Despite recently hitting the international headlines with his latest stunt (the live self-shredding of Girl with Balloon, shortly after it went under the hammer at Sotheby’s for 1 million 200 thousand euros, now renamed Love in the Bin), the identity of the English artist and writer Banksy remains shrouded in mystery.
Considered one of the leading exponents of contemporary street art, his work serves as a mouthpiece for his criticism of the system, capitalism and war. His reticence and the aura of mystery that, out of choice and of necessity, surrounds him, mark Banksy out as one of the leading names in contemporary art and as a true superhero of our times - we don’t know who he is, or when he’ll strike next, but we do know that he will always side with the underdog.
Banksy’s work resonates deeply primarily because it has an immediate power over and impact on the viewer who, in an instant, sees their beliefs turned on their head; it constitutes an open attack on the establishment, the battle cry of those without a voice determined to defend their own rights. Banksy’s protests channel irony and beauty; they are a call to arms to the sound of a rock guitar, rather than that of a tambourine (or a machine gun).
The Art of Banksy. A Visual Protest, at the MUDEC-Museo delle Culture in Milan, is the first Italian retrospective devoted to the artist, although obviously not authorised by him, like all those previously devoted to him, given that he continues to preserve his anonymity and his detachment from the system. The exhibition, curated by Gianni Mercurio, contains some 80 works – objects, photographs and videos as well as paintings, sculptures and prints – all with certified provenance and collected by private collectors – which narrate Banksy’s work and philosophy.
The exhibition illustrates the “movements” that harnessed a form of visual protest made up of a blend of words and images, to which Banksy explicitly refers in his modes of expression: from the Situationist movement of the Fifties and Sixties, whose experimental approach and focus on urban realities he shares, to the forms of communication conceived and practised by the Atelier Populaire, the student group that affixed hundreds of protest posters to walls all over Paris in May 1968; to the work of writers and graffiti artists in Seventies and Eighties New York, with their multicultural and illegal origins and powerful sense of community. Like the street artists of his own generation Banksy deliberately accentuates the content of his political and social messages, shifting the message from the form to the content.
These elements emerge as the foundations of Banksy’s art in the body of works on exhibit, split into types and theme, such as for example the idea and practice of seriality and the reproducibility of works attributable to Warhol, or détournement, which Banksy uses to turn around copies of existing and often universally known works by inserting alienating elements that contrive to alter their meaning.
A special section is devoted to the murals created by the artist in various places around the globe, underscoring the fact that location is a fundamental component of his work – many of his works are conceived on the basis of and for the society in which they are created. Shepard Fairey, the famous American street artist had this to say: “His works are full of metaphors that transcend language barriers. The images are entertaining and witty, and yet so simple and accessible: even six-year old children who have no concept of cultural conflict, have no problem seeing that there is something not quite right when they see the Mona Lisa with a rocket launcher.”
The Art of Bansky. A Visual Protest
MUDEC - Museo delle Culture
Via Tortona, 56 - Milan
21 November 2018 - 14 April 2019