Known for his satirical, anti-establishment street art, Banksy has managed to keep his identity secret despite his global following. Though little is known about the artist, a new traveling exhibition gives some insight into his brilliant mind and artistic evolution.
The Art of Banksy—the largest touring collection to date of authentic Banksy art—has landed at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts with more than 100 artworks sourced from private collectors around the world. It's a chance to view some of the artist's most famous pieces—like "Flower Thrower," "Rude Copper," and the iconic "Girl With Balloon"—but the real prize might be the opportunity to see some of Banksy's lesser-known creations that may otherwise have stayed hidden from public view.
"Pulp Fiction," at 'The Art of Banksy.'(Kyle Flubacker)
Unauthorized by Banksy—he hasn't so much as commented on it, but are you even surprised?—the experience kicks off with a display of his "Welcome Mat," stitched together with material from life vests found on beaches in the Mediterranean. The irony of a piece of art that you can wipe your dirty feet on sets the tone for the collection that follows.
The exhibition space is very dimly lit, feeding into the theme of mystery. It's like we're getting an exclusive glimpse at something usually kept secret. In addition to the art, Banksy quotes pop from solid black or white walls; the accompanying audio tour provides additional commentary and anecdotes.
The pieces flow in chronological order, touching on various milestones in Banksy's career: the reason he began using stencils (there were police, and a hideout beneath a dumpster truck); that time he released 200 live rats into a London art show; his cultural collaborations, all the people he's pissed off, and more. His intelligence and humor are on full display.
Banksy the man is paradox, full of contradictions and trickery. He's at once counter-culture and mainstream, a critic of capitalism whose art sells for millions of dollars to wealthy collectors. He collaborates with Greenpeace and paints live animals to lounge around an art show. He's both passionate and apathetic about societal change. Our better judgement tells us we're being mocked along with the rest of them, but still we admire the work and its maker.
In a society that chases fame, Banksy is an anonymous influencer. As one quote reads, "Nobody ever listened to me until they didn't know who I was." He keeps us on our toes, and he knows just how to do it.
// The Art of Banksy is open through February 27, 2022, tickets ($40-$55/adults, $30/kids) are available at banksyexhibit.com.
"Flower Thrower," at 'The Art of Banksy.'(Kyle Flubacker)