Writing about street artist Banksy these days is no easy task. Especially because it seems like everyone has heard something about the artist or has something to say about him. Even though his identity is still unknown to this day. His satirical critiques of capitalism and politics in the form of iconic stencils have grabbed international attention.
And it’s precisely for this reason that the same discussions always seem to surround Banksy: whether his art should be exhibited or whether street art in general should be on show in museums or galleries. Because after all, Banksy is also a synonym for the rejection of commerce.
BIKINI BERLIN is currently showing more than 60 of his works, including original drawings, paintings and sculptures, which, however, have not been authorised by the British artist himself. The curator of the exhibition is Steve Lazarides, who was Banksy’s agent for many years and is meanwhile a sought-after European art dealer. But rumour has it that the two have been at loggerheads for a while now.
It was around 15 years ago that I visited London for the first time. I was walking from King’s Cross station to my hostel and on the way, I stumbled upon a small bookstore that had a little black book on display in the window with the title “Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall”. And under it in white letters: Banksy. I had spotted the same lettering elsewhere on the same street, so I decided to buy the book. It cost me less than ten pounds.
And now, many years later, I find myself standing in front of Banksy’s famous artwork “Sale Ends Today”. So much has changed since then. In the space next to it, there is an array of Banksy merchandise items on sale such as mugs, T-shirts and posters. Certainly a reason for criticism and a bit too much for my taste. However: Banksy’s art is an important piece of art history that everyone should experience. Which is why it’s definitely worth visiting the exhibition if you’ve never seen the Brit’s work up close before. The question of whether it’s right to commercialise street art is a different matter. And it’s right to discuss it. But in that case, you would also have to question the entire art business.
Incidentally: the little book I bought all those years ago is meanwhile worth €170 and hard to find these days. So with that in mind, the €13 per person admission (discounted rate: €10.50, children: €9.50) is a fair price to pay for the Banksy experience.