words Danny Lamb
‘Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.’ – Banksy
Whether you love him or hate him, the name Banksy has always elicited a response from the art world. Though technically anonymous, Banksy is hard to ignore. It cannot be denied that his body of work sparks debate and, as such, the same can be said of Media City’s new Art of Banksy exhibition.
Located in The Piazza in the heart of Media City, The Art of Banksy acts as a comprehensive career retrospective for Banksy, despite the artist himself having no direct involvement with the project, or indeed endorsing its existence at all. This may be a sticking point for some, but with 145 pieces curated from private collections, the exhibition does have the honour of being the largest touring collection of Banksy artworks ever assembled. The result is a kaleidoscopic, hallucinogenic journey through Banksy’s career from its humble beginnings, through to him being catapulted into the mainstream public consciousness.
Here there are insights into his infamous Barely Legal exhibition from 2006, wherein he had a literal ‘elephant in the room’ to stand as a representation of prevalent issues such as global poverty, which he felt were being ignored. There are also explorations of Banksy’s fascination with rats and his use of them as a recurring motif in his work, including the time he released 200 live rats into the gallery for his 2005 Crude Oils exhibition. According to interviews, the fact that ‘rat’ is an anagram of ‘art’ is a coincidence he only realised later.
There are postcards, paintings, parodies, pastiches and Paris Hilton (defaced, naturally). There is plenty on offer for fans of Banksy, but the exhibition is also aimed (perhaps primarily) at those who may only have a passing interest in his work. The work curated here is contextualised as part of a larger ethos, forming a disjointed narrative of the artist through the artwork on display. We may not know exactly who Banksy is, but we do come out of the exhibition knowing more about what drives him as an artist as we see the patterns, themes, and messages which recur throughout his decades long career reinforced and reimagined. We need only look to Banksy’s artwork to get an idea of who the person is behind it.
There is also a sense of how he fits in (or doesn’t) with the art world in general. The exhibition is peppered with quotes, one such being: ‘The art world is the biggest joke going. It’s a rest home for the overprivileged, the pretentious, and the weak.’ With art being used as a tool to spark debate in recent climate change protests, the exhibition feels timely in this regard. Particularly when considering that Banksy has been known to destroy his own art to make wider points about the role of art in society. But perhaps it would always feel timely, given the body of work in question. Banksy may not be seen as being as radical, as trendy, or as cool as he once was, but seeing so much of his work collected together in this manner does highlight that a lot of Banksy’s art is still relevant and does still resonate. Indeed, his most thought provoking pieces do still provoke thought.
The Art of Banksy exhibition is at MediaCity, Salford 21st Oct ’22 – 8th Jan ’23.