THE BANKSY CONTROVERSY
Whether you love him, hate him or you don’t really care, world-renowned street artist “Banksy” has likely influenced you. One of the most acclaimed artists of his generation, Banksy’s work pervades the urban world — on street corners, online and, more recently, in galleries.
A Banksy street art installation, the “Haight Street Rat,” will be featured for the first time in Texas at Cultivate 7Twelve, an art gallery and event space in the heart of downtown Waco. However exciting it is for a small town gallery to obtain the work of a big-name artist, displaying a Banksy piece is inherently controversial. Cultivate 7Twelve’s decision to display the “Haight Street Rat” has sparked both excitement and disapproval.
The “Banksy Controversy,” as we’ll call it, stems from confusion surrounding Banksy’s intentions for creating his work. Does Banksy want his paintings to be temporary, capturing the sentiments of street art’s fleeting form? Or does he want his work to be preserved before its natural destruction? Does he have a say in the matter?
The truth is, we don’t know what Banksy wants. Many assume Banksy prefers to keep his art on the streets and out of galleries. But even if this is Banksy’s true desire, the act of preservation allows his work, and the message it stands for, to reach a larger audience. When Banksy nears the end of his life, he might be glad his creations still exist in physical form, documenting history and communicating to future generations.
The art collector who preserved the “Haight Street Rat,” Brian Greif, also cares about preservation. San Francisco city ordinances ordered the removal of the rat in 2010, but Greif didn’t want to see it disappear. He spent about $32,000 to obtain the iconic rodent from the Haight Street district. Greif has since been offered $1.5 million for the installation… and he turned it down. He wants the rat to continue traveling from gallery to gallery in exhibitions that are free and open to the public.
Another important question prevails. Who is profiting off of Banksy’s work? Documentary “Saving Banksy” details this dilemma, exploring the conflicting schools of thought between street art and profiteering.
In “Saving Banksy,” the narrator mentions that street artists do not technically own the work they create. The owner of the buildings that street artists use as canvas do. This is how art collectors have legally obtained Banksy’s work from street corners, brick walls and boats.
Further complicating the matter, street art is technically vandalism. This deters artists like Banksy from publicly claiming proprietorship. If street artists were to sign a document that permits museums or galleries to display their work, they would be admitting to a crime.
Deterred by the law, the artistic nightcrawler hesitates to publicly come forward as the creator of their work — an unfortunate dilemma considering the positive cultural change exhibitions can prompt in communities. Exhibitions increase exposure, educate the public about modern art movements and, in the case of the “Haight Street Rat,” allow cities like Waco to continue on an upward trend of growth.
The very act of displaying Banksy’s work outside of context is controversial, and we encourage the visitors of our “Writing on the Wall” exhibition to consider all sides of this argument. Whether you love us, hate us or you don’t really care, we are excited to ask you to participate in this ongoing conversation, and to see Banksy’s work for yourself.