Who would have thought that an English street artist would become a household name? A guerrilla artist with the intriguing allure of anonymity – the Elena Ferrante of the art world. An artist whose subversive wit drives his appeal. So, it was with great excitement that we awaited the arrival of The Art of Banksy exhibition in Melbourne.
Actually finding it is your first challenge as it is tucked away in a circus tent behind the car park at Federation Square. Walk along the Yarra until you get to the back of the car park and then follow the signs.
Once there you are greeted by a phalanx of t-shirted security guards, somewhat disconcerting. The works on display are mainly from the private collection of Steve Lazarides, Banky’s former agent and a pioneering champion of street art and street artists. Lazarides and Banksy have famously fallen out, and this exhibition is brought to us without the artist’s sanction. Not that he is above displaying his works in galleries, nor is this the first time his “indoor” work has been exhibited gallery style. I guess it is just the blatant commercialism of this exhibition that sits uncomfortably with me.
From the security guards to the large indoor outdoor bar, this is obviously an ‘event’, where they are hoping you will linger longer, and spend more money. This may well appeal to the young people who were attending the exhibition at the same time as we Seniors (drastically skewing the average demographic I must admit), but leaves somewhat of a funny taste for us. And, is it irony on display that you exit via the (heavily stocked) gift shop?? Mind you, it is pretty good merch. Combine all this with the hefty entrance price of $30 (plus booking fee – don’t get me started on booking fees, bane of my life) and you can but look at Banksy’s images skewering commercialism and laugh.
Is it worth the price? Hmm, the jury is out on that one. There is no doubt that this is a seriously talented man with a ferocious sense of humour – some of the work makes you laugh out loud. And, it is good to be able to see so many of them on display. But, who is exploiting who here?