Banksy is the world’s most famous street artist and I feel like I have a special connection with him. Believe it or not, the landlord of my flat in London knew Banksy and there was a small signed print of his iconic work of two London bobbies kissing hanging inside my toilet. There it was, signed on the back of the picture – To Darryl, from Banksy. I have no idea why you’d hang a picture possibly worth thousands of pounds inside a rented flat – but I loved the unexpectedness of it, much like Banksy’s art.
The Art of Banksy is a new temporary exhibition that’s come to Melbourne courtesy of Banksy’s former agent Steve Lazarides. The Art of Banksy is not a Banksy-endorsed display (that wouldn’t be in keeping with the artist’s ethos) but it still contains about 80 original works from Lazarides’s collection plus other private collections. I was curious to see how the works would be curated so paid the hefty admission fee ($30+ booking fee per adult) to visit.
Turns out I like my street art…on the street.
The exhibition is set inside a large tent behind the Federation Square carpark, so is a little hard to find if you’re approaching from Flinders Street as it’s closer to Batman Avenue.
Large canvases by Melbourne street artists such as Be Free, Heesco and Makatron greet you at the entrance and provide a local connection to the international exhibition.
The inside of the marquee has been divided into a spiral layout to approximate a house interior, street scape and platforms of the London Underground.
The majority of the art is prints, with the most impressive piece being the Flag Wall on ten panels of wood.
Banksy’s art is as witty, satirical and challenging as ever. But it seems to odd and artificial to display them in a frame on a wall. I feel that taking the works out of their contextual location lessens their impact, as the juxtaposition of the art with its surroundings and the guerilla-like nature of the art-making is as relevant as the actual artistic outcome. Framing and lighting the art sanitises them – they could have been produced in an expensive artist’s studio overlooking the Thames.
Also I can’t work out whether the gift shop is an ironic nod to the Banksy doco ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ or a genuine commercial enterprise of Banksy paraphernalia. I suspect it’s the latter as the exhibition is accompanied by food trucks, a bar and DJs so they are encouraging you to spend.
My advice is to save your $30, walk across the road and check out some of the amazing, street art in Hosier Lane and other laneways in Melbourne. Those walls are an evolving canvas for established and emerging street artists and they tell stories that reflect our society, culture, politics and tastes right now. It’s free and is a much more inspiring, rich and satisfying experience than The Art of Banksy.