Banksy, the renowned Bristolian artist known as a vandal, street art maverick, subversive sprayer, and painter and decorator, has been subjected to numerous descriptions by both his supporters and critics.
Regardless of the ongoing debate over the most fitting label for him, one fact remains undeniable: Banksy's exhibitions have completely transformed the dynamic between graffiti and galleries, challenging conventional notions of the art viewing experience.
Because Banksy's artworks are often transient and he himself remains elusive, only a small number of his pieces find their way into permanent collections.
Yet, during a notable period spanning from October 2003 to May 2005, Banksy managed to infiltrate several renowned establishments with his own artworks. These high-profile settings included Tate Britain in 2003, where he installed his painting titled "Crimewatch UK Has Ruined The Countryside For All of Us," as well as the Louvre in Paris (2004) and the Brooklyn and Metropolitan Museums in New York (2005).
While Banksy deliberately maintains a significant level of distance from the traditional art gallery scene, his artwork has been showcased in numerous exhibitions, both authorised and unauthorised, since 2000.
One notable unauthorised exhibition of Banksy's work is Laugh Now, which took place at the Moco Museum in Amsterdam. In addition to the exhibition in the Dutch capital, unauthorised Banksy exhibitions have taken place in locations such as Las Vegas, Bucharest, London, and Auckland. These exhibitions primarily focused on selling the artist's works and prints.
Banksy's website serves as a platform for his justified disapproval of unauthorised shows. Under the section titled ’Product Recall,’ he publicly calls out and criticises galleries involved in such exhibitions.
Always keeping fans on the edge of their seat, on 15 June 2023, Banksy presents an extraordinary exhibition: a curated showcase of stencils spanning from 1998 to 2023 at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow. ”Cut and Run’’ This distinctive exhibition holds a significant place among others, not only as Banksy's first authorised exhibition of the year, but also for its exclusive emphasis on the artistic medium. As a maverick artist with a profound impact, Banksy, like every artist, has carefully chosen a medium to convey his message. This exceptional exhibition offers a rare opportunity for both admirers and critics to delve into the depths of his artistic mind and creative process, shedding light on the power of materiality and the unique techniques behind his renowned stencil artworks.
In the autumn of 2019, Banksy introduced a unique artistic endeavour by opening a storefront in Croydon called Gross Domestic Product. Instead of allowing buyers to directly purchase his latest editions, they were redirected to a website upon arrival at the store. On the website, they could register their interest and participate in a lottery for a chance to win only one item.
The website warned potential buyers that Gross Domestic Product might not meet their expectations as a traditional retail experience, especially if their goal was solely to acquire and resell the artwork for profit. To actually acquire an artwork, individuals had to provide a creative response to the question, ”Why does art matter?’’ Comedian Adam Bloom served as the judge, selecting answers that were deemed original or humorous, and those individuals were then eligible for the lottery.
Essentially, GDP was Banksy's way of preventing his artwork from falling into the hands of individuals seeking to profit from its resale. The initiative encouraged buyers to purchase artwork because they genuinely appreciated it, rather than as a mere investment. Alongside unique signed prints and paintings, the shop featured unconventional items such as a handbag made from a house brick, mugs, t-shirts, and even the Union Jack stab vest worn by Stormzy during his 2019 Glastonbury performance.
On the 20th March 2017 a 10-room boutique hotel located just metres away from Israel's West Bank wall opened its doors to the public. Boasting ”The worst view in the world,’’ the now-privately owned hotel was originally created by Banksy as a gallery, protest and hotel rolled into one marking 100 years since Britain’s involvement in beginning the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The building contains artwork by Banksy himself, Dominique Petrin, Palestinian activist, and artist Sami Musa. The hotel also contains a museum explaining the story of the West Bank Wall - the illegal barrier visible from every room - alongside photographs from the Gaza Strip both during and before its devastation by war. The gallery is now also a permanent space dedicated to displaying local Palestinian artists and curators - aiming to bring their work to an international audience.
Banksy’s largest exhibition to date, Dismaland, took place inside an abandoned seaside swimming resort in Weston-Super-Mare, North Somerset, England. Described as a ‘sinister’ parody of Disneyland, the exhibition’s name is a riff on a series of paintings by American artist Jeff Gillette, whose work is also featured.
Dismaland was quite unlike anything Banksy had ever created. More than just visual art, it included several interactive performances, as well as concerts by the likes of Pussy Riot and De La Soul.
The ominous words were printed inside the event’s official brochure: ”Are you looking for an alternative to the soulless sugar-coated banality of the average family day out? Or just somewhere cheaper. Then this is the place for you — a chaotic new world where you can escape from mindless escapism.’’
A multi-sensory, immersive art ‘experience’, it engaged head-on with contentious social and political issues of the day, namely the ongoing Mediterranean migration crisis.
