The images on the walls of the Lighthouse Art Space in Minneapolis are familiar to anyone who has followed the art world in recent years.
“They are very recognizable. And, of course, they are audacious,” said Art of Banksy show representative Nick Harkin. He says as a street artist, Banksy has been poking a finger in the eye of things he does not like for a long time.
“And he has very pointed views about the Royal Family in Britain. He has pointed views about war and pacifism. And those are all reflected in his artwork.”
Banksy, who famously remains anonymous despite creating pieces known to millions, often just using stencils, in public spaces around the world. Harkin stresses this show, in the spirit of Banksy, is unauthorized.
“If we waited for Banksy to authorize a show there wouldn't be one,” he said with a grin.
The pieces in the Minneapolis show are all genuine Banksy works, screen prints based on those works which he sells to collectors. Harkin says the owners want people to see them. The show organizers say taken together, the work on the walls is worth some $35 million.
Laid out in roughly chronological order, the show also includes representations of some of Banksy’s famous stunts, including when he began slipping pieces he had made into displays at major museums. Harkin leads the way to a photo of what appears at first glance to be an ancient pictograph. But there is something odd about it.
“The Peckham rock shows a supposed prehistoric figure pushing a shopping trolley. It was placed in the British Museum in 2005, accompanied by an authentic looking information label. And it took three days for anyone in the museum to realize that something wasn't right. There is actually a YouTube video of him installing this in the museum,” Harkin said.
But the main attractions are the Banksy images, including his “Girl with Balloon.” It’s a stenciled figure of a young girl with an arm stretched out towards a heart-shaped balloon trailing a string. It’s monochromatic except for the balloon which can be one of many different bright colors.
“We have two ‘Girl with Balloon’ screen prints, one pink and one red” said Harkin. “And of course, this is one of the most beloved pieces of contemporary art in the world. In fact, there was a recent poll where people asked what was their favorite piece of contemporary art and this ranked is number one. Whether or not the girl is reaching for the balloon, or whether or not she let it go, that's subject to your interpretation.”
It was a “Girl with Balloon” image which notoriously self-destructed at a Sotheby’s auction moments after being sold for $1.4 million. Harkin points out the shredded remains are now worth even more.
There are more pointed political works in the show too.
“A lot of work that references war, or references police, you can see that in some cases, the soldiers, the armed soldiers, have smiley faces on them,” said Harkin. “And he's making commentary about police activity and also about war and aggression. One of the most iconic pictures is a policeman searching through Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz’s basket with Toto looking on.”
And being Banksy there are many images of rats, which Harkin points out is “an anagram for the word art.”
He relates a story about how different people react to Banksy’s work. He slipped into the London Underground, popularly known as the Tube, and stenciled several of his favorite rodents on the walls
Harkin said they were soon discovered after Banksy departed. “Now, the custodians saw the graffiti and very quickly cleaned it up, not realizing that it was Banksy. And then the the transit authority in London the next day asked him to please come back and do that. But unfortunately, he declined.”
When asked, Harkin doesn’t want to predict how many people might come to the show. He’s more inclined to answer whether there will be much crossover from the people who came to see the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit.
“There's humor in the show. There's certainly controversial content. That's what Banksy is about,” he said. “And I think that will attract many people that may not have been interested in Van Gogh. But hopefully, a lot of those same people who enjoyed Van Gogh will come back to see it as well.”
And of course there is always the question lingering in the back of some people’s minds as to whether Banksy might be in the crowd
“You might be standing next to him. If you don't like the artwork, don't say it too loudly,” Harkin says. “He remains elusive. No one really knows who he is. It's a little bit like when a magician does a trick. And you don't really want to know how the magician did it. That's a little bit how I look at Banksy.”
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