4 June 2018




This past month, Toronto received some exciting exhibit news: a major exhibition of Banksy’s work will open in Toronto in June. The exhibit will feature over 80 original works, which will make it “the largest Banksy exhibit ever assembled." The catch? The show is unauthorized, and the curator, Steve Lazarides, has openly discussed the fact that Banksy wouldn’t approve of the exhibit.

In this edition of Muse News, I’ll be exploring The Art of Banksy, an exhibit that provides access to a large body of artwork at the cost of overriding the will of the artist.

The Art of Banksy

The massive exhibit, The Art of Banksy, will open in Toronto on June 13th and run until July 11th. Instead of a gallery or traditional museum space, the exhibit will be held in an empty warehouse. The warehouse aesthetic seems like a perfect fit for the artwork of Banksy, as the artist is known for their graffiti artwork, often on the exteriors of derelict buildings in cities across the world.

The show’s impressive display of artwork may give the exhibit an air of authenticity, after all, how could such a large collection be displayed without the involvement of the artist? The impressive display, in actuality, comes down to the show’s curator, Steve Lazarides, who managed to involve over 40 private art collectors to mount this one-of-a-kind show. Lazarides’ storied connection to Banksy made this exhibit possible, but also problematic.

Balloon Girl (pictured above) is one of the works that will be featured in the upcoming exhibit. Source.

Lazarides and Banksy

Steve Lazarides is the owner of a gallery in London, but he is most famously known as Banksy’s former manager. Between 1997 and 2009, Lazarides worked for Banksy in multiple capacities including manager, dealer, spokesperson and gallerist.

The personal connection between Lazarides and Banksy may have ended in 2009, but today, Banksy still plays a central role in Lazarides’ career in the art world. In addition to exhibiting unauthorized shows of Banksy’s works (this exhibit is by no means the first), in December 2016, Lazarides opened the Banksy Print Gallery in London. While Lazarides emphasizes his “historical link to the artist,” Banksy himself has been silent about the upcoming exhibit. The only hint that Banksy denounces Lazarides’ continued efforts is a small-print message on the official Banksy website stating, “Banksy is NOT on Facebook, Twitter or represented by Steve Lazarides or any other commercial gallery.” This message may just be a typical disclaimer, but the fact Lazarides is mentioned by name seems like a direct jab at the gallery-owner who continues to profit off Banksy’s work.

Exhibiting Banksy

The problematic relationship between Lazarides and Banksy is further complicated by the politics of exhibiting a graffiti artist. If you’re like me, you might assume that it is counterintuitive to exhibit an artist primarily known for creating street art. I am most familiar with the Banksy works painted on the sides of buildings, not contained within gallery walls. Banksy’s works are extremely political, commenting on everything from global warming, to poverty. The work becomes even more political as a piece of graffiti, on display for anyone passing by.

Exhibiting Banksy behind closed doors may seem like a violation of his artistic intention, but the artist himself has created many exhibits over the years. Most of the works in this show were exhibited and sold at early Banksy shows. Some of Banksy’s shows were fairly conventional, but other shows were as radical as the art itself. One of Banksy’s first major shows, Turf War (2003), involved painting on live animals. Another show, Barely Legal (2006), was held at a vandalized warehouse and featured a live elephant. These radical exhibits created by Banksy are decidedly different from the upcoming show. Banksy’s shows became part of an artistic statement, whereas this upcoming show is completely divorced from Banksy the activist.

An image of the live elephant that was a part of Banksy's 2006 show Barely Legal. Source.

The Cost of Accessible Art

When discussing the upcoming Toronto show, Lazarides stated, “I want this to go to as many cities as possible, to get [Banksy’s] message out there," and Lazarides is making a great effort to make works in private collections accessible to a general audience. However, I am left wondering if making this art visible comes at the cost of violating Banksy’s artistic integrity.

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