See a collection of the famous British artist’s works on exhibit in Toronto.
By Sherri Telenko
Want to feel cool? Stand on the unfinished cement floors of a former industrial building in an ‘up and coming’ neighborhood looking at art.
Want to be cool? Be the first of your friends to see The Art of Banksy exhibit, North America’s preview stop of the world’s largest collection of Banksy’s work at 213 Stirling Road, Toronto. (Lansdowne subway stop is the closest—limited parking is available.)
Or at least that’s how it felt at the opening.
So, who is Banksy?
If you’re not an aficionado of graffiti art or haven’t seen the 2010 documentary, Exit Through the Gift Store, you might not know. Banksy—the British Batman of street art—is a prolific identity-concealing graffiti artist who gained notoriety answering his own bat signal by stenciling politically charged messages across London’s city walls, eluding law enforcement and security cameras along the way.
“Anonymity wasn’t a marketing tool,” says curator Steve Lazarides in one of many video commentaries running throughout the show. “It was a necessity for survival.”
The artist is still anonymous. A ‘portrait’ of him (face-hidden) starts the show. It’s curator Lazarides who’s the face of the exhibit documenting his 12-year journey with the artist, a business relationship ending in 2008. And that’s when the show ends. This is Lazarides’ vehicle; it’s not even authorized by the artist. Instead, it’s a collection of 80 pieces belonging to collectors—the photographs of Banksy’s street graffiti in the second room are Lazarides’ own.
A Robin to his Batman, Lazarides apparently co-piloted Banksy’s rise from spray paint street crusader to studio silk screen artist, creating a series of pieces deceptively complex in their irreverence: Jack and Jill cartoon nursery rhyme figures in riot gear; Dorothy and Toto getting security searched; Sir Winston Churchill with a green Mohawk. A sample of these prints, once selling to ‘average people’ for 35 pounds now worth tens of thousands to collectors, fill two rooms.
The show also includes more commercial works, like album covers and installation pieces such as the artists’ iconic riot gear-clad figure with the yellow ‘Have a Nice Day” happy face in the helmet.
The Grande Finale consists of pieces from Barely Legal, a large, art-world attention-getting 2006 exhibition held in an empty industrial building (sound familiar?) in a Los Angeles ‘skid row’ neighborhood, and the last major Banksy/Lazarides project. Included was a live elephant (not appearing in Toronto) and “Flag Wall,” an urbanized version of the flag-raising solider image at Iwo, Jima.
The Art of Banksy is a provocative journey. His rise and work are chocked with self-referential irony, distilling complex ideas to clever mocking. Yet the experience left me thinking—particularly about the biggest irony: using ‘blockbuster’ marketing strategies (tickets are $35) to sell a street ‘vandal’ who once dodged Bobbies. The Art of Banksy is produced by Corey Ross CEO of Starvox Exhibits whose production credits include the Canadian version of CATS and several Caesars Entertainment revues.
The Art of Banksy is a self-aware, sexy club scene cloaked with an alternative art space vibe of ’90s artist-run centers. You may wonder, “Does the exhibit exit through the gift store?” Yes, my friend, it does. But not before you’re left with this Banksy thought stenciled on the wall: “We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime, we should all go shopping to console ourselves.”
The Art of Banksy
June 13 to September 2, 2018
at 213 Sterling Road, Toronto