The ground floor of the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow was been taken over by a huge retrospective of some of Banksy’s greatest hits, more than 75 pieces in total. Unfortunately health reasons meant I could not make the exhibition until the last week but here for the benefit of all who haven’t had the chance to go, the exhibition closed 28th August, here are some reflections on a characteristically sensational Banksy exhibition.
Banksy sprung the exhibition on the unsuspecting public with zero notice, a modus operandi he employed for his 2009 “Banksy v. Bristol Museum and gallery” show. His shows always achieve capacity attendance with long waiting lines so no advance notice is required and the marketing budget must be next to zero.
A few years ago Banksy’s former manager Steve Lazarides put on a show of Banksy prints at Sotheby’s in London and since then a huge industry of un-authorised mediocre travelling shows of Banksy’s art have sprung up. I mean – re-imagined 3D sculptures derived from a Banksy image on paper what kind of uninspired diminished art trinket is that? This has pissed Banksy off, as evidenced by his Q&As which were basically a warning not to go to those shows. Cut and Run is Banksy’s official retrospective based on his street art rather than his indoor commercial stuff and it wipes the wall with those rip off copycats.
The majority of the art pieces comprise battle scarred stencils imaginatively staged to recreate familiar Banksy images going right back to his earliest stencil pieces. Converting stencils into viable exhibition worthy pieces of art has required some augmentation. Stencils of the black layer of images have had a light coat of white or grey to define the black and outline the rest of the image. Check the dual aura of white and black around the edge of the stencil image illustrating the cover of the show book, a good example.
There are also stencilled artworks as opposed to stencils turned into artworks and almost every installation or piece of art is accompanied by pithy text in the classic Banksy vein.
If you are find that this review is a bit light on photos of art from the exhibition you are right. Photography was not allowed in the exhibition. A motley crew of gallery attendants were on hand to take polaroid snaps using a weak built-in camera flash, consequently we have here a selection of dim photos, dull photos and some photos from the distant past. Cheers Banksy.
The exhibition layout is essentially two meandering passages connected by a larger hall in the middle and at the end you exit through the gift shop (of course) which then spits you out in a passage of thousands of multi coloured audience generated tags. The show starts with a reconstruction of part of Banksy’s studio, seemingly a stencil cutting station. The final installation is a reconstruction of Banksy’s bedroom.
If you expect vandal paraphernalia and anarchist regalia then the actual bedroom may surprise you with its conventionality. Lots of militaria, budget toiletries and the Prodigy’s Jilted Generation double LP displaying its inner sleeve kill-the-bill rave fantasy illustration by Les Edwards. As that album was released in 1994 this would suggest either Banksy is younger than we imagined, 1974 is often cited as a possible year of birth, or the bedroom is that of someone on the cusp of their 20s whose décor hadn’t kept step with their emergence into young adulthood.
The exhibition is way more than the widely reported stencil retrospective, a couple of pieces had not been seen before in public and both have interesting stories. One quirky installation comprises a collection of oil paintings by a painter named in the show as Pete Brown. In February this year Banksy created a piece known as Valentine Day Mascara in the seaside town Margate. There was an artist on hand painting the scene in oil on board and making a nice job of it. From that hand come 5 oil paintings displayed with Banksy’s explanation that he believes the art in the street is as much about the pageant that develops around it as it is the street art he created.
If Pete Brown had turned out to be an untraceable pseudonym that would have been bog standard Banksy subterfuge but Peter Brown aka “Pete The Street” is a proper proper artist with an impressive cv and a website that makes no reference to Banksy, a sure fire indicator of someone who has worked for Banksy! https://www.peterbrownneac.com/biography/
Another new work, or at least one being seen in “real life” for the first time, depicts a rat and a couple of spray cans which previously appeared on the film set in Bristol for the TV series The Outlaws. The press had a field day at the time with the “controversial” buff by Christopher Walken but this was no disturbed actor tantrum, its painting over was scripted and Banksy contributed the image in celebration of a programme made in his sometime home town. Curiously this painting is not reproduced in the book “Cut and Run” that goes with the show.
On the subject of books, Banksy has been writing books since early in his career, “Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall” was published in 2001 and the text notes accompanying the art in Cut and Run are as important as part of the art as the stencil and imagery. In some instances the imagery seems to be there just to support the delivery of a well written, witty, pithy and often self-deprecating story. The display of the storyboard, a painting and an animation cell from Banksy’s couch sequence opening to The Simpsons in 2010 is a perfect example, setting up to his brilliant “racist hat crime” punchline.
It seems obligatory to describe this show as Banksy’s first solo exhibition for 14 years. This is a bit puzzling as it required that we forget the 2019 “Gross Domestic Product” show in Croydon.
The stencil used to create “Basquiat Stop and Search”, one of a pair of tributes put up below London’s Barbican Centre on the eve of the opening of the 2017 Basquiat retrospective had a spectacular amount of additional painting to recreate the whole of the original image. The image on the street is possibly the most painterly illegal Banksy street art of them all and merited this colourful exhibition treatment.
Content wise this show contains a lot of Banksy humour, huge amounts of the trademark anti authoritarian humour, lots of great anecdotes told with typical Banksy impish wit and as you would expect, plenty of politics. Banksy the thrower of light onto political murk highlights so many issues and causes including Arab-Israeli tensions, the environment, anti-war protest, racism, child exploitation, the refugee crisis, Ukraine, consumerism, Brexit and gentrification.
Banksy’s mystery is in no way diminished by this show, the exhibition is personality not persona, after the show no one is any none the wiser about Banksy’s identity and you already knew Banksy is the coolest artist in town
In revealing a bit more of how the magician does his tricks Cut and Run has echoes of what Banksy achieved with the 2008 Cans Festival group show which had a public spray area where anyone and everyone turn up with a stencil and release their inner outdoor artist. This exhibition shows the comparative simplicity of Banksy’s craft, we see the tools, the stencils and the end results. The real genius however lies in the inspiration and the execution and both on the streets and in delivering this show Banksy has no peers.
For a comprehensive listing of the items exhibited in “Cut and Run” check out my other blog post here.
Banksy “Cut and Run”
Gallery Of Modern Art, Glasgow
18th June – 28th August 2023
All Photos: Dave Stuart except where otherwise credited