Several pieces by other artists from around the world, including the likes of Damien Hirst and David Shrigley, were exhibited alongside original artworks by Banksy himself. Lasting five weeks, Dismaland brought around £20 million in revenue to the local area.
Returning to his native Bristol in 2009, Banksy undertook a summer residency at the Bristol Museum, turning it – and its contents – upside down. Entitled Banksy vs Bristol Museum, it was his largest yet at the time.
Overnight, the museum was transformed into a collection of Unnatural History, with fish fingers in gold-fish bowls, alongside displays of hot dogs and chicken nuggets.
Comprising over 100 works of art, 78 previously unseen, the exhibition saw Banksy take over the museum’s main entrance, transforming it into a sculpture hall. A mixture of bizarre installation works – some featuring animatronic technology – and wacky, defaced oil paintings replaced the museum’s usual exhibits.
The exhibition saw a fantastic display of Banksy originals amongst the historic museum collections of Old Master paintings and sculptures. Banksy originals displayed included Venus After Surgery, Rembrandt with Googly Eyes, The Flight to Egypt (Low Cost) and Home Sweet Home.
Banksy vs Bristol Museum was a huge hit, with over 8500 people visiting on its opening weekend alone, and featured such well-known works as No Ball Games.
Barely Legal (2006) was held in an industrial warehouse in Los Angeles, swapping the dreary climes of the English capital for the balmy surrounds of California.
Supersising his controversial artistic interventions for an American audience, this ‘three-day vandalised warehouse extravaganza’ featured a 37-year-old Indian elephant painted to match the wallpaper of the exhibition space. A metaphorical figuration of the ‘elephant in the room’ – the elephant was used to highlight the exhibition’s tackling of social and political issues, such as growing poverty and the so-called ‘War On Terror’.
In October 2005, Banksy ramped up his dethroning of art historical canon and the art establishment, unveiling the Crude Oils exhibition. Over the course of just a week, the exhibition saw Banksy commandeer the interior of a small shop at 100 Westbourne Grove in London’s Notting Hill.
Housed within the confines of this makeshift gallery were 20 reworked versions of iconic oil paintings by Hopper, Warhol, Monet, and van Gogh. Amongst those works to feature were two of Banksy’s most famous: Sunflowers From Petrol Station - the artist’s third all-time highest selling work at auction as of 2021 - and Show Me The Monet, sold in 2020 for nearly £7.6 million.
The most memorable feature of the exhibition? The gallery space was occupied by 200 live black rats.
Turf War was Banksy's first major exhibition, held in London 2003. Where was Banksy's exhibition in London? Well, perhaps surprisingly, perhaps predictably, Banksy's exhibition was not held in a major gallery but at a warehouse in London’s East End. It featured an array of original Banksy ‘artworks’, which ranged from classic oil paintings - each ‘vandalised’ by the artist in his trademark ‘tongue-in-cheek’ style - to live animals painted by the artist using stencils.
Among the exhibition's most well-known features was Banksy’s Turf War – a satirical reworking of Winston Churchill’s The Roaring Lion portrait, taken by Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh during a 1941 visit by the British premier to the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa.
The exhibition was a huge success but caused a furore with animal rights activists. Banksy justified using live animals by evoking his outsider status in the booming London Street Art scene.
Commenting on the exhibition, Banksy said, ”If you come to London to paint graffiti, you get quite a hard time for being a bumpkin […] People write over your stuff […] I thought rather than pretend I don't come from the country, I'd big up the West Country - bring in lots of animals - paint on them’’.
Pun-filled exhibition Existencilism was Banksy’s first in the United States. Taking place at Los Angeles’ 33 1/3 Gallery in the summer of 2002, the exhibition featured what would go on to be some of the infamous street artist’s most well-known pieces.
A few years later, Banksy would return to Los Angeles with his 2006 exhibition, Barely Legal.
Banksy’s first-ever solo exhibition was held at Severnshed – a restaurant located in Bristol’s harbourside, right next door to the infamous venue, Thekla – once home to one of Banksy’s best-known early works, The Grim Reaper.
At the centre of the small-scale exhibition, which took place in early 2000, was what Banksy described then as a tenet of all graffiti: ”that you aren’t going to be told what to do, and that you’ll go out and make the city the way you want it to look.’’
Featuring a number of stencil and acrylic works on canvas, including the Simple Intelligence Testing series (which in 2008 sold for a record £635,500 at Sotheby’s auction house in London), the artwork received mixed responses.
Commenting on the exhibition, a visitor said, ”If he’s gunna [sic] start putting rats and spanners and things like that sprayed on stone work all over the city of Bristol, well, I mean, the place would look tattier than it does at the moment.’’
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