The Banksy exhibition is really just a warm-up for the gift shop

The Art of Banksy at the Aotea Centre in Auckland is replete with contradictions, writes Don Rowe.

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” – Banksy, exhibition entrance

“Walls painted in Resene Alabaster and Resene All Black.” – Resene, exhibition entrance

The Art of Banksy at the Aotea Centre in Auckland is so full of contradiction you can’t help but wonder if the joke is really on us. Subversive street art stripped of context, printed and put on display in the highbrow Aotea Centre, all curated by a dude the artist very possibly fucking hates – it’s pretty bizarre stuff.

“Writing graffiti is about the most honest way you can be an artist,” Banksy is quoted proclaiming from the wall at one point near the start. “It takes no money to do it, you don’t need an education to understand it, and there’s no admission fee.”

The admission fee for The Art of Banksy exhibition is $37.50.

The exhibition begins with a timeline of Banksy’s career – born in Bristol, 1974, painting live animals by 2003, defacing the Israeli Security Border in the West Bank by 2005. It’s interesting, even if that story is essentially pop culture at this point, and just about anyone willing to drop $40 to see the art likely already knows it.

Next comes a collection of photos of Banksy’s work by Steve Lazarides, the artist’s former representative and curator (and one would assume chief financial beneficiary) of the exhibition.

“The relationship ended in acrimony for reasons too painful to go into,” explains a plaque.

Lazarides is still happy to profit off Banksy’s work however, telling Broadsheet last year he hoped the exhibition would piss Banksy off. “We’ve been at loggerheads for years.”

This is the end result of anti-authoritarian super stardom?

The show will be “scaring the bejesus out of the Government security agencies who will be inevitably monitoring the exhibition”, reckons Daily Bloglord Martyn Bradbury. If so, the spooks will have plenty of notes about people wearing sandals, as were the majority attending at lunchtime yesterday, when it was mostly children and the elderly, with nary an undercut or fringe to be seen. (Bradbury is a big fan, by the way, advising that “to suggest missing this exhibition would be akin to a book burning is not an overstatement in any measure.”)

“Why, that is just beautiful,” exclaimed one elderly woman, peering through her lenses at “Jack and Jill”, an image of two children skipping in police vests. Just down the corridor was “Grannies” – two old women knitting jumpers with the slogans Punks Not Dead and Thug for Life … something-something life-imitates-art something-something.

For the most part the pieces on display are screenprints, with the occasional canvas and lithograph thrown in. They’re originals, signed and numbered by the artist, and all the classics are here, but I think it’d be significantly more subversive to just, say, sniff some glue and peep them in situ over your neighbours wifi.

There remain powerful moments. “Flower Thrower”, the now iconic image of a masked rioter throwing a bouquet, is displayed in full scale on its original banner, eye-holes included. It was first hung in Jerusalem, in 2003, on the main road from Beit Sahour, the centre of Palestinian political activism. Re-exhibiting works such as this does lend weight to the Lazarides’ justification for curating the exhibition: the piece has never been so relevant as now in the shadow of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Opposite “Flower Thrower” is “Flag Wall”, and I mean wall – the piece is displayed in full, taking an entire side of the room. A rehashing of the famous photo “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima”, with the marines replaced by street kids, whatever meaning is intended to be conveyed seems sterilised to the point of impotence in the basement of an Auckland auditorium.

The most confronting piece comes near the end, a full size version of “Burger King”, which shows a starving and emaciated child huddled in a blanket, his teeth protruding and myriad flies swarming his golden BK crown. Just half an hour earlier on the corner of Aotea Square our own Burger Kings and Queens were being moved on by security, their synthetics half smoked and possessions scattered.

And then the exit, quite literally through the gift shop: “Re-entry will require another ticket!”

Prints, pens, keyrings, shirts – you too can purchase a piece of rebellion. Hell, get real meta and buy “Festival“, there’s probably something in that dark swirling vortex of irony I guess. I bought “Flower Thrower” on a t-shirt in Thailand after all. But the contradictions between poignant statement and crass consumerism were most beautifully demonstrated by two families who left just before me.

As one mother yielded to her son’s demands of some Banksy swag, another tried to explain irony to her daughter, barely knee high to a grasshopper.

“Oh,” the girl replied. “Can we just get out of here and get a fluffy?”

Now that’s subversive.

The Spinoff Longform Fund is dedicated to facilitating investigative journalism. Our focus is on supporting in-depth reporting on important New Zealand stories. Your donation will help us sustain this most resource-intensive form of journalism, ensuring that the most complex and important stories still get told.

Related:


The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.