Who doesn’t like going to the zoo?
The world’s most majestic and mysterious creatures all arranged in safely enclosed pavilions waiting for you to snap a quick picture or tap repeatedly on the glass… What’s there not to love?
At the end of the day, it’s a great feeling to be able to stand feet away from the kings (and queens) of the jungle, however there’s always that split second flash of reality reminding you, that these beasts of the wild are captive, and completely drained of their inner animal spirit.
Where am I going with this?
Well, despite an array of great prints, an impeccably set-up gallery, and a surprisingly quick line-up, I began to feel this feeling that Banksy, the king of spray-cans and concrete canvases, had been tamed, and contained in a zoo exhibit, specially made for my next selfie.
The “Art of Banksy” exhibit is put together by the artist’s former manager Steve Lazarides at a local warehouse-esque brick loft space at 213 Sterling Road.
When I first caught wind of this exhibit, it was a knee-jerk reaction to immediately cop these tickets, even though the 35 dollar tag line was a little bit steep (given that I blew a bit too much at the slots the weekend before).
Now my post traumatic feelings about missing the recent Kusama exhibit at the AGO, made me set my alarm extra early for the first Saturday of the exhibit’s run, and I prayed for the TTC to get me to Landsdowne station in time to dodge every active Toronto Instagrammer.
After grabbing a Warden station patty to endure the slow service to Victoria Park and the shift change at Coxwell, I was well on my way to see Bristol’s legendary guerilla artist.
Taking a quick walk across Bloor and down Sterling, I came across a really cool brick loft space that looked huge from the outside. A quick few clouds of miscellaneous smoke later, I checked into the exhibit, wishing I had brought a bottle of water.
After witnessing an absolute snake of a line travel across the main common area of the gallery immediately I started loading tunes, but to my surprise it was actually moving quite quickly!
The large ceilings and natural light in the space really made it a great location to house Banksy’s art, and I gotta say that having a full-service bar in this common area is a great idea (mind you I was there a bit too early to start a series of World Cup whisky rounds).
I gotta say, as I made my way to the front of the line in what seemed like under ten minutes, I was definitely walking with high expectations.
Now I need to be honest with you…
The art was dope!
You really cannot go wrong when you create a gallery space dedicated to one of the most politically-charged, raw, hard-hitting and outright talented artists in our generation. Walls of Banksy’s prints and a few of his sculptures were placed in a very thematic way chronicling his legendary career, occasionally punctuated by quotes from either Banksy himself, or curator Steve Lazarides.
So then what was the reason for my weak criticism of this show in the beginning?
Honestly, I felt like I was witnessing King Kong, taken out of the jungle and placed at a local circus.
The art still hit hard, and the essence of Banksy’s messages clearly rang through. I can never accuse the curator of not doing justice to Banksy’s global and political impact.
But what I truly could not shake is how uncomfortable it was to see these iconic images limited to the confines of frames on a wall.
Part of the power in Banksy’s work is the context. The locations that Banksy tagged were as important as the art itself given that he was responding to local, cultural, and political nonsense that suits were pushing, and the crazy oppression that the elite throw at us on the daily.
From topics of police brutality, war, social norms of status, and everything Reddit-worthy in between, Banksy’s art really challenges everything conventional, and maybe I was a little bit saddened to see something so wild, boxed in to be presented so tamely.
As a viewer, it’s still hard to complain.
On one hand, my ghetto ass is simply happy to see a piece of history and witness the work of an artist, whose original tagging I could only dream of seeing, given that I’m still making missions on the McDonald’s dollar menu.
On the other hand, I’m also mindful as a consumer that I’m buying into the same system that has taken Basquiat’s work and pushed the Radiant Child into the pomp and frill of bougie art auctions.
The economics of art is now art itself! Market rises and falls of artists, pieces, and trends, now influences our views on how we analyse a piece, so much so that the financial data of a piece is beginning to be almost as important as the brush or can itself!
I guess my visit was the perfect and absolute definition of mixed feelings.
I think that everyone needs to see and study the work of Banksy, whether at Steve Lazarides’ “Art of Banksy”exhibit at 213 Sterling Road or via Google Images.
He is history that we can currently witness, and all capitalism aside, I’m glad I went to this show.
I’m also glad that I dodged the souvenir store. But you get my point, right?