Wednesday 2 July 2014

Banksy - The Unauthorised Retrospective... Beautiful Vulgar Irony.

Amongst the repugnant stench of £50 notes doused in cocaine, and cologne's with base-notes of sandalwood and caviar and Saudi oil, I could just about trace something else.  I homed in on this peculiarly bitter-sweet smell and drifted along its vapors, floating my way down to the source of such a distinctly powerful scent.  The smell was emanating from Sotheby's, and as I approached the exhibition's doors, it reeked of IRONY.  I coughed and spluttered as I entered and at once I was struck by a hilarious form of satire.  A swanky West-London retrospective of BANKSY  - the infamous graffiti artist.

Banksy has typically subverted the idea of art and its value through his work - he's been the incognito voice of a generation, a cynic and a renegade, offering up his guerrilla art in the free domain of the street.  Now the biggest name in exclusive commercial art peddling is exhibiting his works for sale -  creating a peculiar and critical context for Banksy to inadvertently thrive in.

Running with the pretense that Banksy had no input on the selling exhibition due to its title as an "Unauthorised Retrospective" we are stripped of the incentive to brand Banksy as a sell-out (as he quite often is) and turn our attention to Sotheby's own image as a sell-out.  As a vulgar, art consuming, merchant whose literal aim is to sell-out.  The show, in accordance, is highly charged by this major irony, which can be deemed gross or beautiful depending on your inclinations.

It's almost as if Banksy has managed to sneak his work into an unwitting territory as he did when he pranked the MET, Louvre and British Museum - like a cuckoo placing its egg into another birds nest and having the unwitting bird raise its young.  Take for instance, his screen print entitled "Morons", which depicts an auction house scene, which in plain sight reads:

 "I can't believe you morons actually buy this shit."
Morons (Gold Frame) Signed, dated 06 and numbered 32/150

 It's subject is so outrageously relevant to the print's impending acquisition at auction that you can't help but laugh as you imagine the actualization of the printed scene in which Sotheby's sells the print for a five figure sum to a subsequent moron.  This goes way beyond irony! You can imagine Banksy's next piece being the entire stencil print set within the frame that originally only read the slogan "I can't believe you morons actually buy this shit." And after that a frame within a frame within a frame, and so on ad infinitum.

The potentially infinite Moron series...

If you haven't already seen Banksy's seminal and witty mocumentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” - I'd advise you watch it!  The parable of the film comes to fruition, complying that the best ideas of all the most brilliant artists are ultimately rendered into more crap for sale.

A relentless nod to Andy Warhol is evident throughout the exhibition.  Banksy continues pop-art's notion of consumer society taking itself as the subject of its art.  Images are appropriated two fold, directly by Warhol, and then by Banksy - for example his "Kate Moss" or "Soup Can" series, which quite obviously reflect Warhols renowned "Monroe" and "Campbells Soup Cans" series'.

Kate Moss - each: signed, dated 05 and numbered 4/20.

Soup Can (Original) - Signed, dated 05 and numbered 3/50

This is by no means groundbreaking, in fact, in normal circumstances, this kind of re-appropriation can be quite dull (especially when you have been saturated with these images printed at low-resolution on a 16" x 20" canvas in every "hip" flat you've ever visited).  However, in the setting of Sotheby's S2 exhibition space, the artworks become hyper-sarcastic and loaded with pertinence thanks to Sotheby's role in actively perpetuating and thriving on the notion of art as a consumable.  The artworks are so directly relevant to their vicinity yet at the same time an antithesis to it. It's like Sotheby's is masturbating over its own vulgarity.  Viewing the exhibition was something like watching Shawshank Redemption as a captive in Guantanamo Bay or Free Willy on a whaling boat.

Burger King Kid - oil and emulsion on canvas, 225 by 187cm, executed circa 2006, this work is unique.
Nothing can be more opposing than the renegade graffiti artist and the established auction house. But opposites attract.  As I left the show, and having traveled only 50 metres away towards Curzon Street, I was met with a tower of scaffolding supporting a new building project. A plush high rise project. On the hoarding of this capitalist venture was the quote:

 "The most exciting attractions are between two opposites that never meet" - Andy Warhol

Another instance in which a soulless commercial pursuit of capital has appropriated the work and words of an artist, for spectacle but ultimately for gain.  However, they follow in the footsteps of Banksy and Warhol by absorbing and borrowing from popular culture. Without commercial giants such as these, Banksy's art couldn't exist or make a meaningful comment.

Just like little school children who secretly fancy each other, Art and Commerce kick each other in the shin and then point and laugh after doing so.  They are fundamentally too opposing to admit a legitimate relationship, but there's an exciting attraction.

If you'd like to catch the free exhibiton,  it runs from 11 June - 25 July 2014 - 31 St. George Street, London, W1S 2FJ

Andy Warhol quote on hoardings of building project near Sotheby's S2 Exhibition space.

1 comment:

  1. I took at your blog after we met the other month. This post in particular is really good. Intelligent, engaging and funny. You should start writing again. Hope all else is well. Anita x