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Has Banksy sold himself?

Bristol's City Museum & Art Gallery, Bristol
13 June - 31 August 2009

Reviewed by: Amy Shaw »


Although I haven't made the trip so see the cult icon Banksy's exhibition at Bristol's city council art museum I feel that I have no need to see the work in the flesh as it’s the principle of this exhibition that I disagree with. The "famously elusive artist….refuses to be identified" except to a few select individuals in his 'Banksy Team' and so the general public have clearly been relishing in this 'one-off' public showcase of the secretive artist where he causes havoc, politically and humorously, with dark comments that are seemingly affecting the world.


Yes I appreciate it's modern art -  love modern art. Yes I appreciate it's clever, witty and rebelling against the rules that govern us in our nannied state - I never said it wasn't. That's what draws me to this exciting artist - that he's prepared to break all the rules to make the rule makers think.


So then why on earth if he is this "British urban guerrilla artist" would you promote your work in a council run, government owned building? No he didn't break into the building and wreak the havoc himself like something out of a Tarrantino movie without anyone knowing what the hell was happening to the building. It was planned, presumed and predictable. His statements about the government, about fast food and about art are profound, but have lost a charm and something unique about his approach to 'mayhem art'. I began to realise just how much I resented this exhibition after hearing about it on the Chris Moyles show on Radio 1. They were being salesmen to Banksy telling everyone they must go and millions did. Exceeding the gallery's capacity to maximum and with a two in two out policy - Moyle's publicity certainly did work - but it shouldn’t have. The older generation should've been tutting and grimacing at the 'vandalism' and parents of teenagers should've been just completely confused but they weren't. People were drawn in masses to see the work and I feel Banksy's work should stay 'underground' and "exist without permission".


It used to be exciting randomly strolling through London's Marble Arch and seeing a security camera pointing to a wall with Banksy's stencil staying "what are you looking at?". I told my friends that I'd just seen "a banksy" and people got excited and I felt as if I was the only person on the planet to have seen his work. But now it's been mass marketed and pushed to it's maximum so that it's lost all of it's charm, secrecy and personality.



I do favour Bansky in his attitude towards the publicity of his work. I'm fully aware that he hasn't paid off Radio 1 to promote his exhibition, as it's clearly Moyles jumping on the bandwagon along with the rest of the British public. But somewhere along the lines Banksy made the conscious effort to get his work into the gallery. It was off his own back and therefore he has sold himself to mainstream art. People may say that Emin or Hurst have sold themselves - but they never said they wouldn't. Hurst has never made assumptions that his work is all his as he freely admits that he has a team behind painting his 'Spot Paintings' as he "can't be fucking arsed to do it". Rebelling has, admittedly, always been a theme within Banksy’s work but this time he’s not rebelling in a controlled way, which is contradicting everything he has ever said he would do. He’s said once “I don’t need one man to tell me I’m an artist” but this time he’s working for ‘the man’.


Banksy is a sell-out. Contemporary art should be something that divides the world in half. It should cause annoyance and misunderstanding rather than just being 'popular' an appealing to the mass market. If Banksy felt opinionated enough to say this: “As far as I can tell the only thing worth looking at in most museums of art is all the schoolgirls on daytrips with the art departments." then why has he sold himself?


Writer detail:

Amy Shaw

Nottingham trent University
Fine Art

Venue detail:
Bristol's City Museum & Art Gallery »
, Queens Road, BRISTOL BS8 1RL

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