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The Art of Banksy: Street Art Should be Free

"Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable" - Banksy

Yesterday, a friend and I went to The Art of Banksy exhibition. It’s a curated selection of over 80 Banksy pieces with its current stop in downtown Toronto. I debated whether or not to go as it felt morally wrong to attend and indirectly support an event profiting off public art without the original artist’s consent. Ultimately, I ended up going as the tickets were given to me for free and I felt it was a good chance to share the exhibition so that others wouldn’t have to pay to see it. This is my reflection on that experience.

Who is Banksy?

Good question, no one knows.

The Controversy with The Art of Banksy

The most controversial aspect of The Art of Banksy exhibition is the fact that the entire exhibition is unsanctioned by Banksy. Although every piece in the gallery is of his work, none of it is being shown with his permission. The man responsible for curating The Art of Banksy is Banksy’s former agent, Steve Lazarides. After a falling out in 2008, Lazarides and Banksy parted ways with Lazarides continuing to use the artist’s name and pieces in exhibitions around the world.  Lazarides claims he is trying to showcase pieces that would usually be held in secret by private collectors, but one can’t help but wonder why tickets are $35 to see art that was originally meant to be free content.

Who Would Take Banksy’s Art?

Many people praise Lazarides for preserving Banksy’s old art as nowadays, Banksy pieces are rarely found in public spaces. It takes less than a day for a Banksy piece to be recognized and within that short time span, the piece has the choice of three outcomes:

1) it’ll trend on the internet before the day ends

2) it’ll be tagged and covered by other artists

3) it’ll be painted over by the owner of the building/by local authorities

These art collectors believe they’re doing the right thing by taking Banksy’s art before it gets defaced or covered up as an act of preservation. On the other hand, there are also individuals who see a free-for-all opportunity to get their hands on art made by this generation’s iconoclast.

Is this Stealing?

Before forming an opinion on this debate, I recommend watching Saving Banksy. It’s an amazing documentary that goes into the perspectives of both art collectors and graffiti artists alike, and where they stand with people taking Banksy’s art. I see both sides of the argument and I don’t think anyone comes from bad intentions. After all, everyone’s end goal is to share Banksy’s messages. I just personally don’t think Banksy cares if his art gets covered or tagged over because that’s what the life cycle of street art is like. Street art is meant to be publicly accessed, for those in areas that need it most, and temporary in nature. It’s ironic that street art is considered vandalism until a brand is formed behind it and is proven to be profitable. To put it simply, street art is pure and unadulterated freedom in a world where everything needs to be monetized. When people take his work down and try to preserve it in a private collection, they are missing the entire point of the artistic medium Banksy chose to represent his messages through.

My Verdict?

Street art should be free.


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