Revealing Banksy’s Invisible Superpower at Milan’s Mudec Museum
Incognito street artist who has inadvertently become a legend of our times, or anarchical body intent on running rings round the establishment? Shrouded in mystery and conundrums, the phenomenon that is known as Banksy is considered a true genius by most, and is grudgingly admired by even the more cynical minority.
Milan’s MUDEC Museum of Cultures prides itself on showcasing modern artistry from all over the world, and is one of the twelve exhibitions currently appearing on Banksy’s website under the title ‘Product Recall’. Although he has famously been quoted as saying “Hmm – not sure I’m the best person to complain about people putting up pictures without getting permission”, here he tells us that “Members of the public should be aware there has been a recent spate of Banksy exhibitions, none of which are consensual. They‘ve been organised entirely without the artist’s knowledge or involvement. Please treat them accordingly”.
It’s impossible however to boycott this show, aptly named in English ‘A Visual Protest’ and the first Italian public museum to present a solo exhibition of this artist. A walking testimony to “the Banksy effect”, it beautifully illustrates the deceptively simplistic yet gritty urban work close up, from sedate pensioners on the green bombing Middle England to British bobbies flaunting the system, and from Queen Victoria in an uncompromising straddle to the heart-rending scene of the Pulitzer prize-winner photo of 9-year-old Vietnamese Kim revisited with Mickey Mouse and Ronald MacDonald in ‘Napalm’. As fellow artist Shepard Fairey states, “His works are full of metaphors that transcend language barriers”. The appeal is timeless and ageless: “the images are entertaining and witty, and yet so simple and accessible”; even 6-year-olds get the message, whether or not they are fully aware of the social context.
Considered the undisputed leading champion of contemporary street art, questions abound about how this smooth operator works and how he succeeds in continuing to surprise his ever-bewildered audience by revealing new creations that can quite literally pop up overnight in any corner of the world. Shortly after putting pen to paper, a quiet corner in steel town Port Talbot in South Wales was plummeted to stardom, thanks to the satirical anti-pollution piece which has appeared on two sides of a garage. Apparently idyllic, it depicts a child catching not snowflakes but ash on his (or her) tongue, and the video posted on Banksy’s Instagram account makes for chilling watching as the camera pans out to show the steelworks in the background.
Back in October 2018, the art world at Sotheby’s was quite literally agog as the gold-framed artwork “Girl with Balloon” was partially shredded a few precious moments after the hammer came down on a winning bid of over one million pounds. Collective, complicit stroke of genius or single-minded, self-destructing hoax? Either way, the ensuing “Love is in the Bin” intervention resulted in the making of history, with this first ever piece of artwork to have been created live at an auction. Meanwhile, the value of the work has since increased even further.
A rebel with a cause, the elusive Banksy has come a long way since surreptitiously hanging his own subversive works alongside paintings in Pimlico’s Tate Britain, and with such large sums of money now being bandied about the jury is out about whether as he claims: “It’s not about the hype, it’s not about the money”. Above all, every act by this artist is so clearly thought through with piercing intelligence that inevitably we have to question how to reconcile the incisive social comment that is the very essence of street art with the seemingly unavoidable commercial aspects that come with his notoriety.
Whether you believe the Artist Known as Banksy is male, female or working as a tightly-bound group of individuals, it’s also impossible to remain disaffected by his staggering portfolio produced since his arrival on the scene in Bristol in the 1990s, with the trademark rats paving the way for his compatriots, and his documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” ironically earning him a nomination for an Oscar in 2011. With newspaper headlines like “Something to Spray”, Britain’s Number 1 graffiti artist has developed a series of increasingly ambitious projects, which have propelled the person who has chosen to remain anonymous into the media even more with every new project he undertakes.
From completing a series of DIY art shows, including “Barely Legal” in 2006, which unmasked a controversial pink and gold painted live elephant in the room, to lampooning Disney with his theme park ‘Dismaland’ at Weston-Super-Mare in 2015 and financing the creation of the notorious ‘Walled Off Hotel’ in Bethlehem two years later (which, unlike the Waldorf, offers “the worst view in the world” onto the wall separating the West Bank from Israel) : there is seemingly no end to the flow of unsettling ideas invented by this agent provocateur and his rebellious political stance.
Dripping alternately with a deep loathing for consumerism and immoderate doses of compassion for the ills of the modern world, the artist’s work is laced with lacerating touches of British humour in every title, and he never fails to shock or deliver a flabbergasting blow to the gut. The Invisible Superpower is in a league of his own, standing out head and shoulders above the crowd. There may be those who accuse him of double standards, and you could argue that this brilliant propagandist is hoodwinking us all and merely boosting populism in art, but Banksy Inc. gets my vote every time. And if the video accompanying the #WithSyria project doesn’t make your eyes well up with tears every time you watch it, then there really is not much hope.
Double-lined queues: online advance ticket purchase highly recommended
Like all street art, the unauthorised exhibition at the Mudec has a short life span, and runs until April 14th. Open every day (Monday 10:30 – 19:30, Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday 9:30 – 19:30 and Thursday, Saturday & Sunday 9:30 – 22:30), tickets are selling out fast and those who have not reserved their places face disappointment or lengthy queues. Private guided tours in English also available upon request, depending on availability. Contact [email protected].info for further information and for assistance with purchasing your entrance tickets in advance.
Photos taken by Nicola Collarile; all artworks currently on show at the Mudec museum. Featured image at beginning of article is Love Is in the Air, © Banksy 2003.