It’s been bothering me all week. I’ve never been particularly taken with Banksy’s work – it’s fine, and seems to work in the context of a graffitied environment, raising the level of work there above that of tagging (of which much has been written elsewhere, and in a more informed manner than I can manage. Go and find some, it’s more interesting than it first appears) – but the idea that he’s exhibiting in a gallery struck me as wrong. It took a while to figure it out, but I think I know why it nags.
Banksy spent most of his career ridiculing the gallery system. Which is, without a doubt, stifled by hierarchy and positions of power, influence and prestige – none of which has anything to do with good art. His placing of work within a gallery context was designed to provoke debate, to throw an idea into the staid environment of the worshipful, white-walled galleria. And it worked. The agitprop graffiti artist sticking two fingers up to the establishment. Work smuggled into the Tate Gallery is fine, it makes a point, people listen and talk about it.
Then this. A gallery show. Which simply, sorry, doesn’t work. It doesn’t. It’s badly thought through, and misses the point so completely, so massively, that it’s as if the press release and covering commentary was written by a particularly poor contributor to Banksy’s wikipedia page. If you’ve spent your entire career pointing out the ridiculous, obscene nature of gallery spaces, then why exhibit in one? And no-one tell me that he’s bringing the system down from within, or that it’s different because it’s Banksy. It isn’t. He was accused of selling his soul when he started selling work to Brad and Angelina. This time, it’s not anything as ambitious as his soul. He’s simply sold out.