Banksy in Mayfair

Banksy 3

BA (Hons) History of Art and Design student Sarahlouise Newman on the exhibition Banksy, Greatest Hits 2002-2008

Banksy 1

Figure 1.

In July, I was volunteering in London when I discovered there was a Banksy exhibition nearby at Lazinc Sackville, Mayfair.  The show, entitled Banksy, Greatest Hits 2002-2008 – a sly dig at the music industry and its cult of celebrity from the artist whose true identity is still unknown – showcased his work during that period. Looming overhead on a balcony as I entered the building, stood a mannequin in a tightened hoodie and fishing rod.  Not something you expect to see down a street in Mayfair. Could this be a physical interpretation of reeling people in by someone who is hidden?

Inside, the work was showcased in a formal art gallery setting, quite a contrast to the streets in which you normally find the originals.  The story behind this exhibition is that co-founder Steve Lazarides, met the anonymous artist in 1997 when he took his portrait for Sleaze Nation magazine. Soon after, Steve Lazarides became Banksy’s official photographer and gallerist, they stayed good friends and decided to create an exhibition of the work that they were linked on.

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Figure 2

Banksy is known for satirical street art, which has a dig at everything from politics and the monarchy to pollution and popular culture.  With that in mind, the first thing I noticed when I walked in was a wall-size picture of a child clutching a teddy bear in a war zone, while people film her, instead of helping her.  Everything from the facial expression, to the location, drew the viewer in and made me feel uncomfortable. It appeared to represent how we, as humans, sensationalise war. Something that Banksy has been said to be against.

Next to it was the popular two policeman kissing image. This street art first appeared in Brighton along with another called the ice cream bomb. This stencil has been turned into canvases and paintings, which can now be purchased worldwide, and the original is still on the outside wall of the Prince Albert pub, down by Brighton Station. Banksy was not only mocking the police with this stencil, but also mocking homophobic people. According to the press, the picture represents the fact that being gay was part of society and love is all that mattered.

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Figure 3

In the middle of the room was a statue of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, given a Banksy makeover as Chavphrodite. The statue had been given a blanket, a plaster on her face and a baseball cap; hiding her real beauty with materialistic possessions. Walking through the exhibition, the music of Massive Attack played quietly, perhaps another sly dig as the rumour that Banksy is, in fact, a member of the group has circulated since he became popular in the public sphere. The paintings were neatly hung on walls all on the two floors. There were the two grandmas knitting blankets with the words ‘thug life’ and ‘punk is not dead’ written into them, a popular stencil of the thug throwing flowers, monkeys with placards across their chests saying they will inherit the earth, Monet’s lily pads with a Tesco’s shopping trolley added in to make it look more like a pond in the local park and several Banksy rats.  There were so many good pieces it was hard to choose a few to write about.

The most notable was the girl with the balloon titled ‘There is Hope’.  This piece recently became news, in typical Banksy fashion. It was sold at auction in Sotheby’s for £860,000 and as the painting was removed from the wall, it began to shred itself. Now renamed ‘Love is in the Bin’, its estimated worth is over £1 million. However, Banksy has also admitted the stunt went wrong as the painting was meant to shred the artwork completely, not get three quarters of the way through the painting and stop (follow this link for the full video of the selling of the painting and the making of the “Shred the Love” frame).  This became one of the most memorable art sales ever recorded at Sotheby’s.

The exhibition has now closed its doors, but there is a possibility Banksy is working on something new for the gallery, according to their website.  The majority of the art work on exhibition could be bought and the proceeds went to a homeless charity in Bristol, Banksy’s home town. The exhibition was a very well thought-out retrospective, rather than an art installation like his Dismaland exhibition, which was also a sell-out.  Next time there is a Banksy exhibition or art installation on, I recommend going to it: Banksy creates art that makes you think. And, in his own words, “You may like it, you may hate it, you may not even care about it, but you will always remember it.”

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