Banksy torn out of context in Miami

Banksy at Cans Festival. Photo by RJ Rushmore.

Caroline Caldwell contributed to this post

Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?

Okay, so now you’re probably thinking “What the hell is RJ on about? That line came out of nowhere. I think it’s the punchline to some knock knock joke, but it makes absolutely no sense at the start of a post. I don’t think I’ve heard heard RJ say banana and I couldn’t care less if I had.” And you’d be right. That line makes no sense out of the context of the joke in which it belongs, and until we have that context, we can’t say for sure whether that line is good or bad. And yet, this is pretty much what a show that’s on right now in Miami asks visitors to do…

Marc and Sara Schiller from Wooster Collective wrote a must-read piece about unauthorized Banksy exhibition in Miami this week and why they find the exhibition so objectionable that they won’t be attending. The works in the show in question were removed off the streets to be sold into private hands, and the art fair hosting the show is fully aware that Banksy disapproves of the show. If this sounds familiar, it’s because these are the some artworks that were shown in The Hamptons a little over a year ago. This time though, the works are supposedly not for sale as they are now part of a private collection. Regardless of all that, as the Schillers note, Banksy’s best work really only works when experienced in context in which it was intended (whether that intended context be on the street or in a gallery), and bringing these pieces indoors probably makes most of them much much much weaker than they were on the street.

This is certainly not the first time we’ve seen someone trying to make a buck off Banksy and it’s reasons like this that Banksy created Pest Control, a controversial committee which determines the authenticity of Banksy works on the market and which refuses to authenticate any street works or works not originally intended for resale.

The show is accompanied by this ridiculous wall text:

Wall text at the show itself, wherein the organizers have a cheeky cop-out for their dickishness. Photo courtesy of Arrested Motion.

What this wall texts shows is a fundamental misunderstanding of Banksy’s practice. By removing the work from its original context, they are only showing a part of the work. To see the works “as artworks themselves” is to see them on the street without a plexiglass cover on them. Taking them out of that context to evaluate them is like removing 1/64th of a Warhol print from the rest of the piece, framing it, and hanging it on a wall to evaluate on its own without considering the other 63/64ths of the piece. A wisp of Marylin’s hair is unlikely to seem a great artwork all on its own. As the Schillers say in their piece, Banksy’s best work is about context and site specificity, and you usually need “The long shot” providing context for the work for it to make complete sense. Even his best gallery work has this same feature, where it makes sense in a gallery or museum context, but might not make sense on the street. Asking what value there is in a Banksy street piece hung on a gallery wall is a bit like asking what value there is in a Picasso that’s been put through an incinerator.

Plus, I can’t help but laugh at the way they refer the Banksy as a graffiti artist and his work as graffiti.

The Schillers write, “It’s intentional on our part that this article doesn’t mention the name of the show that will take place this week in Miami. Nor will we mention the name of the speculator who is crassly attempting to profit from the work. Attention is what he desires.” I however must acknowledge that a good chunk of Vandalog’s readers are also regular readers of Arrested Motion, who visited the show and did publish that information, so hiding it it a bit futile. The show is called Banksy: Out of Context and it is at the Context Art Miami, an offshoot of Art Miami.

Nonetheless, I do agree with the Schillers that the show should be actively avoided, particularly since it is not free to visit. Context will cost you between $10-$50 just for a one-day pass. Instead, why not stop by the always-exciting Fountain Art Fair where Living Walls has organized dozens of street artists to paint next to one another in an outdoor portion of the fair? There, the work may be a bit out of place as street art, but at least the artists are on board with the idea and making the work there with the knowledge of where and how it is going to be displayed.

Read more on Wooster Collective, where the Schillers have written a lot of similar things to what I’ve echoed here, but they probably use better grammar.

Photos by RJ Rushmore and courtesy of Arrested Motion