo of soldiers raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. Admission ranges from $35-$50.
The cost of admission
But the price of those tickets — the fact that there’s any admission fee at all — has earned the wrath of the normally press-shy artist.
“’The Art of Banksy’ is an unauthorised travelling show organised by unscrupulous profiteers,” a spokesperson for Pest Control, the U.K.-based company that manages and represents Banksy, told the Herald via email. “Not only do these people abuse Banksy’s name for their own financial greed but they also mislead the general public into believing it has something to do with the artist.”
Lazarides, who worked as Banksy’s manager for 12 years, understands the complaint. But he argues that “The Art of Banksy” exhibition would be too costly to tour without charging admission.
“To be fair, I think some of [his criticism] is correct,” Lazarides said. “But at no point has anyone led the public to believe this is a Banksy show. We’ve been billing this as unauthorized the whole time. At the end of the day, he was made by the general public and I think they have the right to see these works. It’s better for them to be seen by hundreds of fans than hanging inside the private home of a collector.”
Earlier this week, a Belgian judge closed a Brussels exhibition titled “Banksy Unauthorized” and seized the 58 artworks on display, ruling that the non-profit organization that was presenting the show inside a supermarket had no right to present the exhibit. The court also confiscated the unauthorized merchandise that was being sold at the exhibit.
The organizers of “The Art of Banksy” say no Banksy-related merchandise will be sold at the show. But the ticket prices for the exhibit still don’t sit well with some observers.
“I’m conflicted about any exhibit that is done for commercial purposes where the artist doesn’t share in the commercial gain,” Greif said. “If you’re charging admission, the artist ought to get part of the money. Anything that opens people’s eyes and makes them more aware of Banksy’s art is great. But when the artist hasn’t given their consent for commercial, that’s an entirely different issue.”
“Saving Banksy Miami” runs Dec. 6-9 at the Superchief Gallery, 3100 NW Seventh Ave., Miami. Admission is free. The film “Underbelly” will be shown at 3 p.m. Friday Dec. 7. “Saving Banksy” will screen at 3 p.m. Saturday Dec. 8. Both movies will be followed by Q&A discussions with the filmmakers.
“The Art of Banksy,” runs Dec. 1-Feb. 28 from noon-10 p.m. daily at Magic City Studios, 6301 NE Fourth Ave., Miami. General admission tickets are $35-$50 and can be purchased at www.banksyexhibit.com.