Banksy in Moscow

In summer 2018 the legendary street artist Banksy held an exhibition in Moscow.
Why did the author himself not know about his exhibition and was he against the commercialisation of his work? What works were presented and how successful was the event? What was the public reaction?
Let's discuss all this.
The exhibition took place from the 2nd of June to the 2nd of September, 2018. It coincided with the FIFA World Cup and was attended by many foreigners who were taking breaks between football matches.

About 100 works from several contemporary art museums and private collections were brought to Moscow. The list of exhibits displayed in Moscow is naturally missing, in full accord with the image of the enigmatic street artist himself.

A little about the artist himself. Who is Banksy?
Nobody really knows. Or rather, one knows for sure, but the mystery, incognito sells the best. After all, Banksy is now a multi-million dollar business.
Collectors of Banksy's work are definitely interested in keeping the uncertainty surrounding the identity of this extravagant creator as long as possible.

It is known that Banksy was born around 1974 in Bristol, England and that he is male.
In the 90s he started doing graffiti and for a long time he acted as a regular graffiti writer. But as his graffiti became larger and larger, his topics became more controversial and it turned out to be more and more difficult for him to evade the police. So, Banksy decided to use stencils to save time and it has now become his trademark.
Thanks to his talent as an artist and the poignant social themes of his drawings, Banksy quickly gained popularity first in England and then all over the world. It was the "Banksy effect", which began in 2006, that exploded the global art market. His graffiti works, made on the verge of kitsch, were sold out to Hollywood stars. And then the most prestigious auction houses joined in.
For 20 years, journalists and police have been chasing the mysterious Banksy.
There are several speculations about who's hiding under Banksy's disguise. The most common is that the famous graffiti artist is Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack. This was once mentioned by DJ Goldie. In an interview he said: " Give me a bubble letter and put it on a t-shirt and write 'Banksy' on it and we're sorted. We can sell it now. No disrespect to Robert, I think he is a brilliant artist. I think he has flipped the world of art over." And Banksy's new works often appear in the cities where the band performs.

In 2016, experts at the University of London attempted to identify the artist using a profiling technique. According to recent reports, the pseudonym Banksy may be the name of Robin Cunningham, a Bristol public school graduate.
Many reproach Banksy that despite his declared hatred of capitalism and commerce, he sells well. T-shirts and mugs featuring his work can be found in almost every online shop, which makes him more apt to be defined as pop art than street art. It's hard to say how fair these accusations are...

In 2013, Banksy held a sale of his work near Central Park in New York. Only eight paintings were sold in a day, each for $60. At the same time, the real value of the paintings exceeded 30,000. Banksy was trying to emphasize the affordability and cheapness of his works, but did not sell out by the end of the day. Buyers simply could not believe that works by this world-famous artist could be so cheap!
"As soon as you make a profit from an image you have left on the streets, it magically turns into an advertising object. When graffiti isn't considered a crime, it loses its point,"- Banksy lamented.
But back to the Moscow exhibition.
100 testimonies of the famous Banksy: prints, objects, photographs collected from galleries and museums. Also, a multimedia zone showing how the artist's style evolved. The originals are particularly interesting: fragments of a wall and road signs, and prints signed by the artist from private collections. Most of the exhibition is more of a photographic documentation of his famous works, depicting police officers, members of the royal family, Churchill with his Mohawk and other famous images. On the whole the exhibition is an illustrative guide to English humour rather than a fresh look at the artist Banksy and street art in general. The exhibition is aimed more at the general public than street art professionals, but was very popular in spite of high ticket prices - 550 rubles on weekdays and 650 on weekends.

So what was Banksy's own reaction to the exhibition?
On 15 August 2018, Banksy posted on his Instagram page a screenshot of a conversation with a follower about an exhibition of his work. He stated that he had nothing to do with the exhibition and was against charging people to view his art. The post was commented on by almost 10,000 people and sparked a wave of negativity on social media against the exhibition organizers and the legitimacy of the exhibition in general.
As a result, the organizers got in touch and confirmed that they had acted without consulting the artist, but noted that they were entitled to do so as the exhibition featured works from private collections. Collectors, in turn, have the right to give away their trophies for public display.

Alexander Nachkebia (organiser of the exhibition "Banksy: Genius or Vandal? You Decide!"):

"Of course, for me it's a commercial project that has to pay off. I'm happy with the way the Moscow exhibition is going, in my opinion, it's a successful project both in terms of attendance, which is approaching 300,000 people, and in terms of public resonance. Regarding the fact that Banksy personally was not aware of the exhibition of his works - these are works from private collections. Banksy, when he sells his work, gives the owners the scope of rights, which includes the right to transfer the work to exhibition or museum collections. He deliberately chose to do so.
The Banksy tag is not protected by rights. It is not a logo. The interest in Banksy's work in many countries is enormous and people want to see his work. In this situation he can either organise shows all over the world or accept the owners of his work to do so. It's his choice. The issue of royalties is a matter for the owners of the artworks, who receive funds from us for renting the exhibits."
To be fair, there are many exhibitions of Banksy's work travelling around the world under the franchise of Steve Lazarides, his former agent. This franchise can be bought by anyone. But if you go to Banksy's web page, you will read that Lazarides does not now represent him (nor does any other gallery). It's clear that the artist's work is in various galleries and collections. There is nothing wrong with representing a collection from these collections. But the fact that there is a solo exhibition of a living artist and he has nothing to do with it seems a bit odd.
Despite the debate over whether Banksy should be considered a freelance artist or a commercialist, there is no denying that he has been a trigger for the development of street culture. Furthermore, Banksy has achieved his main goal of drawing public attention to important issues, which include poverty, war, the mindless consumption of natural resources and others. And Banksy still has a lot to say!

By the way, what we particularly liked about the exhibition was the focus on the artist's formation years and his artistic journey. Each piece was accompanied by a short story about the place and how the work was created. It might give the emerging artists tips to find their own style.
Author Anna Laza
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