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‘Banksy: Genius or Vandal?’ is coming to L.A., and some Banksy fans are not pleased

A screen print of a girl releasing a balloon shaped like a heart.
A limited-edition screen print of Banksy’s “Girl With Balloon,” on view in “Banksy: Genius or Vandal?” in Brussels earlier this year.
(Exhibition Hub and Fever)

“Banksy: Genius or Vandal?” doesn’t open in L.A. until Aug. 30, but the unauthorized exhibition of the anonymous British street artist’s work is already stirring strong opinions.

The exhibition will take over a “secret” location in L.A. to be disclosed to ticket holders in July. It will feature more than 100 works — some re-creations of Banksy’s art and some “authenticated” pieces primarily from private European collectors. That includes limited-edition screen prints as well as sculptures, installations, videos and photos. There’s also an immersive, virtual reality tour of the artist’s studio, as seen in the 2010 documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

Curated by Moscow-based Alexander Nachkebiya, the show is produced by New York marketing and event company Fever and the Belgian firm Exhibition Hub, which said it specializes in immersive, digital art exhibitions that it views as “edutainment.” The show promises a contextual spin on much of the work on view, including an immersive 13-minute video installation about the street artist’s career.

Banksy fans are ravenous. The L.A. exhibition — which follows showings in 15 cities including Moscow, Hong Kong, Las Vegas and, starting in August, New York — is already sold out through September. But many from the art community are skeptical — not least of all, Banksy himself/herself. In 2018, when the exhibition premiered in Moscow, Banksy posted a screenshot on Instagram of a text exchange with a friend in which the artist criticized the show.

“You know its got nothing to do with me right?” the artist wrote. “I don’t charge people to see my art unless there’s a fairground wheel.”

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Some see the exhibition as another traveling, immersive art experience meant to generate Instagram moments, not unlike the Museum of Ice Cream, “The 14th Factory,” 29Rooms or “Immersive Van Gogh.” Others say the experience — starting at $29.50 for adults — turns art that was meant to be seen on the street, for free, into a commercial juggernaut.

Organizers maintain that the show “democratizes the artist’s body of work,” providing access, and back story, to otherwise ephemeral Banksy works.

“Banksy is so famous and enigmatic that particularly outside of the U.K. and across the world, there’s a real thirst for understanding more about him,” Fever’s Oliver Davies said. “He’s not just a street artist, he’s also an activist. People are really interested in his stance more than just his art. So that’s what’s driven us to provide an educational experience.”

Amid all the Picasso, Matisse and Giacometti, savvy pieces by lesser-known artists await. Our critic’s guide to three discoveries.

“The Art of Banksy,” another exhibition not affiliated with the artist and billed as “the largest touring exhibition of authentic Banksy artworks in the world,” said it will open in November in San Francisco. Presented by Starvox Exhibits, co-producer of “Immersive Van Gogh,” this Banksy show has set adult ticket prices at $39.99 and up.

Here’s what some artists, authors, curators and gallerists had to say about the upcoming exhibition.

Street art historian G. James Daichendt, author of “Stay Up! Los Angeles Street Art”:

“There’ll be interesting things to see. Any time you can see something that’s typically difficult to see, that’s worthy. But when it’s for profit, it feels a little like you’re buying tickets to a concert. It’s just so anti what street art is supposed to be. I love that street art feels like a scavenger hunt when you’re walking around searching for it, and how it interacts with a space and the uniqueness of a neighborhood. They could prove me wrong, but I just get the feeling this’ll be in a rented warehouse somewhere and they’ll rake in the cash. It misses the soul of it.”

Street artist and graphic designer Shepard Fairey:

“I think it’s obvious that Banksy is a genius and a vandal, though I look at his vandalism as a conceptual act of defiance and provocation more than something genuinely transgressive. I’d imagine Banksy disapproves of his works being removed from the streets to be put into captivity with a price to enter. He has often shrewdly commented on the forces and farces of capitalism. That being said, 30 bucks might easily justify close proximity to Banksy works with the possibility of a totally fire selfie for Instagram. I certainly approve of someone going to the show if it prompts them to understand the concepts in Banksy’s work more deeply.”

L.A. street artist Elle:

“Banksy has chosen to do a large portion of his work in the public domain and in doing so has made his work accessible. If Banksy’s not actually giving permission for this exhibition, it means he’s also unable to profit from it — which seems like a full exploitation of an artist’s work. As a working artist myself, I find it disturbing that individuals and corporations would take advantage of the hidden nature of a street artist’s identity.”

Public art producer and curator Warren Brand of Branded Arts:

“It’d be nice if some of the money they’re making off this would go to a cause that Banksy supports. He’s an activist and a philanthropist. If these outsiders are using his name, likeness and artwork to make money — and telling his story — it’d be pretty cool to give back to one of the causes he supports.”

Artist Scott Hove, owner of Cakeland Gallery and a participant in Banksy’s 2015 Dismaland, a pop-up riff on Disneyland:

“I think it benefits Banksy regardless. It’s going to enrich his own brand. People could see it as controversial because it’s not sanctioned; but if the show is well produced and respectfully handling the work, I don’t see anything wrong with it. And Banksy should do a show. People are looking for well produced experiential shows right now. And they don’t mind paying a ticket price for that.”

Jeffrey Deitch, gallerist and former Museum of Contemporary Art director who presented the 2011 “Art in the Streets” exhibition:

“It’s important to remember that this is unauthorized, not organized by Banksy. Banksy is very, very thoughtful about how he presents his work to the public. For Banksy, the way the art is presented is part of the art. It’s an important concept. It’s not just a framed painting, it’s how he presents the framed painting, whether surreptitiously sneaked into a museum and hung or disintegrating when somebody bids on it at auction. So in this unauthorized show, you don’t get the full Banksy.”

And, finally …

Banksy (from the artist’s website):

“Members of the public should be aware there has been a recent spate of Banksy exhibitions none of which are consensual. They‘ve been organized entirely without the artist’s knowledge or involvement. Please treat them accordingly.”

What can you see at the Broad, La Brea Tar Pits Museum, LACMA, California Science Center, Grammy Museum and beyond? Here’s a quick rundown.


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